(CN) - Conservative pundit Glenn Beck must face claims that he defamed a Saudi Arabian student as the "money man" behind the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a federal judge ruled.
Beck and the owners of his show had hoped to topple the lawsuit by arguing that the man suing them, Abdulrahman Alharbi, was a public figure and would thus need to prove actual malice on their part.
U.S. District Judge Patti Saris sided with the 21-year-old plaintiff Tuesday.
"As a private figure, Alharbi is not required to allege actual malice in order to make out a claim for defamation," the 20-page opinion states.
Summarizing the case history in a favorable light for the plaintiff, Saris said that "the press attention Alharbi received after the bombing "was involuntary and, indeed, unwanted."
Alharbi had been a spectator near the finish line on April 15, 2013, when two homemade pressure-cooker bombs ripped through the crowd killing three and injuring more than 260.
"Choosing to attend a sporting event as one of thousands of spectators is not the kind of conduct that a reasonable person would expect to result in publicity," Saris wrote. "Quite to the contrary, a spectator at an event like the Boston Marathon would reasonably expect to disappear into the throngs of others, never attracting notice by the press."
Even after Alharbi was cleared by the authorities in the ensuing manhunt for the bombers, "Beck made numerous false statements about Alharbi on his radio show," Saris wrote.
"He identified Alharbi as an active participant in carrying out the marathon bombings and described him as the 'money man' who funded the attacks," the decision continues.
As such Beck, TheBlaze Inc., Mercury Radio Arts Inc., and Premiere Radio Networks Inc. cannot dismiss claims that they "were negligent as to the truthfulness of their reports after the authorities cleared his name," Saris wrote.
Neither Beck nor his attorneys were available Wednesday night for comment on the decision.
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