A federal judge has dismissed a $435 million libel suit that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) filed against CNN, rejecting his claim that he was defamed over a report on his contacts with a Ukrainian prosecutor.
U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain wrote in her opinion that Nunes failed to demand a retraction from CNN, a key element in pursuing libel cases in California. She had ruled that as a California resident, Nunes was bound by state law that then limited him to seeking special damages, like the loss of property or business. But she said that he failed to show that in his complaint, nor did he plausibly claim that the network engaged in a conspiracy to defame him.
Nunes’ lawsuit, filed in early December 2020, stems from the network’s coverage of the first impeachment trial. He sued over a November 22, 2019 report that Lev Parnas, the former associate of Rudy Giuliani, was prepared to tell Congress that Nunes met with Victor Shokin, the former Ukrainian prosecutor, in Vienna in 2018 to discuss “digging up dirt” on Joe Biden. Nunes said he never has met Shokin. He also denies that he took a trip to Vienna then or that he communicated with Parnas. Nunes also cited remarks that the author of the CNN report, Vicky Ward, made on Chris Cuomo’s show.
In its briefs, CNN defended the report, noting that it quoted Parnas’ lawyer, Joseph Bondy, on the record. “CNN’s reporting of what Mr. Bondy said on the record, as a lawyer, was truthful and accurate,” the network said. It also noted that it “had made multiple attempts to seek comment from Rep. Nunes prior to reporting this story, but that he and his staff had declined to comment on whether Rep. Nunes had met with Mr. Shokin.”
Nunes originally filed his case in Virginia, but a judge ordered it transferred it to New York, where CNN is based.
In her opinion, Swain wrote that California law “limits a defamation plaintiff’s recovery to special damages unless the plaintiff makes a specific written demand for a retraction within a short period of time.”
“Because Plaintiff failed to comply with the statutory notice and retraction demand requirements set forth therein, he must allege special damages and is not entitled to seek any other type of damages,” she wrote. Nunes. however, “failed to meet the minimum pleading requirements for special damages.”
While Nunes’ lawsuit “uses the phrase ‘special damages,’ refers to ‘out of pocket expenses,’ and includes a dollar amount that encompasses the entire array of damages claims, it provides no further indication of the basis or quantum of any special, or economic, element of his damages claim,” she wrote.
Earlier this week, a federal judge in Maryland tossed out a lawsuit filed by Nunes’ senior aide, Derek Harvey, against the network. The lawsuit stemmed from the same CNN report.
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