Federal Judge Dismisses Bulk of Devin Nunes Family’s Defamation Suit

Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., questions Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire in Washington, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CN) — A federal judge in Iowa on Friday dismissed all but one claim in a defamation lawsuit filed by the family of California Representative Devin Nunes against Esquire magazine and one of its reporters for an article about their Iowa dairy farm.

Nunes, a Republican, has filed multiple defamation lawsuits within the past two years. He filed his own lawsuit against the magazine, claiming the story “Devin Nunes’s Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret,” published in September of 2018, was a hit piece and “a legion of lies.”

That lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams in August, finding that the article contained statements that were either true, opinion-based, or otherwise protected by the First Amendment.

Williams also presides over the family’s lawsuit, which he largely dismissed on Friday. The judge pushed back on the family’s “spurious allegations” against reporter Ryan Lizza who worked for Esquire at the time.

In the original complaint, the family said Lizza wrote the piece to “distract readers from his negative image and history as a sexual predator.” Lizza was fired by The New Yorker in 2017 after he was accused of being engaged in “improper sexual conduct,” an accusation Lizza has denied.

“Those allegations are immaterial, impertinent, and scandalous,” Williams wrote. “Plaintiffs’ personal attacks on Lizza have no bearing on this case.”

In his 42-page order, Judge Williams said the family failed to show that the defendants acted with malice.

“Plaintiff cannnot rely on general assertions and must plead facts to support a finding of actual malice,” he wrote. “Even if a reasonable reader could find the challenged portions or implications of the Article to be false and defamatory, plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege defendants acted with actual malice.”

The only survivable claim from the lawsuit, according to the judge, was the article’s assertion that undocumented workers were hired to work on the family farm.

“Falsely accusing someone of knowingly employing undocumented workers is accusing someone of committing a crime,” Williams wrote. “To falsely accuse a person of an indictable crime is defamatory.”

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