CINCINNATI (CN) – TripAdvisor should not face defamation claims for putting a Tennessee resort atop its list of America’s “Dirtiest Hotels” in 2011, the 6th Circuit ruled.
Kenneth Seaton, the owner and operator of the Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., sued the Expedia subsidiary nearly two years ago for $10 million.
He claimed that TripAdvisor compiled its list of Dirtiest Hotels “to cause the public to cease and refrain from doing business with [Grand Resort] and to cause great injury and irreparable damage to and to destroy [Grand Resort’s] business and reputation by false and misleading means.”
In moving to dismiss, TripAdvisor provided a screenshot of the feature in question. It showed Grand Resort at the No. 1 spot, alongside “a photograph of a ripped bedspread; a quotation that ‘There was dirt at least ½” thick in the bathtub which was filled with lots of dark hair.’; and a thumbs-down image beside the statement ‘87% of reviewers do not recommend this hotel,'” according to the ruling.
A federal judge in Knoxville dismissed the action, and the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court affirmed Wednesday.
“Seaton did not state a plausible claim for defamation because TripAdvisor’s placement of Grand Resort on the ‘2011 Dirtiest Hotels’ list is not capable of being defamatory,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote for a three-person panel. “Placement on the ‘2011 Dirtiest Hotels’ list constitutes protected opinion because the list employs loose, hyperbolic language and its general tenor undermines any assertion by Seaton that the list communicates anything more than the opinions of TripAdvisor’s users.”
Judge Moore added: “TripAdvisor’s ‘2011 Dirtiest Hotels’ list cannot reasonably be interpreted as stating, as an assertion of fact, that Grand Resort is the dirtiest hotel in America. We reach this conclusion for two reasons. First, TripAdvisor’s use of ‘dirtiest’ amounts to rhetorical hyperbole. Second, the general tenor of the ‘2011 Dirtiest Hotels’ list undermines any impression that TripAdvisor was seriously maintaining that Grand Resort is, in fact, the dirtiest hotel in America. For these reasons, TripAdvisor’s placement of Grand Resort on the ‘2011 Dirtiest Hotels’ list constitutes nonactionable opinion.”
Seaton also failed to question the methodology TripAdvisor used to compose its list, with the appellate panel citing its 2007 resolution of Compuware Corp. v. Moody’s Investors Services Inc.
“Even if Seaton is correct that TripAdvisor employed a ‘flawed methodology’ in creating the list, his claim for defamation still fails because TripAdvisor’s method of compiling its user reviews and surveys, as alleged by Seaton, is ‘inherently subjective [in] nature’ and therefore protected under Compuware,” Moore wrote.