Knudsen v. Kansas Gas & Elec. Co – Case Brief Summary (Kansas)

In Knudsen v. Kansas Gas & Elec. Co. (Kan. 1991) 248 Kan. 469 807 P.2d 71, a free-lance reporter wrote a story published by a Kansas City newspaper in which he discussed a public utility's policy regarding public access to Wolf Creek, a lake owned by the utility.

A representative of the utility company met with the newspaper's editor-in-chief and associate editors to complain about alleged inaccuracies in the story.

At the meeting the utility company representative allegedly made defamatory statements about Knudsen, the reporter. Knudsen sued the utility for slander.

On appeal from a summary judgment for the utility the court first addressed the question whether Knudsen was a public figure.

Knudsen conceded access to Wolf Creek was a public issue but argued he did not become a public figure merely by authoring an article on the issue and that his exposure to the issue was "involuntary." The Kansas Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the trial court's determination the reporter was a limited-purpose public figure with respect to the issue of public access to the lake.

The court reasoned: "Knudsen, a free-lance writer, was not assigned to write the article by an employer. Rather, after defining the topic of the article, he initiated the investigation. Knudsen should have realized that his article about Wolf Creek would create a legitimate concern not only for KG & E but also for the public at large. He wrote the article under his byline in an investigatory tone to create a public controversy and influence the issue of the public's right to use Wolf Creek .... By his choice, Knudsen voluntarily injected himself into the public's attention and caused KG & E's concern." (Knudsen v. Kansas Gas and Elec. Co., supra, 807 P.2d at page 78.)