A Pet Sitting Business Sued These Customers For Posting A Negative Yelp Review

The company is seeking $6,766 in damages.

This is Robert and Michelle Duchouquette from Plano, Texas.

They love their two dogs, Bogey and Barley, and their pet Betta fish, Gordy.

The couple sought out pet sitting services through Prestigious Pets in Dallas ahead of an October weekend trip to Napa, California, according to a motion filed by the couple at a Justice of the Peace Court in Dallas.

Michelle Duchouquette said some of the business policies, like the sitter's refusal to leave her phone number, left her unsettled.

But her husband moved forward, and signed the contract for services because of the company's glowing Yelp reviews, according to their affidavits.

While the couple was away, they checked on a camera pointed at the fish tank and noticed it had become cloudy.

A still image from the Duchouquette's camera on Oct. 16 and on Oct. 19.

Michelle Duchouquette sent the company an email about the clouded fish tank and some billing issues when she returned home.

She also spoke to someone from Prestigious Pets on the phone at least once, according to the affidavit.

After speaking with the company, Michelle Duchouquette wrote a "candid" review on Yelp because she wanted other pet owners "to be aware of my experience with Prestigious Pets." She gave the company one star on Yelp.

She mainly criticized the company's policy of not sharing the sitter's contact information in case of an emergency and the care of her fish, Gordy.

"The one star is for potentially harming my fish," she writes. "Otherwise it would be have been two stars."

She also criticized what she called the company's unclear communication about the price of the dog walks.

A few days later, the Duchouquettes received a cease and desist letter from the company asking the couple to stop publishing "false statements regarding Prestigious Pets."

The company said if the couple would not comply, it would "seek legal and injunctive relief from a court."

The company specifically took issue with Michelle Duchouquette's claim that $20 does not include an actual walk. She claimed in her affidavit the sitter was not clear that it included a 10 to 15 minute walk during the company's consultation.

She revised her review to clarify this, but still stands by the other claims she makes in the post.

Prestigious Pets slapped the couple with a hand-written small claims suit in November, seeking $6,766 in damages and accusing the couple of violating a "non-disparagement clause" which prohibits them from publicly criticizing the company.

The company accuses the couple of irreparable and continued harm, libelous and slanderous harm, intentional misrepresentation, and fraud by omission, as well as "monetary damages due to legal fees and lost work opportunities."

"When the Duchouquettes posted false and misleading statements on 'Yelp'" wrote Prestigious Pets in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "Prestigious Pets was forced to pursue legal action against the Duchouquettes for violating the terms of the contract and to protect the company's reputation and good will from the Duchouquettes' defamatory remarks."

The company further claims the Duchouquettes "were unwilling and refused to discuss their complaints or issues" directly "despite Prestigious Pets' numerous attempts to do so."

While the company's actions may shock some, legal action over non-disparagement clauses are not unusual.

KlearGear, a geek toy company, sued two customers for $3,500 in 2009 when they posted a negative review to RipOffReport.com, according to Ars Technica.

The company lost a counter-lawsuit by the two customers challenging the company's request for damages. The judge awarded $306,750 in damages and attorneys fees to the customers in 2014.

The Duchouquette's attorney, Monica Latin with Carrington Coleman law firm, said the company's legal action "touches a nerve when someone tries to say, 'well you can’t tell the truth.'"

Latin argued that the company's clause "skews the public dialogue."

"If a customer is allowed to post positive comments but not negative comments then the only comments out there are going to positive," she said.

This leaves "a misimpression about the general population's experience with that service," she said.

The Duchouquettes challenged the company's claims that the review was libelous, claiming it is protected under free speech and that the non-disparagement clause has no real enforcement.

A hearing for the case is scheduled for April 4.

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