Minnesota Supreme Court Issues Precedent-Setting Decision for FMJ Client in Nathan McGuire v. Bowlin et. al.

September 2019

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a favorable decision for FMJ client, Nathan McGuire. The Court held that a high school basketball coach is not a “public figure” under the First Amendment, and, therefore, could bring a defamation lawsuit against parents who had defamed him.

McGuire, the former Woodbury High School girls’ basketball coach, was represented by Donald Chance Mark Jr. of FMJ and Sharon Van Dyck of the Van Dyck Law Firm in Minneapolis. The case involved parents making statements about McGuire during his coaching tenure that were false and misleading.

McGuire filed a lawsuit against the parents in December 2015 for defamation and claimed the parents filed false maltreatment claims with the state while he was coaching. The district court dismissed the case on grounds that he was a “public official” and had failed to prove the parents had “knowingly or recklessly” made a false report. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the lower court, but the decision made yesterday by the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed this decision.

The 16-page unanimous decision was written by Justice Natalie Hudson and is the first time the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled on this issue. Five other states have decided the issue and four of the five have agreed that public high school coaches are not public officials. The decision reinstated McGuire’s defamation lawsuits against one of the parents.

“This decision is precedent-setting and not only does it have state-wide implications, but it also has national implications. It finally allows for public high school coaches to defend their reputations when parents make false statements about the conduct or coaching-style of a coach,” said Donald Chance Mark, Jr. of Fafinski Mark & Johnson.

Fafinski Mark & Johnson, P.A. is a Twin Cities-based law firm that practices nationally and internationally on a wide variety of legal and business matters. The firm’s litigators have successfully tried all types of cases from employment and product liability to aviation and insurance defense. For more information, visit www.fmjlaw.com.

Coverage of the case: