City maintenance supervisor is not a public official, court rules
MINNESOTA — In mid-November, the Minnesota Supreme Court in St. Paul refused to hear an appeal by the Duluth News-Tribune of a $676,000 libel award granted to a city maintenance supervisor.
The Supreme Court’s denial of review lets stand a Court of Appeals ruling that Duluth Street and Traffic Control Maintenance Supervisor Richard J. LeDoux was not a “public official” for purposes of a libel action he brought against the newspaper.
LeDoux sued the News-Tribune over a report that “a city crew paved the street where [LeDoux] owned the only home.” Editorials in the newspaper described LeDoux’s conduct as “wanton” and “disgraceful.”
The newspaper argued before the Court of Appeals that LeDoux should have been required to prove that the newspaper acted with actual malice — knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth — because he was a “public official.”
As a city maintenance supervisor, LeDoux supervised approximately 30 full-time employees and 16 to 20 seasonal employees who removed snow. LeDoux also had occasional contact with the public when individuals contacted him regarding problems with the roadways in his district.
In early September, the Court of Appeals ruled that LeDoux was not a public official because he was never involved in high-level policy matters. The court also found no evidence that the public had an independent interest in the qualifications and performance of LeDoux beyond that of any government employee. The Court of Appeals also held that LeDoux did not thrust himself forward in an attempt to influence the outcome of a public controversy, and thus did not qualify as a public figure.
(LeDoux v. Northwest Publishing; Media Counsel: Marshall H. Tanick, Minneapolis)