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U.S. Court of Appeals rules in favor of the University of Minnesota in case involving the Turkish Coalition of America

May 3, 2012

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the university today in a closely watched case involving First Amendment and academic freedom claims. The plaintiff in the case, Turkish Coalition of America, claimed that statements on a university department website that suggested that the Turkish Coalition’s information about the Armenian genocide was “unreliable” violated its free speech rights and were defamatory. A university student also allegedly feared he would be subjected to academic reprisals if he used information from the organization’s website in his own work.

The federal district court had previously granted the university’s motion to dismiss the claims, based principally upon its finding that the university’s website contained statements of faculty scholarly opinion and critique that were protected by the doctrine of academic freedom.

The Court of Appeals today affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims. It found the Turkish Coalition free speech claim failed because it could not show it had suffered any restrictions on its speech activities. The Court of Appeals also found that the Turkish Coalition’s defamation claims failed because the university faculty’s statements were either true or were statements of opinion, which cannot support a defamation claim. The Court of Appeals also found the student had no standing to bring any claims because he could not show he suffered any injury. 

The case has been watched closely by scholars around the United States and the world because of its implications for principles of academic freedom.

U of M General Counsel Mark Rotenberg stated, “Today’s federal court decision confirms the right of universities and their faculty to offer scholarly criticism and critique on websites without fear of legal exposure. This protection is especially important when the scholarly opinions expressed by the faculty are controversial. We are very pleased to have successfully defended this important academic interest.”

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