TripAdvisor's Rankings Of 'Dirtiest Hotels' Is Not Defamation

from the but-now-we-know-who's-upset-about-it... dept

Eric Goldman has an article at Forbes about the failure of the Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to win its lawsuit against TripAdvisor for listing it as the "dirtiest hotel in America" on its 2011 list of such hotels. TripAdvisor, of course, is a very popular site, in which people rate various hotels. The company then took those rankings to come up with the list, meaning that it's pretty clearly a statement of opinion (the aggregated opinion of all the users who entered review info on TripAdvisor). However, to try to turn that into a defamation claim, the hotel's lawyers appeared to argue that because TripAdvisor came up with a numerical rank from all that user generated input, that made it a "factual statement" rather than an opinion. As you know, opinions aren't defamatory, but incorrect facts can be.

The court isn't buying it, at all.
It is true that the Defendant published an article with a numerical ranking, and that the Defendant suggests reasons to support its opinions, including that “87 percent of those who reviewed [Grand Resort] recommended against staying there,” but neither the fact that Defendant numbers its opinions one through ten, nor that it supports its opinions with data, converts its opinions to objective statements of fact. Any reasonable person can distinguish opinions based on reasons from facts based on reasons—just because TripAdvisor states its reasons for including Grand Resort on its list does not make the assertion one of objective fact. A person who is unable to distinguish the phrase “it is hot,” a subjective opinion, from “it is one-hundred degrees,” an objective fact, is hardly “reasonable.” Similarly, TripAdvisor’s “Dirtiest Hotels” list is clearly unverifiable rhetorical hyperbole.

TripAdvisor’s list is of the genre of hyperbole that is omnipresent. From law schools to restaurants, from judges to hospitals, everything is ranked, graded, ordered and critiqued. Undoubtedly, some will accept the array of “Best” and “Worst” rankings as impenetrable maxims. Certainly, some attempt to obfuscate the distinction between fact and opinion as part of their course of business. For those that read “eat here,” “sleep there” or “go to this law school” and are unable to distinguish measured analysis of objective facts from sensational “carnival barking,” compliance will be both steadfast and assured. Nevertheless, the standard, fortunately, is what a “reasonable person” would believe. A reasonable person would not confuse a ranking system, which uses consumer reviews as its litmus, for an objective assertion of fact; the reasonable person, in other words, knows the difference between a statement that is “inherently subjective” and one that is “objectively verifiable.”
I find the implicit suggestion in there that the plaintiff is not a reasonable person somewhat amusing as well. Either way, as Goldman notes, this should be a somewhat useful case whenever others are threatened for opinion-based lists they put together. That said, as a district court ruling it doesn't have much widespread impact, but with clear and concise reasoning, that doesn't mean it can't be helpful in convincing other courts to rule similarly.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 3:44am

    And I bet improving their quality would have cost less than bringing the stupid lawsuit.
    Maybe they will sue the lawyer for not telling them they were stupid and use the proceeds to improve the property.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     

    bitch trolling

    haha i am so evil you cant ban me i am king of all trolls

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    abc gum, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 4:46am

    AFAIK, in the US, the truth is not defamation or slander.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 5:06am

    A Big Win

    And, thanks to righteous... litigious!... indignation, now EVERYONE knows which hotel is regarded as Dirtiest, Filthiest, Most Slovenly Hotel of All Ages. Good work on defending that reputation, Grand Resort.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 5:20am

    Sounds like this is the Judge we need for...

    Patent lawsuits, File sharing lawsuits, Copyright lawsuits, etc...

    This judge seems to be able to discern facts from assertions so he might not buy the BS the MPAA, and Patent trolls are selling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 5:23am

    I think they could monetize on it. I mean, there are all sorts of weirdos out there, some might be willing to stay in the dirtiest hotel in America ;D

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 5:23am

    Now we know not only that the hotel is dirty but also that its owners are jerks who are prone to hiring bad legal advice.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Greg G (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 5:58am

    Hotel Hell

    Maybe they want the publicity without having to contact Gordon Ramsay...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    The Voice of Reason, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 6:32am

    What a grand missed marketing opportunity.

    What they should have done is started a marketing campaign, 'We listened to YOU our Customers'.
    Hire a crew to come in and clean the resort –top to bottom-inside and out, take videos and pictures of the whole process.

    Do a before and after comparison, hire a consultant to help change practices and work on being rated as the cleanest hotel on the list.

    Invite the most vocal critics back, offer them some deal to get them in, ask them to post reviews.

    Admit you made mistakes, fix it, apologize and make lots of money! This would turn things around for them but instead they are still listed as the dirtiest hotel.

    The legal team should now help them file for chapter 7 for free.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Trails (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 6:37am

    Re: A Big Win

    Spot on. Not only have the propagated that opinion of their hotel, but in suing TripAdvisor for defamation, rather than spend that money to improve their services, it leads me to the opinion that the Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee are a filthy, dirty fly by night shithole more interested in bilking the unsuspecting than offering quality lodging.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    DannyB (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 6:40am

    Re: A Big Win

    Sir, you are mistaken.

    The court is merely giving guidance to others who would sue for defamation over negative consumer opinions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    CK20XX, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 6:52am

    Re: A Big Win

    AUGH, now I can't get the theme song of Fawlty Towers out of my head.

    The dirtiest, filthiest, most slovenly hotel of all ages? NO! No, I won't have that! There's a place in Eastbourne...

     

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  13.  
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    Big Al, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 6:58am

    Re: Re: A Big Win

    Hey - I used to live in Eastbourne (or Geriatric-on-Sea to give it its proper name). Fawlty Towers (Flowery Twats?) was set in Torbay.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Oblate (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 7:29am

    Re: What a grand missed marketing opportunity.

    That would have been better than their previous marketing campaigns:
    "Guess the clean towel"
    "Free bedbug with every stay!"
    "Name (and find the source of) that odor, get $5 off"

    The other thing they should do is play up their recent award:
    "Best artistic design in guestroom (UV only)"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Trails (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 7:43am

    Re: Re: Re: A Big Win

    Farty Towels? That place was awesome...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    lucidrenegade (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 7:56am

    Re: Hotel Hell

    Actually, that would be Anthony Melchiorri.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 7:58am

    I had no idea that the Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, was among the dirtiest in the country. Now I do. Thanks!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 10:28am

    Well if you own a Hotel and your blankets make dust storm when you shake them out what do you expect? Get rid of the Pig-Pen blankets and you might get off the list.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Chosen Reject (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 10:41am

    Reasonable vs Moron

    Why is it that trademark violations get to be decided by morons in a hurry but defamation has to be decided by reasonable people? I think trademark needs to be updated to this refreshing standard.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 3:54pm

    So...they spent a great deal of money in legal fees to advertise the fact that they are the dirtiest hotel in America.

    Awesome.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 5:06pm

    Sandy's Motel in Decatur, Illinois. Ewwwww.
    Mattress was hard and the covers had cigarette holes. The phone in the room did not work. The TV was almost unwatchable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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