Supreme Court: Calling someone "a real tool" isn't defamatory, because it's opinion, not fact

Is Dr. McKee (pictured) a "real tool"? According to the Supreme Court, it depends who you ask.
Is Dr. McKee (pictured) a "real tool"? According to the Supreme Court, it depends who you ask.
Image by Tatiana Craine -- Dr. McKee picture from Quora

An opinion released by the Minnesota Supreme Court today is an especially fun read as far as court rulings go. At issue is whether calling a professional "a real tool" in online reviews of their work is defamatory.

SEE ALSO: Supreme Court considering case of Duluth doc who sued after reviewer called him "a real tool"

As we told you about in October (link above), Duluth neurologist Dr. David McKee sued Dennis Laurion, the son of a former patient, for $50,000, alleging that statements Laurion published online defamed him. Among the statements was this gem: "When I mentioned Dr. McKee's name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, 'Dr. McKee is a real tool!'"

Laurion's father had a stroke, and Laurion was upset about the way Dr. McKee treated him. A Jewish World Review report provides more details:

In his online postings, Dennis Laurion wrote that McKee "seemed upset" because he thought his father, then 84, was still in intensive care.

"Never having met my father or his family, Dr. McKee said, 'When you weren't in the ICU, I had to spend time finding out if you transferred or died,'" according to Laurion's account. "When we gaped at him, he said, 'Well, 44 percent of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better option.'"

Laurion, who was visiting with his wife and mother, wrote that McKee was brusque and dismissive during the exam, especially when his father raised concerns that his hospital gown was hanging open at the back. "Dr. McKee said, 'That doesn't matter,'" according to Laurion's account. "My wife said, 'It matters to us,'" and they left the room.

McKee claims he spent more than $7,000 to "scrub" more than 100 negative comments about his work, many of them originating from a single IP address in Duluth, the Review reports.

But in today's opinion, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Laurion's online comments don't constitute defamation.

"Referring to someone as 'a real tool' falls into the category of pure opinion because the term 'real tool' cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating a fact and it cannot be proven true or false." Justice Alan Page wrote. You can read the whole thing here.

Something to keep in mind next time one of your pals says "[insert name] is a total toolbox" and you disagree. "The Supreme Court says that's just your opinion, man!"

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