Singapore

Court: Hainanese beef noodle seller’s son defamed rival

Concerned that their Original Orchard Emerald Hainanese beef noodle recipe may be tweaked and used by a former franchisee, the owner's son took to Facebook and Instagram to slam the food at the latter's shop.

A district judge found the remarks defamatory and ordered $10,000 in damages to be paid to the owner of The Beef Station as general damages for injury caused to its business reputation.

District Judge Tan May Tee accepted that while the defamatory posts did contain strong language, the sum to be awarded has to be proportionate to the damage the plaintiff suffered to its reputation and goodwill.

"A relevant factor to consider is that the plaintiff's business under The Beef Station name had been in operation for less than a month when the defamatory posts were published.

"Further, from the evidence adduced, it did not in fact suffer any loss in business," she added, in decision grounds last month.

Hunger Busters, the company which ran The Beef Station at The Venue Shoppes near Potong Pasir MRT station, had sued Mr Jonathan Cheok for publishing defamatory remarks on Feb 15, 2018, on his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Before it opened, Hunger Busters operated as a franchisee of Original Orchard Emerald Beef Noodles at the same place.

A family business, Original Orchard Emerald Beef Noodles was founded by patriarch George Cheok in 1997 when he started selling his brand of Hainanese beef noodles in the foodcourt of the now-defunct Orchard Emerald shopping mall. The stall took its current name when it moved to Holland Drive in 2010.

He had developed his own recipe for the beef noodles and it was regarded as a trade secret.

In October 2017, Hunger Busters inked a franchise deal but business was poor and it terminated the franchise. In February 2018, Hunger Busters started The Beef Station at the same Potong Pasir spot.

Mr George Cheok felt aggrieved as he believed his recipe was being used with some tweaks and his son Jonathan later published the offending posts.

Mr Jonathan Cheok's lawyer Fong Wei Li denied the words were defamatory, false or malicious, pointing out that there was no express mention of the plaintiff by name.

But Hunger Busters' lawyer Ranjit Singh argued that its reputation had been injured by the posts.

District Judge Tan, after assessing the evidence overall, found "that an ordinary reasonable reader of (Jonathan's) posts would be able to identify the plaintiff as the allegedly unscrupulous franchisee".

She added: "Accordingly, as all three conditions of a defamation action are fulfilled, the defendant's liability is established."

A hearing on costs is due next week.

COURT & CRIME