Johnson v. ComplaintsBoard.com

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

06/26/2008

Status: 

Pending

Location: 

Missouri

Disposition: 

Default Judgment
Dismissed (total)
Material Removed

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
Susan and Robert Johnson, owners of Cozy Kittens Cattery, LLC, sued consumer review site ComplaintsBoard.com, its (alleged) publishers Elizabeth Arden and Michelle Reitenger, and two ComplaintsBoard users who commented on a complaint thread about Susan Johnson and her cat breeding... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Elizabeth Arden d/b/a ComplaintsBoard.com; ComplaintsBoard.com; Michelle Reitenger; InMotion Hosting, Inc.; Melanie Lowry; Kathleen Heineman

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization
Intermediary

Location of Party: 

  • Missouri

Location of Party: 

  • California
  • Colorado

Legal Counsel: 

Stacey R. Gilman, Katherine K. Gonzalez - Berkowitz, Oliver, Williams, Shaw & Eisenbrandt, LLP-MO (for Defendant Heineman); Raymond E. Probst, Jr. - The Probst Law Firm P.A. (for Defendant InMotion Hosting); Melanie Lowry (Pro Se)
Description

Susan and Robert Johnson, owners of Cozy Kittens Cattery, LLC, sued consumer review site ComplaintsBoard.com, its (alleged) publishers Elizabeth Arden and Michelle Reitenger, and two ComplaintsBoard users who commented on a complaint thread about Susan Johnson and her cat breeding business. The Johnsons also sued InMotion Hosting, Inc., the hosting service for the website. The complaint alleges injurious falsehood, defamation, and intentional inflication of emotional distress against all six defendants.

The complaint also includes a federal trademark infringement claim against one of the commenters, Kathleen Heineman, who allegedly violated the Johnsons' trademark rights in their "Cozy Kittens" trademark by "use of the name 'Cozy Kittens and Cuddly Cats'" in connection with her competing cat breeding business. (This allegation is puzzling given that Heineman's business appears to be called Boutique Kittens.)

The claims against Arden, Reitenger, ComplaintsBoard.com, and InMotion seek to hold them liable for publishing third-party content (Lowry and Heineman's comments) and refusing to remove this content upon demand by the Johnsons. These claims are likely barred by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but it does not look like any defendant has asserted this defense so far.

The Johnsons originally filed suit in state court in Missouri in June 2008, but Heineman removed the case to federal court in October 2008. After removal, Heineman, a resident of Colorado, moved to dismiss the complaint against her for lack of personal jurisdiction. This motion was pending as of January 15, 2009.

Before removal, the state court entered a default judgment against Melanie Lowry, who did not appear in the case. Lowry later challenged the default judgment by sending a letter to the federal district judge.

InMotion moved to dismiss the complaint in state court (grounds unknown), but did not refile the motion in federal court after removal. Based on InMotion's failure to answer or file a motion to dismiss in federal court, the Johnsons moved for entry of a default judgment against it. InMotion then appeared, arguing that the court should deny the Johnsons' motion for entry of default and hear its motion to dismiss on the merits.

Arden, Reitenger, and ComplaintsBoard.com have not appeared in the federal action. The reason for this is not clear -- they may have defaulted in the state court action, they may have settled with the Johnsons, or they may never have been served in the first place. The disputed comments no longer appear on ComplaintsBoard.com.

UPDATE:  

6/8/2009 - Court granted the Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendants Heineman, Lowry, and InMotion Hosting 

7/10/2009 - Court dismissed without prejudice the claims against Defendants Elizabeth Arden d/b/a ComplaintsBoard.com, ComplaintsBoard.com, and Michelle Reitenger 

8/4/2010 - 8th Circuit affirms dismissal of claims 

Details

Content Type: 

  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Forum

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • Third-Party Content
  • Trademark
  • Section 230
  • Consumer Ratings and Reviews
  • User Comments or Submissions
Court Information & Documents
CMLP Information (Private)

CMLP Notes: 

Updated 2/12/09 - VAF