Saturday, February 4, 2023

With Malice Not Alleged

The United States District Court dismissed without prejudice defamation claims brought by the Trump campaign against The Washington Post for two published articles

Here, the Trump Campaign fails to allege that the Sargent Article was published with actual malice. For starters, the Complaint is replete with conclusory allegations. See, e.g., Compl. ¶ 6. (“The Post was well aware at the time of publishing . . . that [the statement in the Sargent Article was] not true.”); id. ¶ 20 (“The Post clearly had a malicious motive, but more importantly acted with reckless disregard for the truth.”); id. (claiming that the Post “knowingly disregarded” “[t]he Mueller Report” and “[e]xtensive public information”). As the Trump Campaign knows, these “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action” cannot survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. 


The Trump Campaign’s defamation claim concerning the Waldman Article fares no better because the statement at issue there is non-actionable opinion.

The court allows plaintiff to give it another shot

The Post seeks dismissal with prejudice. See Mot. at 37. Although the Court grants the Post’s motion to dismiss, it will dismiss the Complaint without prejudice to afford the Trump Campaign another opportunity to adequately plead factual allegations on the element of actual malice. See Cottle, 404 F. Supp. 3d at 87. The Court will give the Trump Campaign 30 days to file a motion seeking leave to amend that attaches a proposed amended complaint. If no proposed amended complaint is received within that 30 day period, the dismissal will convert to with prejudice.

The case was a bit of a lucky charm

The case was randomly assigned to then-Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who held oral argument on the Post’s fully briefed motion to dismiss. Min. Entry (Dec. 10, 2020); Tr. of Mot. Hr’g, ECF No. 18. Upon then-Judge Jackson’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit, the case was reassigned to Judge Florence Pan. See Docket Entry (Oct. 1, 2021). Upon Judge Pan’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit, it was randomly reassigned to this Court.

Judge Contreras authored the decision.

In an unrelated decision last Friday, the Delaware Superior Court denied Newsmax Media, Inc.'s motion for judgment on the pleadings in a defamation suit brought by Smartmatic USA. (Mike Frisch)

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