Judge Rules Dominion Defamation Suit Against Fox Can Go to Trial

April 1, 2023 by Dan McCue
Judge Rules Dominion Defamation Suit Against Fox Can Go to Trial

GEORGETOWN, Del. — A judge in Delaware has ruled that Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation case against the Fox News Network can proceed to trial.

In a 130-page opinion released Friday, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis denied motions in which Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corporation, asked him to summarily dismiss the case.

He then went on to say that he agreed with Dominion’s assertion that claims made about its voting machines on the network — that they were rigged to steal the 2020 election from former President Donald Trump — were false.

“Through its extensive proof, Dominion has met its burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact as to falsity,” Davis wrote. “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 it is CRYSTAL clear [emphasis in the original court document] that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” the judge said.

In a complaint filed on March 26, 2021, Dominion argues that Fox News “gave life to a manufactured storyline” that the voting machine manufacturer rigged the 2020 election, and thereafter “endorsed, repeated, and broadcast a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies” about the company.

In all, Dominion claims that Fox News made various defamatory statements about the company in 20 broadcasts, and categorizes the alleged defamatory statements into four subsections: (1) “the fraud lie,” (2) “the algorithm lie,” (3) “the Venezuela lie,” and (4) “the kickback lie.” 

It will now be up to a jury in a trial set to begin later this month to decide whether Fox News acted with “actual malice” or “reckless disregard” for the truth by repeatedly broadcasting the false accusations, and whether the voting machine company suffered material damages as a result.

Lawyers for Fox have argued the network was reporting on the allegations made by a sitting president, and that such statements were protected by the First Amendment. 

Unless a settlement is reached quickly, the trial could prove a sensation.

Dominion’s proposed witness list includes Fox chair Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan, as well as some of the network’s biggest stars, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and former program host Lou Dobbs.

According to published reports, Rupert Murdoch told lawyers during a sworn deposition in January that he thought some Fox anchors may have crossed the line and “endorsed” conspiracy theories rather than merely report them.

In addition he is reported to have testified that he has “seen no evidence” that Dominion rigged the election and that he personally believes the election “was not stolen” from Trump.

Shortly after Davis’ decision was announced, Dominion Voting Systems released a statement in which it said it was “gratified by the court’s thorough ruling soundly rejecting all of Fox’s arguments and defenses.”

“We look forward to going to trial,” it added.

Fox News, meanwhile, said in its own statement that “this case is and always has been about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news.” 

It went on to say it would “fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings.”

Erin C. Carroll, a professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center, told The Well News via email on Saturday that Davis’ ruling “is an extremely significant one in a case in which a lot is potentially at stake.”

“[It’s] not simply [about] a lot of money, but also how we think about defamation law, fighting disinformation, the role of the press, and even the functioning of our democracy,” she wrote.

Carroll went on to say that while it’s still not clear how this case will end, Davis’ opinion has greatly narrowed Fox’s avenues for success. 

“This may prompt Fox to seek a settlement before the planned trial date later this month. But it’s not clear how warmly Dominion would entertain such an offer,” she said. “Based on the evidence that has been made public in the last several months, Dominion’s case on the issue of actual malice — now the central one — is strong. Some of this evidence has been redacted, and so it’s possible it’s stronger than the public even knows. 

“Plus, we’ve seen in recent defamation cases — namely by the Sandy Hook families against Alex Jones — that juries are willing to award very large damages,” Carroll continued. “As Fox lawyers consider their strategy, they are surely also thinking about how the outcome of the Dominion case will impact another very similar defamation suit against Fox — the suit by Smartmatic.”

Smartmatic’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News was filed in February 2021, a month earlier than the Dominion Voting Systems’ case, but has attracted far less attention despite its seeking more money — $2.7 billion — and being based on largely the same claims.

According to Smartmatic, Fox News repeatedly broadcast blatant lies to support Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

“Defendants did not want Biden to win the election. They wanted President Trump to win reelection. … They also saw an opportunity to capitalize on President Trump’s popularity by inventing a story,” Smartmatic said in its complaint. 

In all, the company claims more than 100 false statements were broadcast by Fox News hosts and guests.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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