WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge on Wednesday all but shut down a defamation lawsuit filed by an immigration-focused bail bonding company against the online news outlet Buzzfeed.
The case, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia in 2017, pits two giants in their respective fields against one another over a single sentence in a story published online in July 2016.
According to the Buzzfeed report, the company Libre by Nexus puts up bail money for undocumented immigrants if they are detained by ICE or other authorities. The story went on to detail how the company had allegedly come under scrutiny for some of its business practices, including its charging fees that can end up costing the detainee more than the bond itself.
The story also spoke with immigrants who raved about the service and claimed they were just happy to be out of detainment. Libre by Nexus also says there are few bail options for detainees making its service a necessity and the company donates large sums of their income to pro bono legal work to support those who’ve been detained.
But one statement in the report caused Libre by Nexus to cry foul — Buzzfeed’s assertion that at the time of the report, the company was under investigation by ICE.
According to court documents, lawyers for Libre by Nexus sought to refute the claim by presenting Buzzfeed with a 2015 letter from ICE stating the agency has “no legal authority to investigate or prosecute bail bond companies or other related service providers regarding allegations of inappropriate conduct between two private parties such as an indemnitor and bond company.”
The lawyers said the letter is clear evidence that Buzzfeed defamed their client by incorrectly stating ICE was investigating the company. But on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta disagreed.
“All [the letter] does is speak to ICE’s investigatory authority with respect to conduct between private parties— not a private party’s acts directed at ICE detainees,” Mehta wrote. “Thus, the specific theory of falsity that Plaintiff advances is not supported by the factual allegations that it makes.”
But Mehta didn’t totally dismiss the complaint. Instead he gave the company 21 days to re-plead their case despite the court having “‘grave doubts’ about the factual legitimacy of the complaint.”
Representatives of Libre by Nexus did not immediately respond to a request for comment.