(CN) – A teenage gymnast and her father cannot be sued for calling the girl’s coach an “abuser” on the bus ride home from a meet, a New York appeals court ruled.
Karen Stroup was a physical education teacher and gymnastics coach in the Jamestown City School District in 2007. On the ride home from a meet, she argued with 13-year-old Sarah Nazzaro about her performance at the meet.
Sarah admitted that the called Stroup a “f— abuser” during the argument in front of the team. One team member testified in her deposition that Sarah called Stroup a “child abuser.”
After the school district responded by filing a report of suspected child abuse with the local police, Stroup was suspended for six months and investigated by police. No charges were ever filed.
Stroup, who retired as she originally planned at the end of the 2007-08 school year, filed suit for defamation against Sarah and her father, Charles Nazzaro.
The trial court dismissed the complaint in summary judgment, and the Rochester-based appeals court affirmed on Jan. 31.
“In determining whether defendant’s statement during the incident is actionable, the statement must be considered in its applicable context and in terms of its effect upon the average listener,” the unsigned opinion states.
“Defendant’s statement that the plaintiff was an ‘abuser,’ viewed in the context of the heated incident on the bus, amounted to no more than name-calling or a general insult, a type of epithet not to be taken literally and not deemed injurious to reputation,” the justices added.
The court also ruled that the Nazarros’ statements during the investigation of the incident are protected by qualified privilege and are therefore also not actionable.
Justice Edward Carni partially dissented, stating the there was an issue of material fact over whether Sarah’s statement on the bus was defamatory.