A state appeals court in Ohio has overturned part of a lower court’s ruling against a former Ohio University professor, Bhavin V. Mehta, who alleged that he had been defamed by the university when it accused him of supporting “rampant and flagrant plagiarism” by his students. The allegations against Mr. Mehta arose from a 2006 plagiarism scandal in which a former student discovered that text in dozens of theses approved by the university’s engineering department—including 12 supervised by Mr. Mehta—had been lifted from other sources without appropriate attribution. The appeals court ruled last Thursday that the university had made a series of condemnatory statements about Mr. Mehta during the plagiarism investigation that were not assertions of opinion but could be understood as factual. The appeals court left it up to a trial court to determine if those statements were defamatory. The decision overrode a 2009 ruling in favor of the university.
Correction (7/21): The original post incorrectly stated that the appeals court ruled that the university had defamed Mr. Mehta in the course of its plagiarism investigation. The court ruled only that the statements at issue were not merely assertions of opinion, and referred the case to the trial court to determine if the statements were factual or not. The original post also incorrectly stated that the appeals court had let stand the trial court’s decision that Mr. Mehta had failed to adequately monitor his students’ work. The trial court did not rule on that matter. The post has been updated to reflect this correction.