FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — A Virginia judge on Monday pared actress Amber Heard’s $100 million defamation case against her ex-husband Johnny Depp — though some of the defamation claims themselves stand, at least for now.
Fairfax County Judge Bruce White tossed Heard's request to be declared immune from civil liability stemming from an op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post. In the piece, published two years ago, Heard described the repercussions she faced after coming out as a victim of domestic abuse. She has contended the op-ed regarded "matters of public concern" protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
But while White found Heard can’t dodge Depp’s case on anti-SLAPP grounds, he advanced her defamation counterclaims based on remarks Depp, 57, reportedly made about the 34-year-old actress.
The two actors are involved in dueling lawsuits. Depp, star of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, fired the first shot, suing Heard for $50 million in March 2019 over the Post editorial. The lawsuit contends Heard, star of "Aquaman," was talking about Depp when she claimed she had been a victim of domestic abuse.
Heard filed counterclaims against Depp in 2020, claiming he had defamed her and attempted to destroy her career. Heard says she has become the target of a smear campaign that has included “false and defamatory statements to reporters” repeatedly accusing her of being a liar and a hoax artist.
After Depp moved to dismiss Heard’s counterclaims, White ruled Monday that defamation must, by law, “possess the requisite sting” to someone’s reputation — holding a person up to scorn, ridicule or contempt. He noted that through an attorney, the actor reportedly told a publication that Heard "went to court with painted on 'bruises to obtain a temporary restraining order.” Heard has also been accused of “committing an abuse hoax” against Depp.
Each of the eight statements Depp reportedly made through his attorneys "imply that Ms. Heard lied and perjured herself when she appeared before a court in 2016 to obtain a temporary restraining order against Mr. Depp,” White wrote. “Moreover, they imply that she has lied about being a victim of domestic violence.”
He added: “This court finds that the statements contain the requisite 'sting' for an actionable defamation claim,” though found five of the eight statements at issue are barred by the one-year statute of limitations since they arise from “statements made in separate publications, on separate dates and by different people.”
The judge also tossed Heard’s claims under the Virginia Computer Crimes Act, in which she claimed Depp, either directly or through his agents, launched a nationwide campaign to discredit Heard.
“The pleading fails to demonstrate that the social media accounts communicated obscene language, suggested obscene acts, or threatened illegal or immoral acts,” White wrote. Rather, Depp texted statements, “privately, to two of his friends, and Ms. Heard has not alleged that Mr. Depp intended for her to see them.”
The cases, filed in Fairfax County, Virginia, where the Post is printed, is one of two lawsuits filed by Depp. This past November, he lost the other case in which he sued The Sun, a U.K. tabloid that had described him as an abuser.
The Virginia case goes to trial in May.