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American Icon Brewery sues over negative online posting


As his first craft beer venture in Vero Beach unfolds, developer Michael Rechter said American Icon Brewery won’t tolerate false postings online, and he’s not kidding.

American Icon Brewery filed a lawsuit in November against Indian River County resident Marissa Tirro for allegedly posting a review on the brewery’s Facebook page that contained inaccurate information.

“Defendant stated, among other things, that Plaintiff ‘abuses its employees,’” says the Nov. 14 complaint drafted by Thomas Tierney, an attorney for the brewery.

Even after American Icon responded that the allegations were false, at least 14 other people, thought to be connected with the defendant, wrote additional inaccurate comments online, the lawsuit contends.

“Few, if any of defendant’s friends and family members had actually been to Plaintiff’s brewery restaurant,” it says. “One of the additional false reviews stated that the ‘owner is the rudest person I ever met.’”

American Icon Brewery didn’t sue because it had a bad review – no company wants to sue the members of the community it is trying to serve, said Rechter, reached by phone.

American Icon Brewery sued because what was said was not true and the business has an obligation to stand up for its hardworking team of employees.

Though Marissa Tirro’s Nov. 7 post has been deleted, on Nov. 9 a Facebook user named Joe Tirro gave the establishment one star. He claimed the beer was terrible, the food was bad and the service was rude. He said the company fired his friend.

“Only open for a month and already treating their workers like trash. I will never do business with them again,” it says.

American Icon Brewery is alleging defamation, conspiracy to defame and libel. It is asking for monetary damages from Marissa Tirro, including compensation for loss of business reputation.

Such lawsuits are becoming more common as more people voice their opinions online, said attorney David Weinstein with Hinshaw & Culbertson in Coral Gables.

Weinstein is not familiar with American Icon’s lawsuit, but said, in general, litigation like this is legitimate in the eyes of the court when a posting goes beyond a truthfully presented opinion.

There has to be factual support behind allegations of wrongdoing, he said. It’s one thing to share an opinion with the person next door, but online people are sharing their thoughts with the world.

“The courts are looking at the facts behind the opinion and businesses are being more aggressive in making sure what is out there is accurate and factually supported.”

American Icon Brewery’s Facebook page has more than 4,100 followers and 3,995 likes. Users have given it an average of 4.5 out of five stars. It hosted a grand opening celebration Dec. 7.

“Defendant knew or should have known that such false and libelous statements would cause injury or harm to [American Icon],” the lawsuit alleges.  

Tirro could not be reached for comment via Facebook or other means. 

A summons dated Nov. 14 says Tirro has 20 days to file a written defense or a default judgment could be entered against her. As of press time, she had not responded to the court.

Posts to American Icon Brewery’s Facebook page surrounding the date of Tirro’s alleged offense show some members of the online community dismayed about the legal action.

“Personal opinion of an establishment is a freedom,” wrote user David Warden on Nov. 10 giving the brewery one star.

Rechter declined to discuss the specifics behind the allegations, but said he stands by the lawsuit.  “You can’t go online and just write anything you want.”

Think of it as a shot across the bow, Rechter said. “We’re not going to let someone say whatever they damn well please without repercussions.”

Businesses that elect to use Facebook’s review function cannot delete comments, he explained. The Internet message board allows the brewery to advertise its product and get instant feedback from its customers.

American Icon takes what people write seriously, said Rechter, who often chimes in on the message board. The majority of the postings are positive, he said.  “We want people to walk out of there having a great experience every time.”