Woman Successfully Sues Dating Agency over Lack Of Men

Burki v Seventy Thirty Ltd; Seventy Thirty Ltd v Burki [2018] EWHC 2151 (QB)

Ask most new couples how they met these days and the answer you mostly get is, “we met online”.  Internet dating apps are worth £11.7 billion in the UK and account for the launch of 14% of current relationships.  Love it or hate it, Tinder is the most popular dating app with 55% of Brits saying they have used it, followed by ‘Plenty of Fish’.

However, one divorcee seeking a wealth mate felt so let down enough by an elite dating agency that she decided to take them to court.

She won and was awarded £13,100 in damages on the grounds that Seventy Thirty, based in Knightsbridge, was liable for deceit and misrepresentation.

Can’t buy me love

Tereza Burki, a mother of three who lives in Chelsea, London, paid £12,600 to Seventy Thirty to help her find love.

Seventy Thirty was advertised on its website as an ‘Exclusive Matchmaking and Elite Introduction Agency’, whose “Members are high net-worth individuals from a variety of unique backgrounds, nationalities, lifestyles, industries”.  At meetings and in conversation with the dating agency’s staff, Ms Burki stipulated that she was looking for a partner who would necessarily be open to having children and would preferably be as affluent as she was.  Ms Burki was shown member profiles and provided with information about the agency by staff who told her a substantial number of wealthy male members were actively engaged with the Seventy Thirty matchmaking services.

After signing-up, Ms Burki was sent the profiles of five men, all of whom matched her profile, but there was no mutual attraction.  The claimant felt the standard of profiles were much lower than those that were presented when she signed up to the agency.

Dissatisfied with the service, Ms Burki left Seventy Thirty and sued the company for deceit and misrepresentation, claiming the return of her membership fee and damages for ‘distress, upset, disappointment, and frustration’.  She left two negative reviews, one on Google and another on Yelp.  These were taken down in 2016.  Seventy Thirty counterclaimed for defamation and malicious falsehood, providing evidence that three potential customers had been put off the company as a result of Ms Burki’s reviews.  Ms Burki defended the reviews on the basis that they were true and contained her honest opinion.

What the court decided

The judge said the agency’s then managing director, Lemarc Thomas, claimed there was a substantial number of wealthy male members actively engaged in its matchmaking services who sufficiently matched Ms Burki’s criteria.

This was found to be false and misleading.   The judge heard evidence there were only about 100 active male members altogether. That number could not “by any stretch of the imagination” be described as a substantial number, even without considering the reduction in numbers when Ms Burki’s match criteria were applied.

“Had Ms Burki known what the true size of the active membership was, she would not have joined Seventy Thirty,” he said.  She was induced to enter her contract with the agency by the false representations given by Mr Thomas, who must have known he was giving her a wholly false impression, he added.

Google review declared defamatory

However, despite her win, Ms Burki was ordered to pay Seventy Thirty £5,000 in damages because the court found her review on Google was defamatory.  Her review gave the agency one star and called it a ‘scam’ with ‘no database’.  She also claimed in the review that clients’ money was used to fund the founder’s lifestyle with no intention to achieve results.

The court held that the review, which had been available for four months, would have caused the company serious harm.  It would have been seen by an unquantifiable but substantial number of people who would have been interested enough in Seventy Thirty to search for it on Google.  Ms Burki’s defence that she gave a truthful and honest opinion failed because she did not prove that the owner of Seventy Thirty lacked the means or intention to run a successful dating agency.  She could also not prove the entire agency was a fraudulent scheme.

No special damages for loss of business were awarded because the dating agency could not prove on the balance of probabilities that the Google review had spooked potential clients and stopped them from signing up.

What this case means for disputes of deceit, misrepresentation, and defamation

This case illustrates two key points.  The first is it is crucial that businesses accurately portray themselves when enticing clients to sign up for their service or buy products.  A slick sales patter is one thing, but blatant exaggerations and/or lies could result in an expensive dispute.

The second point relates to Google reviews.  Businesses are getting tough on people who leave malicious and/or untrue reviews on platforms such as Google and TripAdvisor, and for good reason.  Bad reviews can destroy livelihoods.  If a blatantly false review has been posted about your organisation, it is important to seek legal advice regarding claiming damages for libel from the author.  UK courts have shown they are alive to the commercial damage negative reviews can cause.  Demonstrating your business is not afraid to stand up to those who have no thought to the damage caused by their untrue statements may make others think twice before leaving a malicious review.

Bennett Griffin are award-winning solicitors based in West Sussex with offices in central Worthing and Ferring.  Our experienced and specialist solicitors offer a comprehensive service and will work with you in an honest, considered, and practical manner.  Our civil litigation department is able to advise and assist you in relation business disputes.  Please contact us on 01903 229 999 or by email at info@bennett-griffin.co.uk for more information.

The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation.