Reporters Committee For Free Press Comments On David McKee MD V. Dennis K. Laurion

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FEBRUARY 5, 2013

“Minnesota Supreme Court Finds Negative Online Comments Were Opinions, Not Defamatory Facts”

Lilly Chapa, Reporters Committee For Free Press.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that negative online reviews about a local neurologist were not defamatory and are protected under the First Amendment.

In a reversal of a lower court’s decision, the state Supreme Court determined that Dennis Laurion’s online statements about his father’s neurologist, Duluth doctor David McKee, were not defamatory because they are considered opinion and are not capable of harming the doctor’s reputation.

“The First Amendment protects statements of pure opinion from defamation claims,” according to Justice Alan Page’s decision.

Laurion’s father was treated by McKee after he suffered from a stroke in 2010. Laurion wrote negative comments on several healthcare provider review websites about how McKee interacted with the family and that a nurse called the doctor “a real tool.”

McKee sued Laurion later that year, accusing him of defamation and interference with business for the online posts. Laurion promptly deleted the posts. But McKee continued with the complaint. A district court dismissed McKee’s lawsuit, but the appeals court remanded the defamation portion of the case to the district court. Laurion appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.

“Referring to someone as ‘a real tool’ falls into the category of pure opinion because the term ‘real tool’ cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating a fact and it cannot be proven true or false,” Page wrote.

John D. Kelly, Laurion’s lawyer, said the court addressed Laurion’s statements thoroughly and in a very straightforward way. “They studied the statements using the well-established principles of defamation law in Minnesota,” Kelly said. Kelly said he hopes Laurion’s case will teach future plaintiffs to be careful before suing someone for their online comments.

Each state decides what the plaintiff in a civil libel suit must prove and what defenses are available to the defendant. The court must weigh protection of a person’s reputation against the First Amendment values of freedom of speech and expression.

Minnesota courts consider whether a statement is defamatory depending on whether it was stated publicly, if it was false, if it refers to a specific individual and if that individual’s reputation is harmed, according to the court’s opinion.

Laurion said in an interview that he never thought his reviews would lead to a three-year lawsuit.

“I just wanted [McKee] to acknowledge my comments,” Laurion said. “I never thought I’d get this kind of backlash.”

FULL ARTICLE

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Web Posting

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Patient Complaint

Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply To Patient Complaint

Plaintiff David McKee’s Cease And Desist Letter To Defendant Dennis Laurion

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Complaint To Minnesota Board Of Medical Practice

Plaintiff David McKee’s Complaint To Sixth Judicial District Duluth Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Response To Minnesota Board Of Medical Practice

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Answer To Plaintiff David McKee’s Complaint

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Motion For Summary Judgment

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Deposition Extracts

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Circumstances Before Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Circumstances After Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony In Response To Questions By Marshall Tanick

Affidavits By Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Parents

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Supplemental Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Motion To Oppose Summary Judgment

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Reply Memo In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment

Sixth Judicial District Court’s Order On Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Appeal Of Order On Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Minnesota Court Of Appeals Order To Strike Portion Of Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply Brief

Minnesota Court Of Appeals Announces Decision

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Petition For Review By Minnesota Supreme Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Opposition To Review By Minnesota Supreme Court

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Reply Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Minnesota Supreme Court Decision On David McKee MD V. Dennis K. Laurion

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2010

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2011

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2012

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2013

McKee V Laurion Is A Textbook Case

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