Teacher Loses Defamation Lawsuit Against Student Journalist

from the quite-the-lesson dept

One of the points of a student newspaper is to teach kids about journalism, and it looks like one student at Churchill High School in Nevada got quite the lesson when the school’s music teacher sued the student for defamation, after an article that was critical of the music teacher was published. Thankfully, a judge has dismissed the lawsuit, noting that “nothing written by the student was false, defamatory or negligent.” Many people seem to feel that anything they don’t like that’s published about them must be defamation, but that’s not how it works. Even so, it seems pretty extreme for a teacher to go so far as to file a lawsuit against a student journalist. Nice to see that this lawsuit went nowhere fast.

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Comments on “Teacher Loses Defamation Lawsuit Against Student Journalist”

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MrWilson says:

Re: Re:

While it’s possible the student took a class from the teacher at some point, the article doesn’t indicate such.

It also states that the student has already graduated and is a freshmen in college. Plus, the teacher sued the principal and the superintendent, among others, so the student would have allies in the administration who wouldn’t let the teacher get away with failing a student for writing an article that had nothing to do with the student’s performance in her music class.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not having seen the “offending” article, it is not possible to say one way or another if the teacher had some measure of justification or was just reacting to legitimate, non-actionable criticism. Obviously the judge appears to have accepted the latter, but I have to wonder what would be the reaction here if it had turned out that the student wrote a libelous article.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

By “‘offending’ article” I was referring to the article written by the student, and not the news article linked here. I was unable to locate it via a web search.

My search skills are very good. Apparently yours are better. Do you have a link to the original article?

Even without the article in hand, however, my question is still relevant. Would the comments here have changed in tenor if the offending article was readily available for all to read and was palpably libelous? I would like to think the answer would be yes, but having read so many First Amendment absolutist comments in the past I do wonder how the tension between the First Amendment and libel law would play out here.

BTW, while I believe you misunderstand my motivations, I must take issue with your use of the phrase “out of the community”. It suggests a group of like mindset, which is anything but accurate. More properly the phrase should have been “out of some members of the community”.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

What do you consider to be “palpably libelous” and why do you think that the article contained same?

Looks to me as though the teacher needs to attend anger management classes. I find it refreshing that the law actually works from time to time. In this case the plantiff was wrong and the case was thrown out.

Archey claimed defamation and sued MacLean’s faculty advisor, the principal, the superintendent and a local newspaper that picked up the story.

District Judge William Rogers threw the case out under Nevada’s “anti-SLAPP” statute, which protects people from suits designed to stiffly discussion of public issues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I said nothing about whether or not I believed the original student article contained potentially defamatory content because the original article is not linked on any of the sites talking about this matter.

You criticize the teacher, and perhaps criticism is warranted. Again, however, it is hard to judge whether or not there was any merit to what she decided to do without at least having read the original article by the student.

Regarding why the judge “threw the case out”, I generally find that the best evidence of such things is a copy of the court decision itself, and not a simplistic commentary on a website where I am unable to judge the accuracy and completeness of what is said.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I have no reason to believe that the judge is not. My sole point is that a copy of his actual opinion is the best evidence of what he actually said and why, and not some simplistic news account that cannot be measured for credibility, accuracy or completeness.

I do not rely on news accounts about Supreme Court decisions. I read the actual decisions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Surely you do not unfailingly accept everything you read in a newspaper as being the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

There is much to be said for acutally reading the source documents, which in this case are the original article and the court’s opinion. A copy of the original article is now in hand. It would be nice to see a copy of the court’s opinion to understand what was before the judge and why he ruled as he did.

Peter Green says:

Teacher loses Defamation case

Something to watch is that defamation law is not identical in all Western countries, and what is not defamatory in the US may be in Australia (for example), and vice-versa. There have been a couple of instances where people offended by something published on line have sought to prosecute in a legal regime where the case is most likely to succeed and result in a punitive award.

There are some knotty issues to work through when it comes to cyber defamation, even if someone other than the original author arranges the on-line publication.

Tamara says:

Re: Teacher loses Defamation case

I forget the specific case but several years ago a man in Australia sued the New York Times in an Australian court, as the NY Times article appeared on the Net. What was published doesn’t class as defamation in the US, but does in Australia, and the man was successful in his lawsuit. As the Australian and the US Governments have an official agreement to honour the other court decisions, the NY Times was ordered to pay.

Brian Wachter says:

"palpably libelous"

Of course, there is no basis for the legalese-sounding idea of “palpable libel.” The legal concept here is “actual damages.” People who claim to have been libeled or defamed must prove they have suffered “actual damages” to win a lawsuit.

The judge in this case didn’t even let it get that far. He ruled that the lawsuit was baseless and rejected it per se. If the teacher were to appeal this ruling the “actual damages” standard would have become relevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: McLean's original article

Thank you. It helps to have a copy of the original article to see what was actually published.

I now understand why the teacher became upset since the article does intimate dishonesty (perhaps even incompetency) on her part. At the same time, however, I did not read anything in the article that I would view as palpably defamatory, i.e., a statement that is manifestly false.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: McLean's original article

Others were able to find and read the link, funny how you need to be spoon fed.

AC -> “the article does intimate dishonesty (perhaps even incompetency) on her part”

Statement of fact is not defamatory, but you knew that.
The lawsuit was a sham and the judge ruled correctly.
In some cases the plantiff and their attorney should be subjected to sanction and or fine for such frivolous filings.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: McLean's original article

I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you missed the part beginning with “At the same time, however,…”

How you can say that the lawsuit was a sham and the judge ruled correctly on the very limited information that is available eludes me entirely. Maybe your conclusion is valid (or perhaps not), but in the absence of what was before the judge your’s is little more than an unsubstantiated opinion.

Importantly, I have not expressed an opinion on the merits or demerits of the lawsuit since I have had exposure to only a small amount of information.

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