A failed commercial landlord-tenant relationship spilled onto the internet, where the disgruntled former tenant used a blog to vent her displeasure with her former landlord and its business practices. Although the landlord could pursue the tenant for defamation, it could not get an injunction to stop the tenant’s blogging, the 3d District Court of Appeal decided, since the landlord did not have any evidence that the blog posts were harming the landlord’s business by causing current tenants to leave or leading potential new tenants to stay away.
The case revolved around Irina Chevalina, who ran a South Florida business with her husband. The couple decided to lease space at a commercial property owned by RK Associates for their business. The relationship went extremely poorly, ending up in court, where the tenants launched a breach of lease and defamation action. While that case was going on, the landlord became aware of several anonymous blog posts disparaging RK. After discovering that Chevalina was the author of the internet invective, the landlord countersued the tenant, alleging claims of tortious interference with contractual relationships and tortious interference with advantageous business relationships.
The landlord sought and received an injunction barring the former tenant from engaging in any more defamatory blogging and from “cyberstalking” Katz. The 3d District Court of Appeal reversed that ruling and threw out the injunction.
The reason the landlord’s injunction could not survive was a lack of the right type of evidence. In situations like Chevalina and RK’s dispute, the party seeking the injunction must prove that the alleged defamatory statements have harmed its business. For example, in a similar 2010 case that the court cited, a doctor was not entitled to an injunction because he failed to show that the alleged defamatory statements made against him had caused him to lose patients or had otherwise damaged his business.
The landlord had the same problem as the doctor. RK lacked sufficient evidence that Chevalina’s blogging had led existing tenants to leave the landlord’s properties, caused potential new tenants to refrain from leasing from RK, or otherwise harmed the landlord’s business. The only evidence relating to this point was a real estate broker who testified that a director of real estate for Subway Restaurant expressed concern about the blog posts, but Subway had not pulled out of any leases with the landlord, and the broker himself had not refrained from doing business with RK.
The court also rejected the cyberstalking element of the injunction. “Angry social media postings are now common. Jilted lovers, jilted tenants, and attention-seeking bloggers spew their anger into fiber-optic cables and cyberspace. But … these rants are essentially the electronic successors of the pre-blog, solo complainant holding a poster on a public sidewalk in front of an auto dealer that proclaimed, ‘DON’T BUY HERE! ONLY LEMONS FROM THESE CROOKS!’”
Commercial disputes, like any other dispute in the Internet Age, have the potential to spill onto the web. However, in order to get an injunction to stop someone from blogging about your business, you need a very specific set of evidence. For answers to your questions about your commercial dispute, and your options for protecting your business’s reputation, consult the Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon. Our attorneys have the skills, experience, and determination to help you guard your business interests.
Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation.
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