Moving company warned customers would pay for bad reviews — ‘$2,500 per day,’ suit says

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A moving company threatened customers who wrote bad reviews online, warning some that they’d have to pay a fee and it would take the matter to court — seeking “$2,500 per day the reviews are left up,” a federal lawsuit says.

Now Liberty Bell Moving and Storage, Inc., which has offices in Maine, New Hampshire, Florida and North Carolina, is paying to settle the lawsuit, according to the Maine Attorney General’s office.

The business had a “regular practice of actively combatting negative reviews by threatening customers with liability, lawsuits, and penalties for posting negative reviews of Liberty Bell’s business, employees, and/or services,” a complaint says.

The business’s owner is accused of using an email address, pretending to be the company’s attorney, to threaten customers over bad reviews about Liberty Bell, the office said.

After the state sued the business, Liberty Bell agreed to pay $125,000 to settle the litigation, the attorney general’s office announced in a Jan. 24 news release.

McClatchy News contacted attorneys representing Liberty Bell for comment on Jan. 27 and didn’t immediately receive a response.

“It is ironic that a company named for an iconic symbol of freedom would concern itself with violating the free speech and other legally entitled rights of consumers,” Maine Attorney General Aaron M. Frey said in a statement. “I hope this case will remind consumers that no business can require you to waive your right to leave honest reviews of businesses and products.”

Court filings show Liberty Bell and its owner didn’t admit to any wrongdoing and denied the accusations made in the lawsuit. They agreed to settle “for the purpose of settlement only,” according to court documents.

Its website welcomes customers to “leave honest reviews of their experience.”

Threats made against customers leaving bad reviews

Liberty Bell customers could select from three service options in a contract they had to agree to. The cheapest option warned against posting bad reviews, a complaint says.

If a customer picked this option, they had to agree the business wouldn’t be liable “for lost, damaged or misplaced items” and “any bad reviews posted against Liberty Bell on any social media platform or other review sites due to alleged damage, or lost items will be deemed false and defamatory,” according to the complaint.

All customers were warned that if they left Liberty Bell’s movers alone and they finished their job, the company wouldn’t be responsible for any missing or misplaced items, the complaint says.

If this situation occurred, “any bad reviews” would make the customer liable for defamation and damages determined in court, customers were warned, according to the complaint.

Customers receive threatening emails

Customers who left a bad review received threatening emails from what appeared to be Liberty Bell’s attorney, the complaint says.

The email would typically state, in part, that “We have received pre authorized permission from our attorneys [sic] office to proceed with a defamation court filing if the online review you left is not removed. … As you know, defamation is not protected by the First Amendment,” according to the complaint.

It continued with the warning: “If the review is not removed by 12:00PM on [date], or other reviews are left on other social media platforms, we will proceed with filing the defamation case in court, with the documents attached here. We will seek $2500 per day the review(s) are left up, and will also seek to be reimbursed for lawyer fees upwards of $9500,” the complaint says.

These emails didn’t actually come from an attorney, but from Liberty Bell’s owner or employees under his authority instead, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit argued that Liberty Bell violated federal consumer laws and the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.

As part of the settlement, the business agreed that it won’t use the “misleading” attorney email address and its contracts for customers will no longer require them to absolve the company of all liability before performing the job, the release said.

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