In 2011, TripAdvisor rated Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee number one on its list of the “Dirtiest Hotels in America.” Based on TripAdvisor users’ opinions, the list featured quotations such as: “There was dirt at least ½ inch thik in the bathtub which was filled with lots of dark hair.” Kenneth Seaton, Grand Resort’s sole proprietor, filed suit against TripAdvisor, alleging claims of defamation, false-light invasion of privacy, tortious interference with prospective business relationships and trade libel/injurious falsehood. The district court granted TripAdvisor’s motion to dismiss, finding the list to be protected opinion and therefore not capable of being defamatory. In a decision written by Judge Moore, the Sixth Circuit affirmed.
The Sixth Circuit held that the list’s loose, hyperbolic language was not capable of being defamatory. The list was protected opinion because it communicated only the opinions of TripAdvisor’s users; it would be clear to any reader that TripAdvisor was not making an actual assertion of fact with their list. Since Seaton failed to state a plausible claim for defamation, his claims for tortious interference and trade libel/injurious falsehood also failed. Seaton’s claim for tortious interference relied on the list being defamatory, and Seaton could not prove falsity for the claim for trade libel/injurious falsehood because the placement of hotels on the list was protected opinion. Finally, Seaton’s claim for false-light invasion of privacy failed because Grand Resort, as a business, could not make such a claim under Tennessee law.