Local Forest Lake Businesses Embroiled In Litigation Over Alleged Fraud And Coercion

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Business litigation is not always “big” in nature. They say you’re not important or rich until you’ve been sued for millions, and they may be right. But there are thousands of small-time lawsuits each year between individuals and businesses who believe they have been wronged by others. That’s the case in Forest Lake, where two businesses are going head to head in court because of potential coercion, fraud, and defamation. And where did the allegations arise? Oh, that’s right: from Google reviews.

Review websites are a hotbed for false, slanderous, or libelous activity. What better place for someone to anonymously send in a poor review for a company they’re in competition with? 

And, in fact, Google is under suit too.

A judge issued a court order only a week ago, allowing Miller & Stevens Law to open up a case for their client, Ernie’s Empire. The plaintiffs asked to hire an outside party to investigate and gather data to send to Washington County authorities. The lawsuit was filed against Tel, Burrito & Burger Inc., another local business, and Google. It describes multiple counts of defamation.

Almost immediately, Tel opened up a countersuit. The counterclaim alleged coercion, breach of fiduciary duty, and defamation.

It remains unclear how these allegations will be proved in court, but Tel is accused of “leaving bad Google reviews from dummy accounts and calling the restaurant almost daily to make threatening statements,” according to Hometown Source.

The caller made statements such as “You’re going down” and “Go kill yourself.”

Ernst, the owner, said, “My employees dreaded getting the calls.”

Around the same time the calls began, there was a wave of negative Google reviews about Miller & Stevens, who were representing Tel. The reviews seemed to be driven by bots or fake accounts, and none had ever retained services for the law firm.

Ryan Howard wrote, “Ernst and Stevens said negative Google reviews have real consequences on their businesses. While it’s impossible to know how many people might not patronize a business based on reviews, both men said they’d heard first- and second-hand stories from people who had passed on or had second thoughts about either 3rd Gear or Miller & Stevens based on the ratings.”

Ernst said, “It’s unfortunate. Once you’re below four stars, people don’t even look at you.”

The alleged behavior led Ernst to file a restraining order against Tel.

The digital information gathered by the plaintiffs is sought because they believe it will showcase Tel’s digital footprints, implicating the company in an effort to discredit the other businesses and law firm. Without a court order, that information would be difficult if not impossible to obtain through the normal discovery process.