A federal judge dismissed Friday the $250 million defamation lawsuit filed against the Washington Post by Kentucky teen Nicholas Sandmann over the newspaper’s coverage of his viral encounter with an elderly Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge William O. Bertelsman found that activist Nathan Phillips may have been wrong when he said he was “blocked” by the teen and not allowed to “retreat,” but that such statements represented opinion protected by the First Amendment.
“And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions, for the reasons discussed in this Opinion,” said the 36-page ruling.
The judge examined seven articles and three tweets covering the Jan. 18 incident following the March for Life and the Indigenous Peoples March, which occurred on the same day.
“Accordingly, Sandmann cannot maintain a claim based on any of the Post’s publications, and the Court will dismiss the Complaint in its entirety,” said Judge Bertelsman of the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Attorneys for Nicholas Sandmann and his parents sued the Post for $25 million, accusing the newspaper of defaming the teen by suggesting he instigated the confrontation and participated in “racist taunts” against the elderly man, fueling a social-media uproar.
DOCUMENT: Judge's opinion dismissing Sandmann family lawsuit against The Washington Post
The Sandmanns have also filed $275 million lawsuits against CNN, which the cable network has sought to dismiss, and NBC/MSNBC.
Attorneys for the Sandmanns, L. Lin Wood of Atlanta and Todd V. McMurtry of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, said they planned to appeal the decision.
“The law must protect innocent minors targeted by journalists,” said Mr. McMurtry in a statement.
Ted Sandmann, the father of the student at Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Kentucky, said, “I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance.”
“If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe,” Mr. Sandmann said.
Shani George, Post communications director, said the newspaper was “pleased” by the decision.
“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,” she said in an email. “We are pleased that the case has been dismissed.”
In its motion to dismiss filed in April, the Post denied having an “anti-Trump bias,” as alleged by the Sandmanns, arguing that the newspaper had given front-page coverage to the teen’s version of events and that, “Politics has nothing to do with this case.”
Defamation lawsuits against media outlets are notoriously difficult to win, but Mr. Wood said there were “many strong appellate issues” that could resurrect the case.
“We look forward to having an appellate court take a fresh look at the issues in this important case,” said Mr. Wood.
The lawsuit asked for $250 million in damages, with attorneys noting that it was the amount paid by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos to buy the Post in 2013.