FDCC: Minnesota’s High Court Finds Online Comments Were Non-Defamatory

01/30/2013

“Minnesota’s High Court Finds Online Comments Were Non-Defamatory”

David M. Governo and Monica R. Fanesi of Governo Law Firm LLC

FDCC: Defense Lawyers. Defense Leaders

The Supreme Court of Minnesota held that six statements made on various “rate-your-doctor” websites did not support a doctor’s defamation claim.

Kenneth Laurion, the father of Dennis Laurion, was admitted to the hospital after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. The attending ICU physician arranged for Dr. McKee, a neurologist, to examine Kenneth Laurion. During a 20 minute examination, Dr. McKee made certain statements and acted in a manner that, as a whole, the Laurions perceived as rude and insensitive.

After Kenneth Laurion was discharged from the hospital, his son posted several comments disapproving of Dr. McKee’s bedside manner on several “rate-your-doctor” websites. He also sent letters to a variety of medically-affiliated institutions complaining about Dr. McKee’s conduct. The letters included substantially the same statements communicated in the online postings.

After learning about the online postings from another patient, Dr. McKee filed suit, asserting claims for defamation per se and interference with business. The trial court granted summary judgment as to Dr. McKee’s defamation claim, concluding that the statements lacked defamatory meaning and were either protected opinion, substantially true, or too vague to convey a defamatory meaning. The appellate court, however, reversed the district court’s decision.

On further appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed the district court’s granting of summary judgment de novo. The Court found that the statements, when compared to representations made by Dr. McKee in his deposition, were “true in substance” and therefore, not actionable. The court also found that the statements failed to convey a defamatory meaning because they failed to harm Dr. McKee’s reputation in the eyes of the community. Specifically, the court noted that the statements did not call into Dr. McKee’s competency as a physician.

In light of consumers’ increased reliance on the Internet as a source of information, companies’ concerns over their reputations, and social media users’ new-found ability to ruin those reputations in an instant, expect to see an increase in this type of litigation. As courts grapple with the complex questions these cases present, including challenging First Amendment issues, the case law will continue to develop, providing more predictability to litigants, but for now, outcomes remain uncertain in this evolving area of the law. A Massachusetts social media defamation case, Clay Corporation v. Colter, in which a car dealership obtained a $700,000 pre-judgment attachment, highlights this emerging trend. We reported on this case and the related case law in an article on Lexology.

FDCC

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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