PhotoA Texas court has dismissed a $1 million lawsuit that a Dallas pet-sitting company filed against a couple who said the pet-sitters had overfed their goldfish.

It all began when fish owners Michelle and Robert Duchouquette returned home to Dallas after a brief vacation and found that the water in their fish bowl was cloudy, suggesting that their fish had been overfed by Prestigious Pets, the pet-sitting company. They posted a review on Yelp, complaining they had been unable to talk directly to the pet-sitter and gave the company a one-star rating.

Prestigious Pets sued, claiming the negative review was libelous and claimed that it breached a nondisparagement clause in its customer agreement.

It is thought to be the first court case in which a court has held a nondisparagement clause in a consumer contract to be unenforceable, said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who represented the Douchouquettes, along with local counsel.

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A notice warns Yelp users

“Seeking to silence negative criticism, the owners of Prestigious Pets may well have put their whole company on the line,” Levy said. “Not only did the company lose business when customers were disgusted over the non-disparagement lawsuit, it now is responsible to pay attorney fees and sanctions. This case should serve as a warning to other companies.”

Michelle Duchouquette said she was gratified by the ruling.  

"It took lots of hours and many smart minds spending too much time talking about Gordy the betta fish," she said. "Thank goodness they did not lose sight of the real issue: the threats posed by non-disparagement clauses to our right to free speech.”

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The fat fish review

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