This is going to be interesting. Nick Sandmann’s $250 million lawsuit against the Washington Post was dismissed in late July by federal Judge William Bertelsman who said the Post’s reporting was protected speech. However, today Judge Bertelsman partially reversed that earlier decision, allowing 3 of 33 claims to proceed to discovery:
After reviewing an amended complaint, Judge William Bertelsman ordered Monday that the case could enter the discovery phase and hence a portion of the lawsuit against the newspaper could continue…
Bertelsman said in the order that he stands by his decision that 30 of the 33 statements Sandmann’s lawyers argued were libelous were not, but that “justice requires” further review of three of the statements.
“These three statements state that (Sandmann) ‘blocked’ Nathan Phillips and ‘would not allow him to retreat,'” the order reads.
Judge Bertelsman’s decision is here. He doesn’t fully explain why he reconsidered his previous ruling; however, he says some additional detail was added to the complaint about Nathan Phillips, the source of the statements published by the Post:
The Court will adhere to its previous rulings as they pertain to these statements except Statements 10, 11, and 33, to the extent that these three statements state that plaintiff “blocked” Nathan Phillips and “would not allow him to retreat.” Suffice to say that the Court has given this matter careful review and concludes that “justice requires” that discovery be had regarding these statements and their context. The Court will then consider them anew on summary judgment.
The Court also notes that the proposed First Amended Complaint makes specific allegations concerning the state of mind of Phillips, the principal source of these statements. It alleges in greater detail than the original complaint that Phillips deliberately lied concerning the events at issue, and that he had an unsavory reputation which, but for the defendant’s negligence or malice, would have alerted defendant to this fact.
The Washington Post has reported on the story as well. The last line of the Post story states, “A Post representative declined to comment.”
Sandmann’s attorneys tweeted about the decision:
As a prepare for summary judgment hearing today in LA in Vernon Unsworth v. Elon Musk, the news of our team’s huge win in Covington, KY reaffirms my career-long belief that our system of justice works. Nicholas Sandmann deserves his day in court against WaPo. Now he will get it.
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) October 28, 2019
NEWSFLASH: Federal Judge William O. Bertelsman partially reversed his ruling to dismiss #nicksandmann's claims against the @washingtonpost. Nick's case may now proceed into discovery. The ruling bodes will for the NBC and CNN cases, as well. @LLinWood pic.twitter.com/4MoJdSreXa
— Todd V. McMurtry (@ToddMcMurtry) October 28, 2019
Sandmann has filed similar suits against NBC and CNN. The changes made to this complaint seem pretty specific to the facts involving the Post’s story so it’s not clear any of this would be transferable to a case against, for instance, CNN. But regardless of how the case turns out the discovery process should be very interesting. I very much look forward to learning what Post employees and editors were saying about this as it was happening. It’s hard to believe they came up with such a biased account of what happened by accident.