Fikes v. Furst

81 P.3d 545 (2003)

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Fikes v. Furst

New Mexico Supreme Court
81 P.3d 545 (2003)

Facts

Peter Furst (defendant) and Jay Fikes (plaintiff) were both professors and anthropologists. In the 1960s, Furst began observing the Huichol Native Americans (the Huichol) and published his findings. Fikes began studying the Huichol in the 1970s and 1980s and publicly criticized some of Furst’s findings. A long-running feud ensued, during which Furst made disparaging remarks about Fikes. While Fikes was in the process of publishing a book, Furst wrote to the publisher, threatening to sue for libel if the book was published. The publisher pulled out of the deal, but Fikes found a different publisher willing to publish a revised version. Fikes sued Furst for defamation and tortious interference with contract. A district court awarded summary judgment to Furst on all claims. An appeals court reversed the order on the defamation claim with respect to two sets of statements. The first group consisted of statements made by Furst to a museum director, in which he opined that Fikes was unqualified to work on a project involving Native Americans. The recipient of this statement, Dr. Bruce Bernstein, testified that the statement did not influence his opinion of Fikes, and that such talk is normal in the academic world. The second group of statements consisted of Furst’s statements to individuals that the university that had awarded Fikes a doctoral degree “disowned Fikes” and regretted awarding him the degree. The appeals court also reversed the district court’s ruling on Fikes’s claim for tortious interference with contract. Furst appealed the ruling.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Minzner, J.)

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