Judge Tosses Devin Nunes’ $435M Defamation Suit Against CNN

A New York federal judge has tossed a $435 million defamation suit from U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., claiming CNN falsely reported that he took a trip to “dig up dirt” on then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, finding Nunes did not meet the California law requirement for defamation because he failed to request that CNN retract the article.

CNN Devin NunesPhoto Credit: Shutterstock

U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain determined that because Nunes was elected in the Golden State and his alleged injury happened primarily in the state, California’s retraction statute applies. That statute requires plaintiffs to ask for a retraction before seeking such damages, something Nunes did not do.

She rejected Nunes’ argument that the retraction statute is procedural. In making that argument, he relied on what the judge described as “a handful of dictionary definitions” and claimed that the statute establishes “a manner of proceeding” or a “specific method or course of action.”

“Because the retraction statute is a substantive law limiting a plaintiff’s recovery on a defamation claim, it is applicable here,” she said. “Plaintiff’s dictionary-based argument is not persuasive.”

In a February 2020 amended complaint, the California Republican claimed CNN aired a “hit piece” stating he traveled to Vienna two years previously to meet a former top Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. The topic of their alleged meeting was to “discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden.” Nunes’ lawyer describes these claims as reckless, false and noted they’ve damaged his reputation enormously.

“The sole ‘trusted’ source of CNN’s fake news story was a man indicted by the United States government, charged with multiple federal crimes … Lev Parnas,” the suit said. “In spite of the fact that CNN’s sole source was a known liar … CNN published Parnas’ false and defamatory statements about plaintiff with a reckless, heedless and palpable indifference.”

CNN’s lawyer, Stephen Fuzesi, rebutted by pointing out that the California retraction statute requires plaintiffs to ask for a retraction.

Nunes originally sued in Virginia, in a filing stating, “Plaintiff alleges that publication of the defamatory statements occurred in Virginia.” In May, the case was transferred to New York at CNN’s behest.

Nunes’ legal team asserted multiple times that only Virginia or New York law should apply to the case; neither state having a retraction statute.

But last month, Judge Swain disagreed.

“Plaintiff has not alleged any facts or ‘strong countervailing circumstances’ that militate against finding that Nunes was injured primarily in California, the state of his domicile, and where he stands for election,” she said.

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