May 10, 2001
Ricart Automotive Agrees to Settle Suit Against Web Critic
Angry Ohio Customer Free to Create Anti-Ricart Sites This Summer
WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Ricart Automotive has agreed to drop a lawsuit it filed against an angry customer who created two anti-Ricart Web sites to log customer complaints about the dealership.
Ricart last year sued Ohio State University graduate student Robert F. Dalton, claiming that his sites violated trademark law, and Ricart quickly obtained a preliminary injunction against any use of the word “ricart” in Dalton?s site names. Under a settlement agreement entered into this week, Ricart — which spent nearly $100,000 on the case — agreed to drop its suit and have the injunction dissolved in exchange for Dalton agreeing to relinquish the domain names of his sites, www.ricartautoripoff.com and www.ricartauto.com.
However, Dalton retains the right to create new anti-Ricart Web sites after July 3, 2001, using the word “ricart” in any portion of the domain name (except for the two relinquished domain names) and to include the Ricart name in his Web site “meta tags,” a form of Internet code used to describe Web sites in a way that helps people using search engines locate Web pages in which they may be interested. For now, Dalton has posted the information on his sites at www.columbusconsumer.com.
“Clearly this is a victory for Mr. Dalton, who has every right in the world to post his thoughts about Ricart Automotive on the Internet,” said Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with Public Citizen Litigation Group who is representing Dalton. Public Citizen has represented other Internet critics in similar First Amendment cases. “The First Amendment clearly protects the kind of criticism Mr. Dalton has posted.”
Dalton created the Web sites after a dispute with the dealership over a 1997 Ford F-150 pickup truck he leased. Dalton felt cheated in the deal and has said misrepresentations were made to him about the warranty and his ability to return the truck. His site contains a wealth of information about complaints filed against Ricart with the Ohio Attorney General?s Office, as well as consumer information alerting people to potential scams.
“This case was all about Ricart trying to keep damaging information about its business practices from becoming public knowledge,” Dalton said. “I feel it was an honor and a privilege to convey the collective voices of Ricart?s victims to a larger audience, and I am grateful for my lawyers? assistance in accomplishing that.”
The case is yet another affirming the rights of angry consumers to post their gripes on the Internet. In one recent case, Alitalia dropped its case against a passenger who created a Web site to air his gripes about lost luggage. In another recent case, Pacifica Foundation decided not to carry out its threat to sue several groups that created anti-Pacifica sites.
Dalton is also represented by Columbus consumer lawyers Eric Willison and Alvin Borromeo.