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Judge Picks Off ‘Under The Gun’ Lawsuit Against Katie Couric & Filmmaker

Deadline logo Deadline 5/31/2017 Erik Pedersen
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Turns out that lawsuit over the Katie Couric-backed documentary Under the Gun was firing blanks. A Virginia District Court judge today dismissed the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s action claimed that the gun advocacy group’s members were shown in the documentary apparently to be stumped for several seconds when Couric asks how to keep felons and terrorists from getting guns without background checks.

“The Defendants manipulated the footage in service of an agenda,” the plaintiffs said in the original suit filed September 13. “They wanted to establish that there is no basis for opposing universal background checks by fooling viewers into believing that even a panel of pro-Second Amendment advocates could not provide one.”

Couric — who produced and appears in the movie that premiered at Sundance 2016 and aired on Epix last year — and filmmaker/co-defendant Stephanie Soechtig both admitted that editing choices had been made on the interviews.

“In this case, the footage does not, on its face, carry the defamatory sting required by Virginia law,” Judge John A. Gibney wrote in granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case (read his opinion here).

The VCDL, along with plaintiffs Daniel Hawes and Patricia Webb, who appear in the film, had sought compensatory damages of $12 million and punitive damages of $350,000 for each individual plaintiff. They also wanted an injunction against further airing or viewing of Under the Gun until “false” depictions of them are removed.

Not gonna happen, the court said today.

“The film is not reasonably capable of implying that VCDL is unfit as a gun rights advocacy organization because such a holding would take the film beyond its plain meaning. The plain meaning of Under the Gun is that members of the VCDL did not have an answer to a specific question (i.e., how to stop felons and terrorists from purchasing guns without background  checks).   Getting from this meaning to the VCDL’s unfitness in its trade takes inferential leaps beyond the reach of defamation law. Accordingly, VCDL fails to state a claim for defamation.”

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