A high-school newspaper article that quoted a student's characterization of a teacher as the worst in the school was not libelous, a California appeals court has ruled.
In a unanimous decision, the three-member California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District in San Francisco last month upheld a lower court's ruling that the student's statements were meant as6opinion, not fact.
Larry L. Moyer, a teacher at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, filed a $1-million lawsuit against the school district, the school's principal and newspaper adviser, and the students who made and reported the comments in March 1988 articles in the school newspaper In Flight.
The original article, and a follow-up story, quoted a student calling Mr. Moyer a "babbler" and "the worst teacher at F.H.S."
In its decision, the appeals court said the "worst teacher" statement "was simply an expression of anger or disgust on the student-speaker's part."
Similarly, the court found the "babbler" statement "a form of exaggerated expression conveying the student-speaker's disapproval of [Mr. Moyer's] teaching or speaking style."
Robert Links, a lawyer for one of the student journalists, hailed the ruling.
"In essence they're saying that even a little newspaper like In Flight can be as important as The New York Times," he said.
Mr. Moyer has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling, his lawyer, Rita Rowland, said last week.
"We were very disappointed," she said, adding that it was a "sad decision for teachers."