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Google sued as PetsWarehouse Lawsuit Continues. 988

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the strange-gets-stranger dept.
Ikari Gendou writes "In April, Slashdot reported that Robert Novak, owner of Internet pet store Pets Warehouse filed a $15,000,000US lawsuit against several individuals who made comments about his company's poor service on an Internet mailing list. Also named in it and in the suit that followed were the owner of the mailing list, the owners of several informational sites about the lawsuit, the owners of other forums where the lawsuit was discussed, the attorney for the defense, and several sites that merely ran banner ads promoting the defense fund set up for the lawsuit. Some defendents settled out of fear, and were forced to pay cash, transfer their personal domain names to Novak, or even run banner ads for Petswarehouse on their websites. Now, the attorney for the defense has announced that in round three of the lawsuit, Google has been sued, as well as several other sites that have carried news about the lawsuit, such as search engine Judge-For-Yourself.com and pet stores DoctorDog.com and FerretStore.com. Robert Novak is representing himself in this lawsuit, and thus it is effectively costing him nothing to persue this campaign of harassment. He's already gotten several thousand dollars from settlements and cost the defendents considerably more than that in legal fees. More details should be posted soon here, including court documents that tell why Google was added to the suit."
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Google sued as PetsWarehouse Lawsuit Continues.

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  • by TrollBridge (550878) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:46AM (#4380797) Homepage Journal
    Review of the new lawsuit just in case it gets slashdotted.

    Plaintiff:
    Robert Novak,
    d/b/a Pets Warehouse.com

    Defendants:
    Overture Services, Inc.
    Google, Inc.
    Innovative Marketing Solutions, Inc.d/b/a Kanoodle.com
    Neeps, Inc. d/b/a Theferretstore.com
    John Holdefehr d/b/a Judge-for-yourself.com
    Biochemics, Inc. d/b/a Doctordog.com

    COURT DOCKET - Third Lawsuit

    09-24-2002 (1) Complaint filed and summons issued as to defendant(s) Biochemics, Inc., Google, Inc., John Holdefehr, Innovative Marketing Solutions, Inc., Neeps, Inc., Overture Services, Inc. Filing fee $150.00. Receipt number: 7370. Jury trial demanded. filed by pro se Robert Novak. (Attachments: #1 Civil Cover Sheet) (Romano, Daniel) (entered: 09-26-2002)

    09-26-2002 (2) Notice of Report on the filing of an action regarding a patent orTrademark Infringement sent to Washington DC (Romano, Daniel) (Entered: 09-26-2002)

  • Re:Minor point (Score:2, Informative)

    by roachmotel3 (543872) <paul@@@isaroach...com> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:47AM (#4380807)
    Maybe I didn't read the article as carefully as you, but I saw:

    Robert Novak is representing himself in this lawsuit, and thus it is effectively costing him nothing to persue this campaign of harassment.

  • by vondo (303621) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:54AM (#4380879)
    I was pretty confused reading the original comment.

    The comments are about "Pet Warehouse", which is here [petwarehouse.com] while the link is for Pets Warehouse.

    What happened, according to the Salon article, linked in the original /. article is that the "s" was left off.

    More understandable since Pet Warehouse is a reputable outfit predating the dotcom boom. I've dealt with them lots of times.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:56AM (#4380900)
    Know what, you're probably a better target than Google. Why? Well, you don't have as much money, not having as much money means that you are forced to hire a lawyer, fly out to NY (if you don't already live there), etc. That means you're far more likely to just say "Screw this" and settle out of court as it may even be cheaper.

    Here's a relavent quote from an article [libn.com] on the case:

    Resler said his lawyer was confident they could defeat Novak in court. But, Resler said, when the lawyer told the defendants how much it would cost, "we said, 'Settle.' "

    My hope is that after Google finishes with this case, they counter-sue the guy's ass off.
  • Several states are now passing laws to make such suits illegal, but for the time being, watch what you say online.

    The kinds of suits are called SLAPPs. Many states are attempting to pass anti-SLAPP [thefirstamendment.org] laws, notably California [casp.net]
  • by Zathrus (232140) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:02PM (#4380955) Homepage
    The dealer in question is Jim Ellis Volkswagon in Atlanta, GA. Until recently Jim Ellis dealerships had a monopoly on VW and Audi sales in the Atlanta area. The post that started it all can be found here [vwvortex.com].

    The case got so much attention all over the world that the dealership dropped the case - it was never tried in court (except the court of public opinion, which was pretty damning). Whether or not the dealership had a leg to stand on is questionable - there may have been slander in the thread, but the original poster may not have been the one to do it.

