In the case of Aviation Charter, Inc. v. Aviation Research Group/US, Aviation Charter alleged that ARGUS had defamed it by making certain statements in connection with ARGUS’s assignment of a negative safety rating to Aviation Charter. The negative rating and associated statements were publicized by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in an article following the crash of an Aviation Charter flight in which Senator Paul Wellstone was killed. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ARGUS finding that Aviation Charter had not demonstrated that ARGUS’s statements were published with actual malice and that the statements were not actionable under the Minnesota Deceptive Trade Practices Act or the Lanham Act.
On appeal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment holding that ARGUS’s comparison that “Aviation Charter, relative to other carriers of its size, has an unfavorable safety record” and the statements derived from that comparison were not “sufficiently factual to be susceptible of being proved true or false.” The Court noted that ARGUS’s comparison “is a subjective interpretation of multiple objective data points leading to a subjective conclusion about aviation safety.” The Court also held that the balance of the alleged defamatory statements were not actionable under Minnesota defamation law.
For a more detailed analysis of the individual statements and ARGUS’s comparison as it relates to Minnesota defamation law, I encourage you to read the Court’s opinion here.