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Lewis v. St. Cloud State University

March 22, 2005

RICHARD D. LEWIS, APPELLANT,
v.
ST. CLOUD STATE UNIVERSITY, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



Ramsey County District Court File No. C2042244.

Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The state university system and state university are not liable as publishers for defamatory statements published in a student newspaper that operates under a binding system-wide policy prohibiting the university from exercising any control over the newspaper's content.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stoneburner, Judge

Affirmed; motion granted.

OPINION

Appellant Richard D. Lewis challenges summary judgment granted to respondents St. Cloud State University (SCSU) and Minnesota State College & University System (MnSCU) dismissing his defamation claim. Appellant argues that respondents are liable as publishers of SCSU's student-run newspaper for defamatory statements about appellant published in the student newspaper. Because there is no genuine issue of material fact that respondents' policy prohibited SCSU from exercising any control over the content of the student newspaper, the district court did not err by concluding that respondents are not liable for defamation and by granting summary judgment.

FACTS

SCSU is a member of the MnSCU system and is governed by the MnSCU Board of Trustees. Minn. Stat. §§ 136F.02, .06, .10 (2004). The University Chronicle (the Chronicle) is the bi-weekly student-run newspaper at SCSU. Part five of MnSCU Board Policy 3.1, Student Rights & Responsibilities, relating to student publications, provides in relevant part that "[s]tudent-funded publications shall be free of censorship and advance approval of copy, and their editors and managers shall be free to develop their own editorial and news coverage policies." The policy is binding on SCSU.

Appellant is a faculty member of SCSU who has filed an age-discrimination charge against SCSU for demoting him from his position as Dean of the College of Social Sciences in the fall of 2003. Shortly after appellant's demotion, the Chronicle published an article about appellant that included statements that, for purposes of summary judgment, are considered to be defamatory.

Appellant sued respondents asserting that, as publishers of the Chronicle, they are liable for the defamation. Respondents moved to dismiss under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02 (e) for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

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 statements published in the Chronicle. This appeal followed.

ISSUES

1. Did the district court err by concluding that respondents are not liable as publishers for defamatory statements published in the student-run newspaper because it is undisputed that respondents' policy prohibits SCSU from exercising any editorial control over the newspaper?

2. Did the district court abuse its discretion by not allowing appellant to conduct additional discovery prior to granting summary judgment?

3. Should respondent's motion to strike documents in appellant's supplemental appendix and statements in ...


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