You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Nick Sandmann lawsuit against Washington Post dismissed by judge

Louisville Courier-Journal logo Louisville Courier-Journal 7/27/2019 Max Londberg
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

The $250 million lawsuit filed by Nick Sandmann against the Washington Post has been dismissed by a federal judge. 

U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman, who heard oral arguments earlier this month, issued the ruling on Friday in the case that garnered national attention after Sandmann became embroiled in a divisive response to an encounter between him and his Covington Catholic High classmates and Native Americans on the National Mall. 

The Washington Post, in a statement, said it was pleased by the dismissal.

"From our first story on this incident to our last, we sought to report fairly and accurately the facts that could be established from available evidence, the perspectives of all of the participants, and the comments of the responsible church and school officials," The Post said through a spokesperson.

The Sandmann family plans to appeal Bertelsman's ruling, according to a statement sent to the The Enquirer, part of the USA TODAY Network, by Sandmann's attorneys, Todd McMurtry and L. Lin Wood.

The January encounter led to threats lobbed at Sandmann, who would later appear on national television to say he felt he'd done nothing wrong. 

“I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance," his father, Ted Sandmann, said in a statement. "If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe.”

But David Marburger, a Cleveland-based attorney who spent decades representing various media outlets, agreed with the ruling, saying he questioned the validity of Sandmann's claim from the outset.

a group of people wearing costumes © Provided by Gannett Co., Inc.
"As a libel lawyer, I thought his claims were quite weak," Marburger said, "so it’s renewed confidence in the judiciary that the judge would dismiss this case ... by applying the settled law to the allegedly libelous publication. And rule in favor of the press."

Sandmann and his attorneys had alleged that the gist of The Washington Post's first article conveyed that Sandmann had assaulted or physically intimidated Phillips and engaged in racist conduct.

Bertelsman ruled such claims were "not supported by the plain language in the article, which states none of these things."

Bertelsman accepted Sandmann's assertion that he was only standing motionless across from Phillips, without ill intent.

But the Eastern District of Kentucky judge ruled that Phillips, who told the media he felt threatened, had a First Amendment right to express his opinion.

"He concluded that he was being blocked and not allowed to retreat," Bertelsman wrote. "He passed these conclusions on to The Post. They may have been erroneous, but, as discussed above, they are opinion protected by the First Amendment."

In an earlier motion, The Post wrote that Phillips "was entitled to offer his subjective point of view, and the Post had a right to report it."

Marburger said the opinion issue was at the crux of the suit. 

"When we’re all looking at the same facts, we’re all free to say what we think those facts show without being fearful of a libel judgement against us," Marburger said. "And that’s what you have here."

Wood, Sandmann's attorney, said in a statement that "many strong appellate issues" could return the case to federal court for trial. 

Phillips' statement to The Post — that he felt the "guy in the hat" had "blocked my way and wouldn't allow me to retreat" — did not convey objectively verifiable facts, Bertelsman ruled.

Sandmann's attorneys failed in proving other statements were libelous because they were not about Sandmann or any individual specifically, protecting them from defamation in the case, Bertelsman wrote.

Earlier: Nick Sandmann says he was judged 'based off one expression'

As for Sandmann's claims that The Post reporting conveyed he had assaulted Phillips, Bertelsman wrote that interpretation could not be "reasonably read" from the articles. Phillips initially said the students chanted "build that wall," despite a lack of such chants appearing on video. But the claim isn't libelous even if false, Bertelsman wrote, because precedent protects political party membership.

Taken together, The Post reporting did not subject Sandmann to disgrace or ridicule when the reporting was stripped of "innuendoes and explanations," Bertelsman wrote.

But Sandmann's lawsuit, Bertelsman added, employed "precisely the type of explanation or innuendo that cannot enlarge or add to the sense or affect of the words charged to be libelous."

Bertelsman also ruled it irrelevant to the defamation case that "Sandmann was scorned on social media."

Sandmann has also sued CNN and NBC. Before Friday's dismissal, he was seeking more than three-quarters of $1 billion against the three media companies.

The cases against CNN and NBC remain pending as of Friday afternoon.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Nick Sandmann lawsuit against Washington Post dismissed by judge

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Louisville Courier-Journal

Louisville Courier-Journal
Louisville Courier-Journal
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon