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Lawsuit to Determine Whether “Anti-SLAPP” Laws a Green Light to Lie and Defame Online

Colorado Business Sues Consumer Over Online Smear Campaign and False and Defamatory Review

Every small business in Colorado and beyond should keep a close eye on this landmark case.”
— Attorney James Barber
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO, USA, February 9, 2022 / -- Today, Smith Plumbing & Heating (“Smith”), one of Colorado Springs’ most popular “Five-Star” plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical companies (founded in 1974), announced a lawsuit in El Paso County District Court (Case No. 2022CV30081) against Colorado Springs consumer Elizabeth Tibbetts for her participation in an online smear campaign against Smith following her refusal to remove or correct a false and defamatory Facebook review against Smith and its employees. Smith representatives made multiple attempts to speak and work with her regarding the review to no avail.

Mrs. Tibbetts’ online review and subsequent smear campaign resulted in numerous one-star reviews being left for Smith by individuals under pseudonyms who had never used the company’s services. Some of the reviews explicitly commented that the individual in question had never used Smith’s services, however, they would not in the future due to Mrs. Tibbetts’ claims.

Mrs. Tibbetts received a free estimate and work-scope consultation from Smith Plumbing in May 2021. During the work-scope consultation, Smith discovered numerous code violations with existing work at Mrs. Tibbetts home and informed Mrs. Tibbetts. After her free consultation, Mrs. Tibbetts posted an online review, falsely accusing Smith of engaging in numerous unethical and deceptive business practices, including:

o Charging more than double the rate of similar services and products;
o Requiring purchase of services and products that were not needed, including an electrical panel; and
o Engaging in predatory practices toward single mothers.

Furthermore, Mrs. Tibbets, who was never an actual Smith customer, falsely claimed that Smith, “tried to charge $23,000 for $10,000 in work” and then inexplicably claimed, “[T]hey really tried to take advantage of this single parent.” In fact, none of this was true.

Mrs. Tibbetts further omitted key information from her review about the five (5) total separate estimates she received from Smith for different work, products, warranties and guarantees. Moreover, it was discovered in a public records search that, despite her claims to the contrary, Mrs. Tibbetts did have an electrical panel installed months after Smith’s consultation, which it had recommended, and she had claimed was unnecessary and predatory. It was likewise discovered in public court filings that Mrs. Tibbetts was actually married and not a “single parent” as she had sensationally claimed at the time of her review.

Attorney Cassandra Kirsch, lead litigator for Smith in the case, noted, “Smith Plumbing, a woman-owned business, prides itself on customer service and made multiple attempts prior to filing a lawsuit to reach out to Mrs. Tibbetts to address her concerns and respectfully request she correct this disinformation. Regrettably, she refused, and, instead, effectively dared Smith in statements to their general counsel and over a televised broadcast on KOAA to sue her, leaving the company no other choice but to take legal action to protect its business, customers, and the dozens of Colorado families who work for it from the direct and collateral damage of such false information in the marketplace.”

Claims include trade libel, tortious interference with business relations, and intentional infliction of emotional distress for an unwarranted smear campaign that she took from the internet all the way to broadcast television in December 2021.

Said Kirsch: “Mrs. Tibbetts, rather than have a conversation with Smith about how she could correct her review or removing it, decided to double-down on her smear campaign and went on KOAA to further blast the company on television and online streaming broadcasts, which resulted in potential customers, people who had never used Smith Plumbing’s services, to leave negative, one-star reviews and state that they would never use the company's services, resulting in significant monetary damage and damage to Smith’s stellar reputation, as well as to the reputations of its employees – many of whom are actually single parents.”

Smith anticipates that the defense attorneys for Mrs. Tibbetts will attempt to invoke the protections of Colorado’s relatively new “anti-SLAPP” law. Although the law is intended to bolster free-speech rights, it is the position of Smith and its counsel that the Colorado legislature never intended this new law to give consumers a green light to orchestrate smear campaigns and post online reviews about private business disputes based on falsities and omissions of material information against other individuals and companies.

Both parties indicate a willingness to go all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court. “While Smith recognizes the critical import of free-speech rights,” said Kirsch, “It is equally imperative to take a stand for Colorado businesses and consumers to ensure truthful information in the marketplace. Online reviews based on mistruths, omissions, and falsities hurt consumers at the end of the day by depriving them of the facts that they need to make informed decisions. Smith Plumbing is merely protecting the families who work for the company, as well as potential customers, not to mention every small business in the state of Colorado.”

Attorney James Barber, General Counsel for Smith, added, “When a keyboard warrior maliciously and falsely libels our company, and after attempts have failed to encourage said individual to do the right thing and pull down the defamatory post, we necessarily pursue the only other available remedy to make our client whole and repair the damage caused by that offender. The proper forum for such disputes, of course, is the courts.”

Barber continued: “Suffice it to say that a negative or ‘one-star’ review itself is irrelevant to our decision as to whether or not to pursue legal remedies. If a customer has a legitimate and truthful concern and writes an unfavorable review (even a 1-star review), we address it directly and remedy the situation to the customer’s satisfaction. This is why, out of the hundreds of reviews we’ve received; the vast majority are 5-Star reviews. One can discern from this alone that this horribly offensive and defamatory allegation that Smith Plumbing takes advantage of single mothers, is particularly and facially absurd. A one-star review does not equate to a demand letter. A review with false and defamatory claims which significantly hurt the families of our nearly eighty (80) employees, equates to a demand letter. If that doesn’t work, then litigation.”

“With the advent of social media,” noted Barber, “small businesses like Smith Plumbing are, more and more, having to engage in litigation to right wrongs committed against them in the areas of trade libel and defamation per se. If a false and defamatory review such as Mrs. Tibbets costs a small, woman-owned business-like Smith just one customer, that can significantly damage the company and, by extension, the very single moms who are employed with Smith and rely upon the company to put food on the table.”

“Every small business in Colorado and beyond,” concluded Barber, “should keep a close eye on this landmark case. It will hopefully answer the question as to whether hot-headed and malicious consumers in Colorado can defame a company and its employees with reckless abandon, or whether there might remain legal recourse for small businesses in Colorado against these kinds of devastating and patently false smear campaigns.”

Media inquiries:
The Law Office of Cassandra M. Kirsch, LLC.
(303) 228-2165

Smith Plumbing General Counsel
James. M. Barber
(202) 255-1959

James Barber
Smith Plumbing and Heating
+1 202-255-1959
email us here