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School Not Liable for Teens’ Slumlord Report

SEATTLE (CN) - The Seattle School District is not liable for a high school newspaper article that allegedly defamed a businessman by calling him a "slum lord" who rents "crack shacks," a state judge has ruled.

The article was published in the Roosevelt High School student newspaper and claimed brothers Hugh and Drake Sisley had been accused of "racist renting policies." The brothers filed separate suits against the school district, saying they were defamed and that faculty failed to properly supervise the student newspaper staff.

In dismissing Hugh Sisley's case, King County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Prochnau ruled that the school district is not "vicariously liable" for the allegedly defamatory statements.

"As a matter of law, plaintiffs are unable to prove that, consistent with the First Amendment, the defendant Seattle School District should have censored the student's speech," Prochnau wrote.

The student's report that the brothers had been accused of racist renting policies is an opinion, and not defamatory, she found. Sisley and his wife could not prove that the statement was false or caused damage to their reputations, according to the judgment .

Drake Sisley's complaint is still pending.

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