FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — Johnny Depp’s defamation suit against ex-wife and fellow actor Amber Heard will remain in Virginia, a judge ruled Thursday, refusing to let Heard take the case west.
The complaint, set for trial in February, focuses on an opinion piece The Washington Post published in December. Claiming that Heard made demonstrably false statements, implying he was abusive, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star sued Heard in March in Fairfax County Court, Virginia, demanding $50 million for defamation.
Heard’s attorneys, led by Eric M. George with Browne George Ross in Los Angeles, sought dismissal in April, arguing that the proceedings belong in California. Heard, an ambassador on women’s rights for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in court documents that she wrote the op-ed while in Los Angeles and “submitted it to the Washington Post through my contact at the ACLU, who was based in New York.”
Virginia law focuses on locality — where a statement was published — in determining whether a libel claim belongs in the commonwealth’s courts.
“However, the Supreme Court of Virginia has not addressed how this rule would apply in situations where defamatory content is published simultaneously in multiple jurisdictions,” Fairfax County Chief Judge Bruce White wrote Thursday in a 10-page letter to attorneys for both parties.
White said the case belongs in Virginia.
“The Washington Post’s online edition is created on a digital platform in Virginia and routed through servers in Virginia,” the judge wrote.
“Ms. Heard submitted her op-ed to The Washington Post to be published online,” the ruling continues. “The last event to make Ms. Heard liable for the alleged defamatory statements in her op-ed was uploading it to the internet. Using the servers located in Springfield, Virginia, The Washington Post posted it to the internet on December 18, 2018. Therefore, Mr. Depp’s cause of action arises in Virginia.”
Heard, 33, and Depp, 56, were married for 15 months. In 2016, as their relationship disintegrated and divorce proceedings began, Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp by claiming he had hit her. Depp has since accused Heard of painting on the bruises she used to substantiate those claims.
In her Washington Post op-ed, Heard never mentioned Depp by name, but did describe the backlash she received after speaking out about domestic abuse. “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse,” she wrote.
Depp claims that he never abused Heard, but was victimized by her. The defamation lawsuit, led by Benjamin Chew of the Washington, D.C., office of Brown Rudnick, claims that Heard’s allegations were “part of an elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity for Ms. Heard and advance her career.”