A federal judge ruled Thursday that a libel lawsuit filed against NBCUniversal by a student of a Catholic high school in Kentucky can proceed on a limited basis.
U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman dismissed parts of the $275 million lawsuit filled by Nicholas Sandmann while allowing discovery on allegations that the network’s coverage defamed the teen by reporting that he “blocked” Native American activist Nathan Phillips in a Jan. 18 encounter at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“[T]he court finds that the statements that plaintiff ‘blocked’ Phillips or did not allow him to retreat, if false, meet the test of being libelous per se under the definition quoted above,” said Bertelsman in his order.
Sandmann has also filed a libel lawsuit against the Washington Post and CNN.
Initially, Bertelsmann dismissed the $250 million suit against the Post, but last month he allowed an amended complaint involving three of the 33 allegedly libelous statements to proceed.
All three of those pertained to published reports that the teen blocked Phillips. Video taken at the time of the encounter show that Phillips walked up to Sandmann and other students he was standing with, not the other way around.
“As predicted, today Judge Bertelsman entered an order allowing the Nicholas Sandmann case against NBCUniversal to proceed to discovery just as he had earlier ruled with respect to WaPo & CNN cases. Huge, huge win!” tweeted Sandmann attorney L. Lin Wood.
Under Kentucky law, a communication is considered defamatory if it causes someone to be brought into “public hatred, contempt or ridicule,” or leads to the person being “shunned or avoided,” according to the ruling.
The Sandmann complaint “alleges that this is exactly what occurred to the plaintiff,” the judge’s order state, and that at the pleading stage, “plaintiff is entitled to have all inferences drawn in his favor.”
Critics of Phillips and the resultant media coverage claim the teen and his fellow students were targeted for unfavorable coverage because they were wearing iconic “MAGA” hats, indicating their support for President Trump.