Florida Moving Company Attempting To Sue Its Way Back To Yelp Respectability

from the unhappy-company-v-unhappy-customers dept

Superior Moving and Storage of Pompano Beach, Florida, has a problem. Or rather, several problems. One problem is that Yelp has issued a warning about its review page, noting that it has seen some suspicious activity ["a number of positive reviews from the same IP address"] that suggest an unethical effort to skew its rating.

It has apparently decided to sue its way out of these problems. Pompano Beach's Local 10 is reporting the story of one Yelp reviewer who has been served with a defamation lawsuit by the moving company.
Local 10 News viewer Scott Hooton claims he was sued for posting a negative online business review.

The Pompano Beach-based moving company behind the suit claims the statements made online were false and have sued Hooton for damages related to defamation.


"They sued me. Served papers right here on this porch," Hooton said.

The suit is seeking damages of excess of $15,000 for defamation related to what the company calls "false statements" made by Hooton in his online posting.
Where this dollar amount comes from isn't clear. It's not listed in the lawsuit's demands.

However, this sort of thing isn't surprising. Many companies have tried this tactic. Most have been unsuccessful. Then there's this:
"His lawyer offered to settle," Hooton said.
This indicates the company's claims aren't quite as solid as it would like them to be. If your case is strong, you generally don't chase filings with settlement offers. Unless you're doing them in bulk

Superior Moving has filed five libel suits against unhappy customers in the past five months, with three of those coming in the space of three weeks.

The company is likely on unsure footing here, as it has spent much more of its time in the Broward County courthouse as a defendant. Since 1998, Superior Moving has been taken to court 31 times for everything from small claims to unpaid debts/violated contracts to fraud.

Many of the small claims cases are due to damages to belongings, homes and vehicles belonging to customers. As you can probably guess, many of the complaints being called defamatory also deal with the same sort of damages.

But do the lawsuits have any merit? Well, we could ask David S. Weinstein, Local 10's "legal expert…"
"The First Amendment protects free speech, but it protects truthful free speech. You still can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theater if there's no fire in a crowded theater."
Never mind. Here's the extent of the claims made against Hooton.
7. On or about January 2015, Superior and Hooton executed a Guaranteed/Binding Estimate [the "Estimate"] for a residential move.

8. Thereafter, Defendant executed the following documents:

a. An Order for Service;

b. A Uniform Household Goods Bill of Lading and Freight Bill;

c. A Household Goods Descriptive Inventory;

d. A Superior Additional Terms and Conditions Interstate Moves Contract; and

e. A Superior Long Distance Addendum to Contract.

9. Pursuant to the Contract, Superior was ready willing and able to pick up the Defendant's furniture and other items, as outlined on the estimate, however, Defendant Hooton, without cause terminated the contract for the move.

10. Despite the fact that Superior was ready, willing and able to fulfill its contract, the Defendant has been defaming Superior in online postings. Defendant published the following false statements about Superior: "They get you on the hook for a low price without completely understanding the work. Then they apply additional charges until it's unbearable."

11. Each and every one of the above statements is false.
And here are the damages claimed, one of which is "we had to hire a lawyer to file these lawsuits."
12. Superior has been required to retain the undersigned counsel to represent it in this action and is obligated to pay said counsel a reasonable fee for services rendered.

13. As a direct and proximate result of the foregoing false statements, Superior has been damaged.
The claims listed above are similar to those in the other defamation lawsuits, with the only difference being the direct quotes taken from the defendants' Yelp/BBB reviews and complaints. Hooton has already responded to Superior's complaint, denying the allegations and pointing out that he never "executed" the documents Superior said he did. Rather, he backed out of the contract when the add-ons moved the cost well above the original estimate.

Hooton's comments are obviously his opinion of the estimate process, which he viewed as bait-and-switch. It would be a stretch to call his statements defamatory, and even more of stretch to claim they caused recoupable damage.

Other suits may have (slightly) more merit that Hooton's, as other Yelp reviewers were a bit more creative in their expressions of dissatisfaction. The interesting thing is that all the suits target negative reviews at Yelp. These would be the same negative reviews that currently greet people surfing to Superior Moving's Yelp page.

If the intention of the lawsuits was to pressure reviewers to kill their negative Yelp reviews, it hasn't worked. Superior seems to have a valid complaint about Yelp itself, and yet it has made no visible effort to direct its legal efforts towards that company.
"Superior Moving & Storage was a paid advertiser with Yelp for many years. During those paid years, he maintained a "5 Star Rating" while paying substantial fees for advertisement and web presence," Manes said.

"When my client decided to discontinue advertising and maintaining a Yelp Page due to consistent increases in the fees and costs imposed on his business by Yelp, his rating suddenly dropped. Shortly after, Yelp began removing many of his 5 Star reviews stating they had violated Yelp's terms, and only publishing negative reviews."
Of course, this could just be the company's highly-subjective view of the current situation, in which certain normal Yelp actions are viewed as conspiratorial and correlative. Even if Superior's claims are true, it would be a long, expensive fight to prove it. Superior seems to realize this battle isn't worth fighting, but it's applying the same sort of pressure on its critics by filing these lawsuits -- implying an expensive legal battle awaits if the defendants aren't willing to settle.

Companies should be able to defend their reputations, but using the legal system to do it isn't the best tactic. Superior may be concerned that Yelp's review page will scare off potential customers. But acquiring a reputation as a company that will sue people for posting negative reviews can have an equally adverse effect.

