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Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif) is no Johnny Depp. On Friday, the congressman suffered a setback in his defamation lawsuit against CNN when a federal judge in Virginia decided to stand up to forum shopping by transferring his case out.
The highly litigious Nunes is asserting $435 million in damages (a comical amount that doesn’t include additionally claimed interest) over what he alleges to be a “demonstrably false hit piece” about a meeting between him and an ex-Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss dirt on Joe Biden. CNN’s source is said to be a lawyer for Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of President Donald Trump’s own attorney Rudy Giuliani. Nunes insists he never met with the Ukrainian, didn’t tell Parnas anything of the sort, and that CNN had obvious reasons to doubt a source facing prosecution.
Nunes filed the case in Virginia, the same state where he’s suing a fake cow and others on social media. His legal efforts — along with Depp’s in a libel case against ex-wife Amber Heard — have been credited with spurring Virginia lawmakers to pass a SLAPP bill, making it tougher to pursue frivolous lawsuits targeting free speech.
Depp, though, convinced a judge his suit belongs in Virginia. That case remains pending.
Nunes, on the other hand, hasn’t been as successful.
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Payne decides the case is best adjudicated in New York.
“It is undisputed that the Eastern District of Virginia is not Nunes’s home forum,” writes Payne, soon adding, “[T]he offending act at issue — the publication of the Article — did not occur in Virginia. The Article was researched, written and published in New York and, to some extent, Washington D.C. Its subject matter has nothing to do with Virginia …”
The judge says that just because the article could be accessed on the internet in Virginia and damaged his reputation there doesn’t create a significant point of contact for jurisdictional analysis. The judge also accepts CNN’s argument that most of the witnesses, including Chris Cuomo, reside in New York. Nunes pointed to Jake Tapper as a witness living in the area (at least, D.C.), but the judge retorts, “It is clear that Tapper is not a material witness. The Amended Complaint only asserts that Tapper stated that Parnas had a credibility issue and ‘republished’ the Article on social media, not that Tapper was directly involved in either the Article or the Cuomo Prime Time broadcast at issue.”
The judge also finds that litigating in New York “will clearly be more convenient for CNN” and maybe Nunes too since the “distance between Washington, D.C. and New York is greater than the distance between Washington D.C. and and Richmond.”
Finally, when addressing the interest of justice, the judge takes the opportunity to knock Nunes’ knuckles.
“[T]he Court has significant concerns about forum shopping,” states the opinion. “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. The rocket docket certainly attracts plaintiff[s], but the Court must ensure that this attraction does not dull the ability of the Court to continue to act in an expeditious manner.”
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