RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A federal appeals court, ruling that a columnist's opinion on a company's stock is protected under the First Amendment, upheld the dismissal of a $15 million libel suit against Forbes magazine.

Biospherics Inc. of Beltsville, Md., filed the suit in July 1997, claiming the magazine and reporter Caroline Waxler libeled the company by saying in a Jan. 13, 1997, column that the company's sugar substitute under development ``isn't up to the company's claims,'' and that ``the few independent analysts who follow the company think the stock is worth $2 on current business.''

The day the issue reached newsstands, Biospherics stock was trading at $6.62, but by June 23 shares had declined 26 percent to $4.87.

The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling saying that ``any reasonable person ... would recognize, based on the tenor, language and context of the article, that the challenged statements constitute a subjective view, not a statement of fact.''