Democracy & Elections Executive Branch

D.C. Judge Declines to Dismiss Nunes Defamation Suit Against Washington Post

Ajay Sarma
Thursday, August 12, 2021, 4:25 PM

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is allowing Rep. Devin Nunes’s defamation suit against the Washington Post to proceed.

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On Wednesday, Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the Washington Post’s motion to dismiss Rep. Devin Nunes’s defamation claim against the newspaper but granted its motion to dismiss his negligence claim. The judge held that the Post’s attribution of what it called “baseless” claims that the Obama administration had spied on Trump Tower to Nunes—a claim that previous Post articles had accurately noted that Nunes had rejected—was a sufficient basis for a rational juror to find the Post had made a materially false statement with actual malice, though he noted “the question is a close one[.]” Nichols also declined to dismiss Nunes’s claims on the grounds that he had not adequately pleaded damages according to California defamation laws because, though Nunes represents a California district, his injuries were primarily suffered in Washington, D.C., making the California standard inapplicable under relevant choice of law rules. Finally, the court granted the Post’s motion to dismiss the negligence claim on the grounds that the First Amendment prevented press organizations from being held civilly liable for simple negligence and because Nunes had waived this claim by failing to respond to the Post’s motion to dismiss it.

You can read the full memorandum opinion here or below:

Ajay Sarma is a junior at Harvard College studying Social Studies. He is an intern at Lawfare.

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