Court upholds newspaper right to critical restaurant reviews

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Thursday that newspapers have the right to critical comments in restaurant reviews, but that those opinions are not automatically protected from lawsuits.

The case was filed by Salsa Dave's in Reno after a reviewer for the Reno Gazette-Journal commented that her meal tasted as though "all of this came out of some sort of package" and said her opinions were confirmed when she spotted a can of beans in the kitchen.

Owners Dave and Beverly Pegasus sued and accused the newspaper of defamation.

Washoe District Judge Brent Adams threw out the lawsuit. He agreed the statements were opinions and therefore protected and there was no evidence of malice. Adams further ruled that Salsa Dave's was a public figure for the limited purposes of food reviews because food service is what it advertised and offered to the public.

Two justices on the panel, Nancy Becker and Miriam Shearing, agreed.

"We conclude that comment in a restaurant review is not automatically protected opinion simply because it is contained in a review," they wrote. "However, such comments must be viewed in the context of the review as a whole and not as an individual statement."

Using that standard, they ruled the comments privileged in this case.

Justice Bob Rose agreed the restaurant is a public figure in this case, but said he would have turned the factual issue of whether the restaurant used canned beans in that day's recipes over to a jury.


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