    Mr. Novak has probably bitten off more than he can chew, at least if Google actually goes to court and doesn't just yank the references like they did with Scientology and Operation Clambake [xenu.net].

    I've never dealt with Mr. Novak's business, and I know I certainly would not in the future given his legal tactics. I have dealt with Jim Ellis though, and will not in the future because of my experiences with them.
  • by PeterHammer (612517) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:03PM (#4380964)
    To Hell with Mr. Novak. Is it just me, or isn't one of the pillars of the law in this country called "Free Speech". As I understand it, I can say what I want about Mr. Novak and his petstore, and as long as it is based on opinions of fact, he has no right to sue me. It isn't slandering if I had a bad experience and I tell the world about it. But from Mr. Novak's sick and twisted interpretation of the law, the Better Business Bureau itself should be illegal. Get a clue A55HOLE.
  • by SirSlud (67381) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:04PM (#4380973) Homepage
    here [petswarehousesucks.com] :)
  • Re:Minor point (Score:3, Informative)

    by gerardrj (207690) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:06PM (#4380997) Journal
    It's now been changed, /.'s front page summary had stated that Novak was "defending himself". It is now changed to "representing himself". Once again /. plays revisionist news. :)
  • by mojotek (453004) <mojotek@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:12PM (#4381039) Homepage Journal
    Hopefully this won't have a negative affect on another online Pet store: Drs. Foster and Smith's Pet Warehouse [petwarehouse.com]. Their website being "www.petwarehouse.com" and this buffoon's being "www.petswarehouse.com".

    In my experience, they are a very reliable source for all kinds of supplies, and it would be a shame for people to associate their site with this litigation crazy moron.
  • by SoCalChris (573049) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:19PM (#4381090) Journal
    According to this followup post to the original complaint about them...

    http://fins.actwin.com/aquatic-plants/month.200105 /msg00213.html [actwin.com]

    I made a rather unfortunate typo in my last message - I was referring to *Pets* Warehouse, not Pet Warehouse. My apologies (to you and to Pet Warehouse!).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:35PM (#4381217)
    well, IAAL :) and there are ways to deal with frivolous suits. Unfortunately, a lot of people are unwilling to fight these things out. Businesses also usually decide to settle based on an economic analysis -- cost of settlement versus cost of defense + (amount of possible adverse outcome x liklihood of adverse outcome). Even if the liklihood of an adverse outcome is very small, the cost of defense can be high (big firm billing rates start at $200/hr, and can be significantly higher than that).

    The main ways to deal with frivolous suits:
    1) Motion to dismiss/Motion for Summary judgment: In the former, you argue to the judge that even if the facts are as plainitff has alleged, there is no legal claim, or that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the case. In the latter, you can argue the facts, and demonstrate that if there is no real dispute over the facts, plaintiff cannot support his or her legal claims. The latter is more expensive, because usually you must conduct discovery inorder to substantiate your version of the facts. (Note: the above is a broad simplication of somewhat complicated legal manuevers)

    2) Move for santions under Rule 11: a plaintiff (or attorney, if represented by counsel) has an obligation not to file fraudulent or frivolous suits. Courts tend to err of the side of not sanctioning pro se plainiffs (don't want to appear to be denying access to the courts to the poor), but they will sanction if provoked.

    Probably the biggets problem is touched upon by our Canadian friend -- unless the case involves a statute that so provides, the default rule in the US is that each side is responsible for their own costs. Once again, if the court wishes to sanction a party, it has the power to assess the other side's costs, but that's rare -- probably too rare. Nevertheless, the courts don't want to be seen as discouraging the "little guy" from seekig redress through the courts.
  • by night_flyer (453866) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:39PM (#4381253) Homepage
    PetsWarehouse BBB Rating
    The Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York, Inc. has provided an unsatisfactory rating, the Bureau's lowest, for PetsWarehouse. The BBB site states:

    "This firm operates an affiliated business on the internet offering products through its Copaigue location. This firm has received 21 complaints in the last 36 months, of which 11 of those 21 complaints were filed in the last 12 months. Complaints to the Bureau have alleged: 1) nondelivery of ordered merchandise and 2) credit or billing problems. This firm has a pattern of not responding to complaints to its attention by the Bureau."

