School Principals and New York Times: Ohio's Narrow Reading of Who Is a Public Official or Public Figure
The United States Supreme Court has promulgated the rule that plaintiffs in defamation cases who are either public officials or public figures must prove that an alleged defamatory statement was made with "actual malice."' Those individuals who have achieved public official or public figure status have a higher burden of proof than ordinary plaintiffs; they must show that a defamatory falsehood was made "with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." The Supreme Court has not listed which government employees qualify for public official status, but it has provided some guidance. There are similarly vague guidelines surrounding the distinction of a public figure. In its 1999 decision in East Canton Education Ass'n v. McIntosh, the Ohio Supreme Court considered the question of whether a public high school principal is a public official or public figure for defamation purposes. Contrary to precedent, it held that a principal qualifies as neither. This is a surprising result in light of the United States Supreme Court's public official/figure guidelines and opposite state decisions elsewhere. Eventually, the dissent’s view will be adopted as Ohio and the rest of the nation implement clearer standards for public official/figure status. When they do, high school principals will, as a rule, meet those standards and be subject to the New York Times actual malice requirement in defamation cases.
Note, School Principals and New York Times: Ohio's Narrow Reading of Who Is a Public Official or Public Figure, 48 Clev. St. L. Rev. 169 (2000)