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Cosby Ducks Defamation Suit by Rape Accuser

(CN) - By calling on the media to "fact-check" his accusers' stories, Bill Cosby did not defame a woman who accused the comedian of raping her, a federal judge ruled.

The ruling from Pittsburgh comes just over a week before Cosby, 78, is scheduled to face a preliminary hearing in Montgomery County, Pa., on separate sexual assault charges.

About five dozen have come forward with sexual assault claims against Cosby dating back to the mid-1960s, but the case on behalf of Andrea Constand in Montgomery County represents the only time Cosby has been charged.

Renita Hill, the plaintiff in the newly dismissed defamation case, had been one of dozens of women to come forward with sexual-abuse allegations against Cosby in late 2014 after comedian Hannibal Burress went viral with a stand-up bit about Cosby's image.

A day or two after Hill gave an interview about Cosby to a reporter from KDKA in November 2014, Cosby and his lawyer began issuing forthright denials of the sexual assault allegations.

In addition to a statement from Cosby's attorney Martin Singer, and an interview Cosby himself gave Florida Today, the Washington Post published a letter in December from Camille Cosby, the comedian's wife.

Hill cited these three communications in a federal defamation case she filed against Cobsy in Pittsburgh last year, but Cosby urged the court to dismiss for lack of a justiciable claim or controversy.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab did just that on Jan. 21, finding that none of the statements Hill mentioned "specifically malign plaintiff individually."

Singer's statement spoke broadly about the absurdity of his client facing "new, never-before-heard claims from women, who have come forward in the past two weeks with unsubstantiated, fantastical stories."

For Schwab, this statement represents the "legal position" of Cosby's attorney.

"This sort of purely opinionated speech articulated by Defendant's attorney is protected and not actionable as defamatory speech," the 18-page ruling states.

As for Bill Cosby's interview with Florida Today, Schwab noted that the comedian merely "declined to respond to the 'innuendos' that had been made about him and stated that 'people should fact-check.'

"This is a far cry from labeling plaintiff (and the other women who have made similar public assertions) as liars or extortionists," the court found.

Camille Cosby's letter to the Washington Post meanwhile complained about the media's failure to "vet" her husband's accusers before publishing or airing their stories.

Schwab concluded that the statement took aim more at the media than the accusers themselves, and was released weeks after Hill's interview.

Even taken together, the statements do not paint Hill as a liar and an extortionist, so she has no basis to claim defamation, the court found.

Schwab also threw out the claims for false light and emotional distress, and denied Hill a chance to amend her complaint.

Cosby has been out $1 million bail on charges of aggravated indecent assault. He faces a preliminary hearing in the criminal case on Feb. 2.

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