Calling the Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., "The Dirtiest Hotel in the U.S." turns out not to be defamation, an appeals court has found.
Travel site TripAdvisor every year lists what it deems to be the 'Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels in the U.S.," based on user reviews.
"For the sixth consecutive year," wrote TripAdvisor's director of communications in 2011, "TripAdvisor is shining a light on those U.S. hotels which have made a mark on their guests for all the wrong reasons. We believe that candid reviews—good, bad and ugly—empower travelers to see it all so they can plan and experience the best possible trips."
In rating the Grand #1 on its dirtiest list, TripAdvisor quoted the following reviewer comment:
"If you're looking for a hotel with chewing tobacco spit oozing down the halls …carpeting so greasy and dirty you wouldn't want to sit your luggage down—let alone walk around barefoot…by all means, stay at the Grand Resort."
The owner/operator Kenneth Seaton took offense, and sued TripAdvisor for $10 million for defamation in October 2011, according to court documents. His complaint alleged that TripAdvisor's intent had to been to discourage the public from doing business with the Grand, to cause injury and damage, and to destroy the Grand's reputation by false and misleading means.
Seaton's complaint was dismissed, and he appealed. An appeals court has affirmed the dismissal, with Judge Karen Moore finding that TripAdvisor's putting the Grand on its "dirtiest" list did not constitute defamation, since it was opinion rather than an assertion of fact.
The Judge wrote that the reviewer comments constituted protected, nonactionable opinion. Likewise, TripAdvisor's methodology had been "inherently subjective," making it, too, protected.
"First, TripAdvisor's use of 'dirtiest' amounts to rhetorical hyperbole," Moore wrote. "Second, the general tenor of the '2011 Dirtiest Hotels' list undermines any impression that TripAdvisor was seriously maintaining that Grand Resort is, in fact, the dirtiest hotel in America."
The hotel shut down in late 2012 and was sold to a holding company. Attempts to reach the former owner were unsuccessful.
The hotel is being gutted and converted into a new 400-room facility with a convention area, according to the Mountain Press.
Alison Croyle, a spokeswoman for TripAdvisor, applauded the court's decision "as it continues to protect the opinions of consumers online," the Associated Press reported.
TripAdvisor guest reviews of the Grand Resort ranged from not that bad to "Dirty room, unsafe pool" and "Absolute dump – Do Not Stay Here." One writer complained of many faults, starting with "unprofessional staff" at the front desk. While he was waiting to be served, he says, "An angry man and his wife came down and said that the front desk had given them a room currently occupied by another couple. Apparently, couple #1 walked in on couple #2."
He went on to fault the Grand for stained carpet, stained walls (something brown) and a bathroom that had holes in the walls. Wrote he: "The countertops and surfaces…were sticky, but nothing was as sticky as the TV remote."