A federal judge has partially reopened the defamation lawsuit filed by Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann against The Washington Post, allowing for the lawsuit to go forward but limiting the scope of statements subject to discovery.
The lawsuit against The Washington Post was brought against them by Sandmann after the outlet promoted Sandmann due to the circulation of a video that they claimed showed Sandmann taunting Native American activist Nathan Phillips at the March for Life held in Washington, DC.
As more details were released and further context was provided, it was eventually discovered that Phillips, along with a group of Black Hebrew Israelite members, had intentionally confronted and sought to antagonize the group of Covington Catholic High School students due to their skin color and their wearing of red ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.
U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman originally dismissed the lawsuit, claiming that the erroneous statements made by The Washington Post were “opinion protected by the First Amendment” due to being true as far as Phillips believed them to be:
“The Court accepts Sandmann’s statement that, when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with Phillips, his intent was to calm the situation and not to impede or block anyone. However, Phillips did not see it that way. He concluded that he was being “blocked” and not allowed to “retreat.” He passed these conclusions on to The Post. They may have been erroneous, but as discussed above, they are opinion protected by the First Amendment. And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions.”
However, on October 28th, Judge Bertelsman ordered the case to be partially reopened following the filing of an amended complaint, with Judge Bertelsman noting that “the statements alleged by plaintiff to be defamatory have not changed in the proposed First Amended Complaint.” The court, which “will adhere to its previous rulings as they pertain to these statements,” has made an exception to allow action on three of the thirty-three statements cited by Sandmann in his original complaint:
“The Court will adhere to its previous rulings as they pertain to these statements except Statements 10, 11, and 33, to the extent that these three statements state that plaintiff ‘blocked’ Nathan Phillips and ‘would not allow him to retreat.’ Suffice to say that the Court has given this matter careful review and concludes that ‘justice requires’ that discovery be had regarding these statements and their context. The Court will then consider them anew on summary judgment.”
These three statements, published by the The Washington Post, state Phillips’ opinions on Sandmann’s actions as fact, citing Phillips’ interpretation as being “subjective matters of opinion.”
10. “It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’ Phillips recalled. ‘I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”
11. “A few of the young people chanted ‘Build that wall, build that wall,’ the man said, adding that a teen, shown smirking at him in the video, was blocking him from moving.”
33. “Phillips, who fought in the Vietnam War, says in an interview ‘I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.’”
Judge Bertelsman had stated in his previous ruling that these statements were “not ‘about’ Sandmann,” as they were more descriptive of his actions rather than Sandmann himself.
NEWSFLASH: Federal Judge William O. Bertelsman partially reversed his ruling to dismiss #nicksandmann‘s claims against the @washingtonpost. Nick’s case may now proceed into discovery. The ruling bodes will for the NBC and CNN cases, as well. @LLinWood pic.twitter.com/4MoJdSreXa
— Todd V. McMurtry (@ToddMcMurtry) October 28, 2019
As a prepare for summary judgment hearing today in LA in Vernon Unsworth v. Elon Musk, the news of our team’s huge win in Covington, KY reaffirms my career-long belief that our system of justice works. Nicholas Sandmann deserves his day in court against WaPo. Now he will get it.
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) October 28, 2019
The news of the revival of Sandmann’s lawsuit inevitably reached the ear of President Donald Trump, who opined that Sandmann “now [has] a good chance of winning” and cheered him on:
A Federal Judge is allowing the Nick Sandman libel suit to move forward against the thoroughly disgusting Washington Post (which is no longer available at the White House!). He could now have a good chance of winning. Go Nick!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2019
A Twitter account allegedly belonging to Sandmann responded to President Trump’s cheer, thanking him for his support:
Thank you Mr. President!! https://t.co/94OBaVp9YJ
— Nick Sandmann (@N1ckSandmann) October 30, 2019
According to an article on the reopening by The Washington Post, a “Post representative” has “declined to comment.”
Sandmann is currently involved in lawsuits against both CNN and NBC for similar defamatory comments.