The judge is asking the family to submit a new complaint based only on whether the family's dairy farm knowingly hired undocumented workers. The new complaint will also have to contain a new argument showing actual malice.
In his 48-page opinion, District Judge C.J. Williams ruled that none of the 11 allegedly defamatory statements were grounds for defamation. Some, such as Lizza’s claims that Nunes and his family were keeping a “secret,” Williams dismissed because they were too ambiguous to be actionable.
Ben Garrison, a cartoonist known for lionizing President Donald Trump in his drawings, is suing the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for defamation after the organization called one of his cartoons anti-Semitic.
Public officials using libel suits as a weapon against the press is nothing new. In the time of Times v. Sullivan, southern officials had brought nearly $300 million in libel actions against the press. For reference, Nunes alone has brought just over $900 million in defamation claims in a twelve-month period.
"[T]he Court has significant concerns about forum shopping," U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia Judge Robert E. Paynes wrote. "As the Court has explained to Plaintiff's counsel on numerous occasions, the Court cannot stand as a willing repository for cases which have no real nexus to this district.”
After analyzing the sixteen allegedly defamatory statements, U.S. District Court Judge C.J. Williams found that the plaintiffs had neither identified what about them was false nor provided any facts that would have shown them to be false.
Current loopholes in the state's law have lured a number of individuals into using Virginia courts to intimidate their critics. For example, of the six defamation complaints Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) filed in the past year, four were filed in Virginia.
In a new amicus brief, Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union argue that Nunes cannot legally pursue the identity of the anonymous speaker without first proving he has a valid defamation claim. Without meeting this legal standard, they write, the court could threaten people's First Amendment right to anonymous speech.