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Hannah Rose hr313310@ohio.edu Communication Law Spring 2014 Analysis Paper The below court cases give insight into how the Sixth Court of Appeals makes decisions regarding a persons public or private status. The cases also demonstrate how the title of public or private figure in a libel case can majorly change the outcome of the suit. A public figure is an individual in the public eye, a limited purpose public figure is an individual who sought public attention in relation to the theme in the current case and a private figure is someone who is not usually in the public eye who did not voluntarily gain public attention for the situation being addressed in the case. Plaintiffs who are named public figures (including limited purpose) must prove actual malice or intentional harm to the plaintiff by ignoring truths. Private figures must only prove negligence to win the case. Freddie Williams Jr. V. Detroit Board of Education Case (2009) Freddie Williams, the plaintiff, filed a suit against Lavonne Sheffield, the defendant. Williams was a former teacher and administrator and at the time of the suit was principal of Trombly Alternative High School at Detroit Public Schools. Sheffield was the Board and Chief Executive Officer. Williams was fired for embezzling school funds and equipment. Since a public audit proving his financial fraud was available to potential employers he was majorly hindered from finding another job. Williams filed a suit claiming his reputation was damaged since they did not recant the allegations made against him. Initially, the district court awarded the defendant and Williams responded by taking the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The court named Williams a public official due to his principal status at a public school. Since a public school is funded through the public the finances at the school directly concern the public and therefore he was a public official in this instance. Due to his public official status he had to prove that the statements made against him were false or that the published statements were made maliciously with the intent of hurting Williams reputation. He failed to prove either and lost the suit. Through this case we learn that within the sixth circuit (as proven in several previous cases) public school officials are often viewed as public officials if their job is of major interest and directly concerns the public at large. In this case, the topic of school finances solidified his public official status in the court. John Doe v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education (2010)

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John Freshwater, the plaintiff, was a science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School in Ohio. Freshwater annually used a device to shock student-volunteers with an electrical charge as part of an experiment in his science classes. One of the shocks left a mark the shape of a Christian cross on a students arm. Freshwater denied that the mark on the students arm was of a Christian cross and said it was intended to be an X. Responding to the situation, the principal and superintendent investigated by searching Freshwaters classroom. They found several religious items including several copies of the ten commandments. Freshwater refused to remove the items from his classroom after being asked and was fired. Following the incident, Freshwater filed a suit claiming the school damaged his reputation and caused him emotional distress. As the controversy played out Freshwater appeared on several media platforms discussing the topic. As a result, the district court named him a limited purpose public figure. Due to this status he had to prove malicious intent to harm his reputation or a falsity in statements made against him. Since he could do neither, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio named that he lost the suit. Doe v. Mount Vernon reiterates past rulings that conclude if an individual purposefully puts oneself in the public eye then the possibility of being seen as a private figure in the court are diminished. Through this case, future cases have a direct model to follow if a plaintiff puts himself in the limelight and then wants to be tried as a private figure.

E.W. Dennison v. Murray State University (2006)


E.W. Dennison, the plaintiff, entered a contract with Murray State University in 1997 as athletic director. Later, sexual harassment and inappropriate communication with student complaints were made along with concern over several student athlete behavioral issues. In 2004, Dennison was transferred to a new position which he later resigned from. He filed a suit against Murray State University in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, Paducah Division. Alexander, an employee at Murray State University, made written statements about Dennison which he claimed damaged his reputation and filed a suit over defamation because he believed his reputation was hindered. Since Dennison was an athletic director at a large university he was named a public figure. He could not prove that the statements resulted in any harm and lost this portion of the suit.

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This case is another example of public figures having to prove that the defendant intentionally hurt their reputation in order to win a libel case. Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co. (1990) Michael Milkovich, the plaintiff, filed a suit against the Lorain Journal Company (owner of the News-Harold Newspaper) and J. Theodore Diadiun (a reporter). Milkovich was a high school wrestling coach involved in an athletic case. The News-Harold wrote an article stating Milkovich lied under oath. He filed a suit against the newspaper and believed their statement ruined his reputation. Several appeals were made during the case due to difficulty trying to define Milkovichs private or public figure status. Initially, The Court of Common Pleas of Lake County, Ohio ruled in favor of the newspaper and reporter and named him a public figure. The Ohio Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Appellate District ruled in his favor but still named him a public figure. The Ohio Court of Appeals agreed with the initial ruling and Milkovich once again lost. Eventually, the Supreme Court of Ohio saw the case and Milkovich was named a private figure and won since he did not have to prove malice. He was able to prove negligence. This case shows how important the private vs. public status debate is in regards to libel cases. Shown through the different decisions made at each level in this case, an individual being ruled a private figure it is much easier for the plaintiff to fight their case and possibly win. This case proves that not all school employees are named public officials; the decision is made depending on the circumstances. Work Cited

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E.W. Dennison V. Murray State University, 465 F. Supp. 2d 733; 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80800 (2006) John Doe v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34590 (2010) Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1; 110 S. Ct. 2695; 111 L. Ed. 2d 1; 1990 U.S. LEXIS 3296; 58 U.S.L.W. 4846; 17 Media L. Rep. 2009 (1990) Freddie Williams v. Detroit School Board of Education, 09a0030n.06; 306 Fed. Appx. 943; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 1051; 2009 FED App. 0030N (6th Cir.) (2009)