  • by dillon_rinker (17944) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:58PM (#4381471) Homepage
    Absolutely. The right to petition the government for the redress of grievances (commonly called "suing") is enshrined in the bill of rights.
  • Re:slapback (Score:2, Informative)

    by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@infamo[ ]net ['us.' in gap]> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:58PM (#4381473) Homepage
    GE used to have a problem with environmentalists filling all sorts of frivolous actions against it. So it adobted a policy called "slap back"

    I'm afriad you've got it mixed up. The tactic is called "SLAPP" - Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation [casp.net] - and it's widely used by large corporations to silence their critics.

    It worked very well.
    Only if you consider an outcome whereby corporate wrongdoers can operate without fear a positive outcome...

    This is almost why "loser pays" is a horrible idea. Amalgamated Profits, Inc. is poisioning your town? Under loser pays, if you try to sue and their high priced lawyers beat the ones you managed to scrape enough pennies together to hire, not only are you poisoned and broke from your own legal fees, you've got to pay Amalgamated Profits, Inc.'s fees. So you don't dare sue.

  • by ncc74656 (45571) <scott@alfter.us> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @01:03PM (#4381521) Homepage Journal
    Note to Novak: Please don't put ads up on your site. I'd hate for you to get paid every time a vengeful slashkid views your web page.

    Using an ad-filtering proxy [alfter.us] will keep him from deriving that benefit from a slashdotting. Running something like while true; do lynx -dump http://www.petswarehouse.com >/dev/null; done will also result in no ad views.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @01:06PM (#4381542)
    About a year ago, I was on petswarehouse.com, noticed it was using IIS/ASPs, and like any good citizen, proceeded to do a quick security check of thier site before I bought anything. Low and behold, their IIS box was wide open, and happily gave me their SQL Server IP/username/password, which also was wide open. I glanced at sysobjects, found their customers table, and very carefully grabbed the list of customer names/addresses (no credit card numbers, of course, although they were there, and unencrypted)***.

    I tried for about two weeks to get a hold of anyone at the company that could patch the server, and everyone I spoke to directed me to Robert Novak. He never seemed to be there, and never bothered to return my calls/messages. I eventually gave up, deleted my logs, and hoped that noone would use the same hole that I found to steal CC numbers. I checked back a couple months later, and the hole still wasn't patched. It looks like they finally took care of it, though.

    I guess the point of the story is: if Robert Novak being a litigious jerk isn't a big enough reason to refuse to buy from his company, maybe his lack of concern for his customer's private/financial information is.

    *** Note: Many times, I have notified companies about security holes without "proof", and often have been brushed/laughed off. However, when you give them a list of thier customers, they suddenly take you very seriously, and the hole is usually patched within a day or two. In the worst case, I was flat-out accused of lying by a company's CEO, until I sent him the last four digits of his credit card number. The hole was patched that night :)
  • by MrResistor (120588) <peterahoff@nosPam.gmail.com> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @01:26PM (#4381738) Homepage
    Well, as of 10:21am (Pacific Whatever Time) the server could no longer be found by my browser, despite being able to find it repeatedly since 10:07am, so it appears that your warnings have been in vain.

    It's a shame really, I was kind of curious about that hamster thing...

  • by zoombat (513570) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @01:35PM (#4381838)
    Please note that Pets' Warehouse [petswarehouse.com] is the offending company, not Pet Warehouse [petwarehouse.com], a perfectly legitamate business.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @02:01PM (#4382060)
    This login and the comments maybe true, and amusing however, linking back to slashdot probably wasn't a good idea. Now he knows where the comments are originating from, and has the ability to sue. Since these comments are rather degrading and malicous(although funny to us), he'll either just get angry, or get even. Do we really want slashdot to get sued over this? PetsWarehouse isn't even a technology related company (if you consider pets don't program or use linux). It's nice to support those who are on the recieving end of being sued. But at the same time we wouldn't want slashdot to be owned by petswarehouse.
  • by SilentReproach (91511) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @02:30PM (#4382330)
    The message board is a third party site [infopop.cc] and it's still up, even though petswarehouse.com [petswarehouse.com] is down or slashdotted.

    In case of slashdotting, here is a comment from the petswarehouse.com website that I saved:



    Here's a nice story found at www.libn.com about the owner of petswarehouse.com (Robert Novak). If you're one of his customers, you might be interested to hear how he deals with complaints:

    Begin quote:

    PetsWarehouse.com founder dries out aquarists in courts
    by KEN SCHACHTER
    This is a tale of underwater gardeners (also known as aquarists), a Copiague businessman, the Internet, a $15 million libel suit and a long and twisting path through the justice system.

