Republican Congressman and serial complainer Devin Nunes, of California, suffered another legal loss on Christmas Eve after a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C. dismissed a defamation case Nunes launched against The Washington Post and writer Shane Harris. Nunes sought $250 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.
Right from the start, Judge Amit P. Mehta noted that Nunes failed to serve Harris with a copy of the relevant case documents as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A party must be served with a summons and a complaint within 90 days. Nunes first filed the case on March 2nd in the Eastern District of Virginia; the Post successfully sought to have it transferred to the District of Columbia at the end of that month.
That was not the only serious blunder in the Nunes case, the judge decided.
The case surrounds an article titled “Senior intelligence official told lawmakers that Russia wants to see Trump reelected.”
In his lawsuit, Nunes alleged that the report accused him of “criminal misconduct” and caused him “prejudice . . . in his profession and employment as a United States Congressman.”
Nunes claimed the Post committed “defamation per se,” which is when statements are defamatory on their face. But the court said Nunes was actually alleging defamation by implication and characterized his complaint as such.
Notably, Judge Mehta said Nunes’s complaint “does not challenge the substantial truth of any statement in the Article.” Per the judge (citations and internal punctuation omitted):
Rather, [Nunes] alleges that the defamatory gist of the Article is that [Nunes] lied to and deceived the President of the United States. Thus, [Nunes] contests not any assertion of fact contained in the Article but, rather, the meaning conveyed by those facts.
To establish defamation by implication, the plaintiff must demonstrate (1) that a defamatory inference can reasonably be drawn and (2) that the particular manner or language in which the true facts are conveyed supplies additional, affirmative evidence suggesting that the defendant intends or endorses the defamatory inference. Here, the Complaint alleges two defamatory implications stemming from statements in the Article, neither of which can rationally be considered reasonable or intended or endorsed.
The judge said it would not make sense for the average reader to conclude that a “staunch ally” of Donald Trump would lie to Trump — to use the Post‘s own words to describe Nunes.
Read the entire opinion below.