Free speech wins!

Published January 30, 2013, 12:10 PM

Minnesota Supreme Court: Website comments about Duluth doctor not defamatory

Critical comments a patient’s son made about a Duluth neurologist are not cause for a lawsuit, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled.

By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune

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Dr. David McKee appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and in January 2012 that court sent the case back to the district court for a jury to decide whether six statements Dennis Laurion posted about McKee on rate-your-doctor websites and distributed elsewhere were defamatory. (Screenshot from Yelp.com)

Critical comments a patient’s son made about a Duluth neurologist are not cause for a lawsuit, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled.

In an opinion filed today, the court reversed a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision sending Dr. David McKee’s defamation lawsuit against Dennis Laurion back to State District Court in Duluth.

Laurion’s comments were posted on a website where patients review their doctors, and the case has been watched with interest by people because of the potential conflict between free speech rights versus protection of professional reputations on the Internet.

The court ruled that the statements Laurion wrote about McKee were not defamatory.

“Because the six statements at issue, viewed individually or in the context of the entire posting, are not actionable, we conclude that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Laurion,” the court wrote.

“The initial excitement has not worn off,” Laurion said this morning. “I’m very gratified it’s all over.”

He said the entire experience was very stressful on his family.

McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, filed the lawsuit against Laurion, of Duluth, in 2010. McKee alleged that Laurion defamed him and interfered with his business by posting false statements on the Internet and to various third parties, including the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee and St. Luke’s hospital, among others. McKee asked for more than $50,000 in damages.

Laurion claimed that any statements he made about the doctor were true and that he is immune from any liability to the plaintiff.

In 2011 State District Judge Eric Hylden ruled that McKee was not defamed by the criticism and dismissed the doctor’s lawsuit.

McKee appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and in January 2012 that court sent the case back to the district court for a jury to decide whether six statements Laurion posted about McKee on rate-your-doctor websites and distributed elsewhere were defamatory.

Laurion appealed the Court of Appeals decision to the state Supreme Court and the case was heard in St. Paul in September.

To establish a defamation claim, a party must prove that the defendant communicated to a third party a factual assertion that is false and tends to harm a plaintiff’s reputation in the community.

Laurion was critical of how his father, Kenneth, now 88, and his family were treated by McKee after his father suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and spent four days at St. Luke’s hospital April 17-21, 2010.

One Comment

  1. Alysia Colandrea says:

    When Dennis Laurion posted his personal opinion about Dr. David McKee online and how he believed that he and his family were treated poorly under his medical watch, he was completely protected by his first amendment right to free speech when doing so. Laurion was not putting off his opinion as fact that the doctor was an awful doctor, he was stating HIS personal opinion. By taking Laurion to court on a libel case, he failed to recognize the fact that this opinion based article posted by Laurion was nothing more than an OPINION. He was not defaming him– he was stating his personal experience with the doctor, as well as comments that his own nurses had shared about him, such as “he’s such a tool.” As the case was appealed to different courts, the rulings were always in favor of Laurion. However, since it’s a case containing a First Amendment issue, it was brought to Supreme Court and was continually ruled in Laurion’s favor.

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