    At issue: What are the limits of free speech on the Internet?

    Think you can castigate a company online with impunity? Think again. You could find yourself on the receiving end of a heavy lawsuit.

    The first shot in what has become an epic legal battle was fired last May 15. That's when Dan Resler, a professor in the mathematical sciences department of Virginia Commonwealth University, posted a notice on an online bulletin board of aquatic plant hobbyists.

    "Thinking of buying plants from Pet Warehouse[sic]? Don't. What is crappy is their service! And they're maybe even a bit dishonest."

    That comment came after Resler bought a plant and felt he was overcharged for shipping.

    Resler's online comments triggered an outpouring from others on the bulletin board. Many chimed in with comments like: "Remember petSWEARhouse, buy their plants and you'll be swearing!"

    The businessman in question is Robert Novak, who does business as PetsWarehouse.com (www.petswarehouse.com). The online pet shop shares space at his son's store, Pets Warehouse, in Copiague, he said.

    Within weeks of the postings, Novak was in court. In a lawsuit dated May 30, 2001, and filed in federal eastern district court, Novak named Resler, several other bulletin board participants and Active Window Publications Inc., which hosts the bulletin board.

    The old saw says that an attorney who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer. Whoever made that up didn't envisage Novak, who is serving as his own lawyer. Novak doesn't have a law degree, but he is an old hand at legal wranglings. Talk to him and he cites case law, chapter and verse.

    "It's my hobby," he said.

  • by Eppie (553278) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @02:39PM (#4382400)
    Libel Resource Defense Center [ldrc.com] definition of libel.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @02:39PM (#4382408)
    From the Consolidated New York Laws on findlaw [findlaw.com]:
    S 8303-a. Costs upon frivolous claims and counterclaims in actions to recover damages for personal injury, injury to property or wrongful death.

    (a) If in an action to recover damages for personal injury, injury to property or wrongful death, or an action brought by the individual who committed a crime against the victim of the crime, and such action or claim is commenced or continued by a plaintiff or a counterclaim, defense or cross claim is commenced or continued by a defendant and is found, at any time during the proceedings or upon judgment, to be frivolous by the court, the court shall award to the successful party costs and reasonable attorney`s fees not exceeding ten thousand dollars.

    (b) The costs and fees awarded under subdivision (a) of this section shall be assessed either against the party bringing the action, claim, cross claim, defense or counterclaim or against the attorney for such party, or against both, as may be determined by the court, based upon the circumstances of the case. Such costs and fees shall be in addition to any other judgment awarded to the successful party.

    (c) In order to find the action, claim, counterclaim, defense or cross claim to be frivolous under subdivision (a) of this section, the court must find one or more of the following:

    (i) the action, claim, counterclaim, defense or cross claim was commenced, used or continued in bad faith, solely to delay or prolong the resolution of the litigation or to harass or maliciously injure another;

    (ii) the action, claim, counterclaim, defense or cross claim was commenced or continued in bad faith without any reasonable basis in law or fact and could not be supported by a good faith argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law. If the action, claim, counterclaim, defense or cross claim was promptly discontinued when the party or the attorney learned or should have learned that the action, claim, counterclaim, defense or cross claim lacked such a reasonable basis, the court may find that the party or the attorney did not act in bad faith.

  • by swordboy (472941) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @03:12PM (#4382635) Journal
    WHIOS PetsWarehouse.com [netsol.com]

    Administrative Contact
    Robert Novak-> bob@petswarehouse.com
    Pets Warehouse
    1550 Sunrise Hwy
    Copiague, ny 11726
    US
    Phone 631-789-5400
    Fax 631.789.9340
  • by BrianH (13460) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @03:17PM (#4382662)
    As much as I despise what Mr. Novak did with the whole fish complaint thing, a quick read of the ACTUAL LAWSUIT shows that this new suit has NOTHING to do with free speech or negative comments from unhappy customers. This is a completely new and UNRELATED lawsuit, that just happens to be from the same guy. Petswarehouse.Com is suing Google, and other search engines and petstores because they are using the Petswarehouse.com trademark to steal customers. Google is included in the suit because they are allowing paid placement customers (competing petstores) to use the PetsWarehouse.Com trademark as a keyword to display their ads. The competing petsores themselves are alleged to have put the petswarehouse.com trademark inside their meta-tags to attract customers. The suit also alleges that PetsWarehouse complained about the trademark infringement to Google, but that Google refused to abide by their own policy and remove the infringing material.

