Training in libel and defamation law is not standard in many professions outside of journalism, and that may spell trouble for a Somerville bar that went online to post a response from a dissatisfied diner.
Andover attorney Anthony Bistany of the Law Offices of Anthony Bistany on Main Street filed a complaint in Essex Superior Court Wednesday on behalf of a Methuen man against River Bar, alleging the Somerville restaurant “has a history of insulting, and questioning the honesty of those who post negative reviews.” The complaint says River Bar published an online post accusing Dylan Abourjeili of making sexist comments and ignored requests to remove the post.
Abourjeili is seeking unspecified damages in excess of $50,000 and the post’s removal for causing “significant reputational harm.”
“Individuals should be free to offer honest reviews of their experiences at the establishments in their communities. Such freedom allows consumers to be better informed about where they decide to spend their hard-earned dollars, without fear of being attacked or defamed,” Bistany said. “River Bar’s defamation not only harmed my client, it also tramples upon the wise and prudent public policy which protects citizens from such attacks.”
Andover News asked River Bar for comment about the case on Friday afternoon. We’ll update this story if they get back to us.
Online defamation case law is still evolving, and when it comes to online business reviews, it has usually been the restaurant suing the reviewer for defamation or libel. In August, a ruling from a New Jersey appellate court warned consumers should “take care not to state false facts” about the businesses they review online.
Service Without A Smile
According to the complaint, Abourjeili, his girlfriend and six other friends went to River Bar on July 11 and received poor service from a waitress named “Sabrina.” Abourjeili said Sabrina made him and his friends “feel unwelcome and burdensome,” giving them “dirty looks throughout their time at River Bar,” and there were significant delays in service. He said his only interaction with Sabrina came when he ordered a “Captain and Coke” and she responded “There isn’t any Captain Morgan! There’s only Bacardi” in an “aggressive manner.”
Abourjeili’s complaint said he had left about 15 publicly-accessible reviews of restaurants on Google over the past five years, and that many of his friends and business associates have commented on the reviews. After the group’s trip to River Bar, he posted another review on Google:
Place is a disgrace. Limited drinks at night. Waitress Sabrina had a big attitude; no smile. Don’t know how she got the job. When we asked the bartender for her name and stated she was rude, she responded “ dont take it personal”. Wont be back. Bad vibes for real. We had a table of 8 by the way.
The review was still viewable Friday afternoon, as was River Bar’s response to Abourjeili:
Dylan, our servers are there to do their job, not to flirt with you. Not appreciating your rude sexist comments is not an attitude. I’m sorry you won’t be back but I do hope you treat the female staff at other establishments with more respect.
River Bar “knew that the statements in the publication were false, yet published them anyway with the intent to harm [Abourjeili]’s reputation, so that his review would be discredited and disregarded by the public,” the complaint said.
Abourjeili’s girlfriend and another guest at the dinner filed affidavits in the case. Abourjeili’s complaint claims he has been “questioned, ridiculed, and insulted” by people who believed River Bar’s review and that his reputation has “been severely and irreparably tarnished.” He claims business associates, family, friends and acquaintances have cut ties with him.
“River Bar’s actions were purposely aimed at deterring customers from posting reviews about the establishment that its ownership or management disapprove of,” Bistany said Monday.