You do it. I do it. Everybody does it.
Your steak is burned.Your cable goes out. You have to wait 30 minutes too long in the waiting room.
Out of boredom, anger, or some mix of it all, you go on twitter or Facebook and complain. If you really want their attention, you link your target’s twitter account. That will get their attention, you might think. Maybe they respond and apologize.
Or, maybe, they file a lawsuit against you for defamation or invasion of privacy. Yes, in Tennessee, a twitter or Facebook rant can get you sued.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently considered this issue in the opinion of Jennifer Patterson v. Natalie Grant-Herms, decided on October 8, 2013. In that case, the Defendant (accomplished Christian music performer Natalie Grant) posted a number of complaints about the Plaintiff’s service (the Plaintiff is a boarding agent for Southwest Airlines), in which Defendant: mentioned Plaintiff by name; complained about a boarding decision involving Defendant’s child; and generally made a mountain out of a molehill regarding a trivial inconvenience.
(Edited to add: The underlying lawsuit had more of the tweets, including one from Natalie Grant where she bragged that her baby had a “MAJOR blowout” which was left as “a gift on the plane.”)
Ultimately, the Court found that the tweets did not rise to the level of actionable defamation (but, instead, were complaints showing “frustration”), but the Court found that the personally identifiable statements about the Plaintiff could constitute actionable false light/invasion of privacy.
The real take-away is this: Plaintiff brought a viable claim against Defendant as a result of tweets. Defendant had to hire a lawyer to defend herself, and the matter was litigated to the Court of Appeals (and, now, it’s remanded back for more proceedings).
Frankly, between you and me, I think the tweets, which were directed to Southwest, the Plaintiff’s employer, would constitute actionable defamation.
I tell my clients all the time to avoid any meaningless, unnecessary action that will result in exposure to a lawsuit. This is a classic example of a person letting anger lead them to action that invites a lawsuit.