Internet Law

Named No. 1 'dirtiest' hotel, resort sues TripAdvisor and loses in 6th Circuit

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A federal appeals court has tossed a $10 million defamation suit by a resort in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., that was ranked No. 1 on a 2011 “dirtiest hotels” list by TripAdvisor.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the list is opinion protected by the First Amendment. The Associated Press and Reuters have stories, and How Appealing links to the Aug. 28 decision (PDF).

The Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center had sued after it was given the top ranking on the dirtiest hotels list “as reported by travelers on TripAdvisor.” Next to its position was a photo of a ripped bedsheet and this quote: “There was dirt at least 1/2” thick in the bathtub which was filled with lots of dark hair.” A thumbs down was listed next to the statement “87% of reviewers do not recommend this hotel.”

Writing for the court, Judge Karen Nelson Moore said the list constitutes protected opinion. She pointed to the “loose, hyperbolic language” and “general tenor” of the list that suggests it constitutes no more than the opinions of TripAdvisor users.

“No reader of TripAdvisor’s list would understand Grand Resort to be, objectively, the dirtiest hotel in all the Americas, the North American continent, or even the United States,” Moore wrote. Readers could discern that “TripAdvisor did not conduct a scientific study to determine which ten hotels were objectively the dirtiest in America.”

Jeffrey Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard University, told Reuters that the decision is “a victory for online review sites by letting them not only publish user comments but also draw conclusions.” He had filed a brief supporting TripAdvisor.

The Grand Resort closed in 2012 and has been purchased by a holding company.

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