Updated Georgia Tech graduate student George Mantis has been sued for libel by a local Volkswagen dealership after detailing his unpleasant experience with the company's service department on a BBS at VW enthusiast Web site VWvortex.
According to Mantis' original post, Cobb County, Georgia dealership Jim Ellis Motors twice accepted service appointments for minor repairs to his 2001 GTI, at the conclusion of which nothing had been done.
After agreeing to leave the GTI for a third day, during which he needed transportation, Mantis says he inquired about hiring a car. Unfortunately, none were available at the time, "But my [service] advisor assured me that they have a special deal with Enterprise: $30/day for Jim Ellis customers. So it's off to Enterprise, where they never heard of such an arrangement!"
And when the car was finally finished, two minor issues remained unresolved, a new glitch had mysteriously appeared, and oily handprints presented themselves for inspection on the leather upholstery, we're told.
The service manager, Mantis says, went so far as to give him a hard time because he'd bought the car from another VW dealer.
Not that we've ever experienced anything like this ourselves....
So after starting his thread at VWvortex entitled "Worst service ever" back in July, he recently had the pleasure of entertaining a Cobb County Sheriff's deputy bearing a warrant for him to appear in court and answer libel charges.
This would be outrageous hands down if Mantis hadn't closed his original post thus: "With no other recourse, I'm seeking revenge as best I can. This is one way: telling all of you to avoid this dealership, for sales or service, like the plague."
It's that unfortunate word 'revenge' we worry about. Any greenhorn corporate PR flack or political speech writer knows that the universally-accepted substitute for 'revenge' is 'justice'. See how much better it reads with the substitution.
In any case, the dealership had sought a preliminary injunction barring Mantis from posting at VWvortex, but that was denied. A temporary restraining order barring him from contacting or visiting Jim Ellis Motors was granted, but Mantis says it's irrelevant as he wouldn't touch the place with a ten-foot pole in any case.
The dealership is also seeking removal of the offending BBS thread and a pile of cash to ease its pain and suffering. Thus "Vortex Media" is named as a co-defendant, though the correct defendant would be Jamie Vondruska, as a ten-second Whois query reveals. Whether this error is sufficient to shield the Web site operators from collateral damage we don't yet know.
So now it's off to court, where we'll eventually find out if anecdotal reports slamming car dealers are exempt from First Amendment protection, and whether Web sites should be held liable for the postings of visitors.
We'll also be quite eager to learn how well the idea of suing consumers catches on in customer relations circles.
As of Wednesday night, Jim Ellis Motors has invited Mantis and his lawyer to negotiate a settlement. Because of the quaint American turkey festival going on at the moment, it may be several days before we learn if this will avert a civil trial. Mantis says that if he can avoid one, he's inclined to donate the contents of his legal defence fund to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The relevant post is on page 22 of the incredibly long thread he started four months ago. ®