In a “rare” ruling, Dominion Voting Systems scored blockbuster victories against Fox News on multiple issues before their upcoming blockbuster trial next month.
The remarkable, 130-page ruling from Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis found that there was no need for a jury to establish that the broadcasts at issue were false.
“While the Court must view the record in the light most favorable to Fox, the record does not show a genuine issue of material fact as to falsity,” Davis wrote in his ruling. “Through its extensive proof, Dominion has met its burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact as to falsity. Fox therefore had the burden to show an issue of material fact existed in turn. Fox failed to meet its burden. The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.” (emphasis in original)
Dominion heralded that aspect of the opinion in a statement.”
“We are gratified by the Court’s thorough ruling soundly rejecting all of Fox’s arguments and defenses, and finding as a matter of law that their statements about Dominion are false,” the company wrote in a statement. “We look forward to going to trial.”
He also removed multiple other defenses from Fox’s arsenal, except for actual malice.
“This is very very rare,” First Amendment expert Jeff Kosseff told Law&Crime.
In essence, Kosseff added: “Actual malice is Fox’s only hope.”
That’s the doctrine in defamation law established by New York Times v. Sullivan and protecting news organizations from liability, by forcing litigants to show that false statements were published knowingly or with reckless disregard for the truth.
“Actual malice can be proven ‘through the defendant’s own actions or statements,'” the judge noted in his ruling. “But actual malice can also be determined through the subjective determination of whether the defendant entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the statement, which can be proven by inference.”
Dominion claims that they proved that through private communications of Fox executives, all the way up to Rupert Murdoch, privately deriding 2020 election conspiracy theories that the network broadcasted. Murdoch acknowledged in a deposition that some hosts seemed to endorse the theories.
A jury will have to determine their state of mind, before finding Fox liable for defamation. But the judge said he won’t do that work for them.
“Still, proof of actual malice ‘calls a defendant’s state of mind into
question and does not readily lend itself to summary disposition,'” Davis wrote, citing the case of Hutchinson v. Proxmire.
Fox said that it will fight the case at trial on that storied free-press protection.
“This case is and always has been about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news,” the network wrote in a statement. “FOX will continue to fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings.”
Read the ruling here.
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