Court Tosses Trump Campaign’s Defamation Suit Against the New York Times

The New York Times Building
The New York Times Building, Manhattan, New York City. (FLICKR/Adam Jone)

The Supreme Court of the State of New York has thrown out a defamation lawsuit filed by Donald Trump’s re-election campaign against The New York Times over an editorial piece about the Mueller Report. [1]

Trump’s 2020 campaign sued the Times in February 2020, alleging that an op-ed written by Max Frankel, a former executive editor for the Times, had defamed the campaign by falsely implying that there had existed an “overarching deal” between Trump’s advisors and Russian officials, contending that the latter would help tarnish Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign in exchange for a more friendly U.S.–Russia foreign policy. 

See previous story: President Trump’s Re-Election Campaign Sues The New York Times Over an Opinion Piece

In his ruling issued on March 9th, Judge James d’Auguste outlined three reasons why he thought the suit had failed to state actionable claims. First, he wrote that Frankel’s commentary was “nonactionable opinion,” meaning it is protected by the First Amendment. Subjective statements cannot be grounds for defamation because they cannot be proven true or false. 

Second, d’Auguste wrote that the challenged statements were not directed at the campaign, but instead focused on Trump’s “associates and family members.” Because the statements did not refer specifically to the campaign, Trump lacked standing to sue the newspaper.

Third, d’Auguste wrote that “even if Mr. Frankel’s commentary was actionable as false assertions, and even if such assertions were of and concerning the Trump campaign” the lawsuit had failed to show “actual malice,” meaning that they knew it was false and published it anyway (intentional falsehood) or had a high degree of awareness of probable falsehood and published anyway (reckless disregard). 

For these reasons, d’Auguste dismissed the suit without prejudice, which prevents the Trump campaign from filing the lawsuit again. 

The complaint against the Times was part of a string of lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign against media companies in 2020. So far, none have been successful. A federal judge dismissed the campaign’s lawsuit against CNN, also over an editorial, in November 2020. The campaign’s lawsuit against The Washington Post is ongoing.

[1] Unlike other states where the “supreme court” usually refers to the state’s highest court, the New York Supreme Court is a trial-level court, and ranks below the New York Court of Appeals.