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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 8:01am

    This is truly a bizarre lawsuit. Yelp pulls its infamous protection racket scam on Superior... and instead of fighting back against Yelp, they turn around and try to victimize a bunch of Yelp's users because they're less likely to be able to fight back?

    Talk about perpetuating a bad cycle...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 8:22am


      They don't go after yelp because they don't want to draw attention to thier review jamming.

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

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 8:43am


      It does highlight a gradual change in barratry strategy.

      Techdirt has a tag specifically for Steve Dallas lawsuits. Named for the 1986 Bloom County comic strip in which lawyer Steve Dallas doesn't sue those responsible for his client's injury, but instead sues a corporation with only a vague connection because that's where the money is.

      But that was 30 years ago. Today the popular strategy is to go after those who don't much money - and thus can't defend themselves - and make up for it in volume. Offer to settle for a few thousand dollars, a tad less than what any defense would cost. See Prenda Law and many other copyright and patent trolls. In the Bloom County strip it's Opus who would be sued today.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 9:05am

        Re: Re:

        I think this is a bit short sighted. There is no one single strategy for running a business. Different businesses use different strategies. There are businesses that charge a whole lot more than what you can get it elsewhere but their strategy is that they offer a larger variety of a specific product type in a convenient location whereas to get that selection all in one place you may have to go to thirty different places/contact thirty different supplies that can span a very large area (all over the world even). It's such a pain. What they sell is not generic.

        There are those that sell basic items with low margins and make it up in volume by selling more to more customers. Walmart is an example of this (or used to be at least). Buying a car with none of the bells and whistles.

        Then there are those that sell luxury or status items at a huge margin. Apple (though I at least know that most retail outlets that sell apple products don't make much of a profit but Apple corporation does). Cars with all the bells and whistles.

        Then there are those that attempt to sell things in larger quantities for cheaper and try to avoid selling them in lower quantity for more expensive. Costco.

        Then there are loss leader items intended to draw people towards more expensive items.

        There is no one single business model today. Multiple different models exist and everyone must find a niche model to position themselves in. It just so happens that, in this case, the model is sue for some trumped up amount, offer smaller settlements, and make it up in volume. There are still others that attempt to sue fewer times but make their lawsuits count. OK, that maybe less the case today because those people tend to be high profile and with the proliferation of media outlets (including the Internet but especially television and mainstream media. The Internet tends to focus more on what the mainstream media neglects, like these smaller cases, which has been making it harder for those with Prenda's business model to succeed since now more people are putting more pressure on the legal system to correct this) it is harder for them to get away with it without drawing a lot of unwanted public attention. Suing and settling for smaller amounts is much lower profile and draws less attention, at least before the proliferation of the Internet.

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

      • identicon
        David, 24 Sep 2015 @ 9:30am

        Re: Re:

        I so love Bloom County. So glad it's back, and Berke is in perfect form.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 8:18am

    Yelp = extortion

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 8:43am

    ...Superior Moving & Storage was a paid advertiser with Yelp for many years...

    And that is why I don't trust review sites that allow paid ads from firms that are also reviewed on the same site.

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

  • icon
    davebarnes (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 9:08am

    As a fan of Yelp

    1. I like Yelp and think it is a valuable service.
    2. I have written 698 reviews on Yelp.
    3. I visit many businesses on Yelp every day.

    This warning by Yelp is very unusual. These moving company idiots had to work to get this warning.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 9:27am

      Re: As a fan of Yelp

      I never took Yelp for being the kind of company that prioritizes good reviews for those that pay them over those that don't in terms of what constitutes a recommended review. But, with everything going on here, I'm starting to second guess that. It would be very shady of Yelp. I wonder if Yelp offers me a way to know if someone is paying them or not? Maybe I haven't really been paying enough attention but at least if I know that can make it more easy for me to notice trends.

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

    • identicon
      David, 24 Sep 2015 @ 9:32am

      Re: As a fan of Yelp

      The moving company business seems to be one that has a lot of sketchy characters in the market. There are good ones, but there seems to be an abundance of bad ones, too.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 9:50am

        Re: Re: As a fan of Yelp

        Moving, like valet parking, is risky. You can ding a car. Even if you don't ding a car someone could blame you for it. You have to work fast and be efficient.

        Picking up heavy and delicate objects and boxes with delicate stuff and putting it down can make it easy for you to bang a wall in the process of moving stuff, put something down too hard and break it, etc... and these companies have quotas, they need to get to their next job quickly because they have to make more profit. If they're too slow there is less profit.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 10:12am

          Re: Re: Re: As a fan of Yelp

          I've moved something like 18 times, 7 times overseas.

          It's not common that stuff gets broken. A proper moving company will pack everything on-site to make sure that nothing gets broken, that is their job.

          Things stolen from crates, yes. Trunks routed to a country that had a coup & coming back full of bullet holes, yes. Mildewy things because they sat in a damp location, yes.

          Broken stuff - not so much. Then again, we never used shady moving companies....

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 10:58am

      Re: As a fan of Yelp

      Nice try Yelp.

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

  • icon
    yankinwaoz (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 9:44am

    Has Superior Moving met Ms. Streisand?

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

  • icon
    Zauber Paracelsus (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 5:54pm

    Florida, of course...

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 25 Sep 2015 @ 2:11am

    Settling doesn't mean a weak case

    Come on, plaintiffs in a lawsuit offer to settle all the time, even if the case is strong. In fact, especially if the case is strong, because it saves all those lawyer fees.

    We're all familiar with this approach, we've seen it on TV: "This is a nice little place; you wouldn't want anything to happen to it. Give us a little 'gratuity' to keep it safe."

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

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