Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Minnesota Court of Appeals Upholds Lower Court Ruling; University Not Liable for Defamatory Statements

A former dean at Minnesota's St. Cloud State University may not hold the university liable for allegedly defamatory statements published in SCSU's student-run newspaper, the Chronicle, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled in a March 22, 2005 opinion. Said the court, "Because the parties presented materials outside of the pleadings, the district court treated the motion as one for summary judgment and granted judgment to respondents. The district court concluded that because respondents have no editorial control over the Chronicle, they cannot be held liable for defamatory statement published in the Chronicle. This appeal followed."  The Court of Appeals quoted from the Board of Trustees Policy, which states that "[s]tudent-funded publications shall be free to develop their own editorial and news coverage policies." Interpreting this language, the Court determined that "[t]he policy is binding on SCSU." Therefore, the district court was correct in ruling that the university had no control over the newspaper, and "[a] significantly differently relationship...from a private publisher's relationship with its newspapers. Respondents, unlike a private publisher, have no control over the content of the Chronicle. Despite the "plethora of connections" between The Chronicle and SCSU asserted by appellant and accepted by the district court for purposes of summary judgment, it cannot be disputed that respondents' policy prohibits SCSU from exercising any control over the content of the Chronicle." (footnote omitted).

The court also examined case law from other jurisdictions that concerned financial and editorial control of student newspapers on university campuses. The court noted that "[a]ppellant points out that the cases relied on by the district court are lower-level court opinions from foreign jurisdictions that do not reflect any broad or widespread pattern. We disagree with this assertion; the cases relied on by the district court simply follow the firmly established policy of giving students on college campus (sic) as many first amendment rights protections as the community at large." The case is Lewis v. St. Cloud State University. Read the full opinion here.

For one of the stories (since retracted) about Lewis published in the Chronicle, see here.

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