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McGuire v. Bowlin

Supreme Court of Minnesota

September 4, 2019

Nathan C. McGuire, Appellant,
v.
Julie A. Bowlin, Respondent, Thomas M. Bowlin, Defendant, Joy M. Szondy, Respondent, Chelon L. Danielson, Respondent, Cheryl Hewitt, Respondent.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Sharon L. Van Dyck, Van Dyck Law Firm, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Donald Chance Mark, Jr., Tyler P. Brimmer, Fafinski Mark & Johnson, P.A., Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Julie Bowlin, Chanhassen, Minnesota, pro se.

          Thomas M. Bowlin, Chanhassen, Minnesota, pro se.

          Andrew T. Shern, Andrew T. Shern Law Office, PLLC, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent Joy M. Szondy.

          Chelon L. Danielson, Woodbury, Minnesota, pro se.

          Kirsten J. Hansen, Garth J. Unke, Stich Angell, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent Cheryl Hewitt.

          Mark R. Bradford, Bassford Remele, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota State High School Coaches Association.

          Kris Palmer, Jansen & Palmer, LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae National High School Basketball Coaches Association.

         SYLLABUS

         1. A high school basketball coach is not a public official under the defamation standard of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

         2. For a party to be a limited-purpose public figure, a public controversy must exist.

         3. Issues that are neither appealed to the court of appeals nor raised in a petition for further review are forfeited in an appeal to the supreme court.

          OPINION

          HUDSON, JUSTICE.

         Under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), and its progeny, defamation plaintiffs who are "public officials" or "public figures" can recover in a defamation action only upon a showing of actual malice. See id. at 283-84; Chafoulias v. Peterson, 668 N.W.2d 642, 648-49 (Minn. 2003). In this case, we must decide whether appellant Nathan McGuire, a public high school basketball head coach, falls into either of those categories. Having reviewed the undisputed facts regarding McGuire's duties as coach and regarding the lack of any controversy concerning his performance before the allegedly defamatory statements were made, we conclude that McGuire is neither a public official nor a public figure. However, because McGuire did not appeal the district court's conclusion that the statements of respondents Joy Szondy, Chelon Danielson, and Cheryl Hewitt fall under a qualified privilege, we nevertheless affirm summary judgment as to those three respondents. Because the district court granted summary judgment to respondent Julie Bowlin solely on the basis of McGuire's status as a public official, we reverse as to McGuire's defamation claim against her and remand for further proceedings on that claim.

         FACTS

         This case comes before us following the district court's grant of summary judgment against McGuire. Accordingly, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to him. See Expose v. Thad Wilderson & Assocs., P.A., 889 N.W.2d 279, 284 (Minn. 2016).

         From the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2014, McGuire was the head coach of the girls' basketball program for Woodbury High School. In that role, he oversaw five assistant coaches, made strategic decisions, scheduled games and practices, and had general oversight of the program.

         While McGuire was coaching at Woodbury, respondents, all of whom were parents of players on the team, expressed concerns about McGuire's conduct, most notably alleging that he swore at practices, touched players in inappropriate ways, [1] and flirted with players. In January 2014, these concerns ultimately culminated in Bowlin, Szondy, and Hewitt meeting with (and Danielson writing a letter to) school administrators to discuss McGuire's conduct. Two days after respondents met with the school administrators, McGuire was placed on ...


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