Minn. appeals court upholds dismissal of former dean's libel suit

MINNESOTA — A state appeals court on Friday upheld thedismissal of a former dean’s libel and defamation lawsuit against St.Cloud State University’s student newspaper, the UniversityChronicle.

In October 2003, the Chronicle published an article about formerdean Richard D. Lewis that quoted a former student, Robbi Hoy. The articlecontained several statements from Hoy that Lewis considered defamatory,including allegations that Lewis ”mistreated” Hoy by changing hergrade from an A to an incomplete. Hoy also said that Lewis was anti-Semitic andaccused him of using racial slurs.

The Chronicle issued a partial retraction in November 2003. Thenewspaper retracted the portions of the article that implied Lewis wasanti-Semitic, and noted, “There is no factual basis for these assertions. The newspaper regrets the error and apologizes to Dr. Lewis.”

Originally, Lewis filed a defamation suit against St. Cloud StateUniversity and the university system. But the state district court and theCourt of Appeals ruled that the university was not liable because students, notschool officials, controlled the content of the newspaper. The MinnesotaSupreme Court declined to hear Lewis’s appeal in June 2005. Lewis thenfiled suit against the Chronicle.

The district court dismissed Lewis’ case, ruling that he was a publicfigure. As a public figure, Lewis would have to show that the paper publishedthe article knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it wastrue in order to win a libel suit. The district court ruled that he could notmeet that burden. The Court of Appeals upheld that decision Friday.

Several calls by the Student Press Law Center to Lewis, his attorney andthe Chronicle were not returned Monday.