    I hate to say it, but Mr. Novak may actually have a valid trademark suit here!
  • by BrianH (13460) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @03:20PM (#4382710)
    As much as I despise what Mr. Novak did with the whole fish complaint thing, a quick read of the ACTUAL LAWSUIT [216.168.47.67] shows that this new suit has NOTHING to do with free speech or negative comments from unhappy customers. This is a completely new and UNRELATED lawsuit, that just happens to be from the same guy. Petswarehouse.Com is suing Google, and other search engines and petstores because they are using the Petswarehouse.com trademark to steal customers. Google is included in the suit because they are allowing paid placement customers (competing petstores) to use the PetsWarehouse.Com trademark as a keyword to display their ads. The competing petsores themselves are alleged to have put the petswarehouse.com trademark inside their meta-tags to attract customers. The suit also alleges that PetsWarehouse complained about the trademark infringement to Google, but that Google refused to abide by their own policy and remove the infringing material.

    I hate to say it, but Mr. Novak may actually have a valid trademark suit here!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @03:29PM (#4382799)
    Here in California, there are a county law libraries at each county. When people file civil suits, they pay a filing fee.(Vary by county and type, but about $200 currently. Will go up soon. Law Libraries get about $10-15 out of that.) Part of that goes the the operation of County Law Libraries.

    Directors of County Law Libraries ususally have both
    a JD and MLIS. May or may not have active bar membership. The staffs usually have paralegal and/or Library school trainings. They can provide assistannce in your research but not providing legal advice. Please be understanding if the library staffs want to stay from that very fine line. They can tell you which form book may have the form you need. But they can not tell you exactly which form you need to use. Etc.

    I am currently working at one of those law libraries while putting myself through library school. About 60% of my patrons are attorneys and 30% are Pro Se/Per Pro litigants. (Researchers/Students make up the rest) Some patrons had great result using our service. Even if you hire an attorney, research on your own can make you a better legal advice consumer.

    Go to American Association of Law Libraries
    http://www.aallnet.org

    Go the chapters, find the regional chapter in your areas to see if there are public law libraries in your area.
  • And more!! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gendou (234091) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @05:17PM (#4383592) Homepage
    His message board [infopop.cc]. Last I checked, the board was moderated and all messages had to be pre-approved by a moderator, but it looks like one fellow has found his way around that. Congrats, Mr. Lignatron.

    Don't forget to check out his message board's terms of use [infopop.cc]. Oddly enough, you're not allowed to mention the fact that the owner of the company sues his customers (and everyone else, for that matter). Any mention of the lawsuit that makes it onto his board is deleted very quickly. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try, though. Even if the message gets stuck in an approval queue and never get posted by a moderator, as seems to be the general case, one of his moderators will still have to take the time to delete it. And I get the feeling that his moderators might not even know about the lawsuit, or else they won't associate with him.

    One piece of advice to those attacking his message board: if the goal is to warn his customers about what his company is up to, linking to Petsforum [petsforum.com], TheDefenseFund [thedefensefund.org], or this Slashdot story would be MUCH more effective than linking to goatse.cx [petswarehouse.com]. Our goal is to bring his behavior into public light, not to gross people out. That's what we have Slashdot for. I know old habits die hard, but this is a chance for us to put our trolling/crapflooding skills to good use, and work for a higher goal.

    It's funny how after the lawsuit business started, Bob [mailto] Novak [mailto] changed the name of his message board to "The Civilized Pet Forum." Yeah, right.

    Then there are the requistite requisite [mailto] mailto [mailto] links [mailto]. What good would this post be without the requisite [mailto] mailto [mailto] links [mailto]? Keep these requisite [mailto] mailto [mailto] links [mailto] in mind for future use. These requisite [mailto] mailto [mailto] links [mailto] make the world go round!

    Archived mirror of PetsWarehouse page [archive.org].

    Archived company info [archive.org].

    Archived map to store [archive.org]

    Domain registration info [betterwhois.com]

    GNU Wget [wget.org] - a website downloading tool. Useful for accessing sites that are Slashdotted, by hitting the site over, and over, and over, and over, and over...

    Netcraft Info for Petswarehouse [netcraft.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @05:25PM (#4383638)
    All I can say is that I am not suprised at all to hear about this, he hasn't changed a bit. Funny how having a website makes a company look so much larger than it really is. I'll remain an anonymous coward since I don't need to be sued ;)
  • by Gendou (234091) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @06:12PM (#4383856) Homepage
    I wrote it, so I think I'd remember...

Happiness is a positive cash flow.

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