Amber Heard Takes New Shot at Dismissing Johnny Depp's Defamation Suit

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp-Getty-H 2019
John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI

Amber Heard has added a prominent voice to her legal team and has filed new court papers arguing for the dismissal of her ex-husband Johnny Depp's defamation suit over an op-ed in The Washington Post.

Depp alleges that Heard's discussion of domestic abuse in the Dec. 18, 2018 column tarnished his reputation. Although Depp wasn't specifically named in Heard's piece, given previously reported violence allegations in connection with their 2016 divorce, the actor believes it is clear that he was referenced when she wrote, "I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out."

Heard previously challenged why Depp's suit — with $50 million in damages being asserted — was being entertained in Virginia, a state where neither individual lives and the only firm connection is The Washington Post's printing press. In July, taking up the subject of defamation in the digital era and a lack of precedent in Virginia, a state judge there allowed it to move forward.

Now the case turns to more traditional First Amendment analysis.

For her latest motion, Heard has tapped Roberta Kaplan, who famously led the charge for same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court before leading the Time’s Up legal defense fund.

"There is a stark irony at the heart of this case," opens a dismissal memorandum filed on Thursday. "In December 2018, Defendant Amber Laura Heard published an op-ed calling for 'changes to laws and rules and social norms' so that 'women who come forward to talk about violence receive more support.' She warned that such reform is necessary because powerful men who have been accused of violence will spare nothing to punish and harass their accusers. Months later, Plaintiff John C. Depp, II proved Ms. Heard's point by filing this defamation lawsuit."

According to Heard, the dominant message of the op-ed was the transformative political moment upon the #MeToo movement. She called on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and criticized proposed changes to Title IX rules governing the treatment of sexual harassment and assault in schools.

As for the statements in controversy, Heard frames them as an effort to draw on a "lifetime of experience to support this call to action."

Heard's lawyers argue that Depp has failed to allege a truly actionable statement.

For instance, take the title of the piece: "Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture's wrath. That has to change." 

Heard says that wasn't even written by her. Even otherwise, it's argued that the statement consists of "pure opinion," reflecting her viewpoint and not amenable to a finding of truth or falsity.

That she offered an opinion also goes, the brief adds, for the statement, "I became a public figure representing domestic abuse."

"Mr. Depp reads it as stating sub silentio that he abused her in 2016," states the brief. "That is incorrect. This is an op-ed about what happens to women who report men for domestic abuse and why society should react differently. Given that context, her claim about becoming a 'public figure representing domestic abuse' — and suffering 'the full force of our culture's wrath for women who speak out' — is a statement about what she believes happened after she accused Mr. Depp of violence. It describes her opinions about the personal consequences, not the underlying merits, of her decision to report Mr. Depp."

Depp is also targeting a line in the op-ed where Heard writes, "I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse."

"Even if Mr. Depp insists on smashing it apart and analyzing it word by word, the only conceivable factual kernel is the observation that 'men' had been 'accused of abuse,'" responds the brief. "But the use of the plural term 'men' indicates a broader focus on Ms. Heard's part than just Mr. Depp himself — and, in any event, Mr. Depp does not deny (and in fact admits) the truth of the proposition that he had been 'accused... of domestic abuse.'"

Depp's attorneys will now have their turn to oppose the dismissal motion and argue why each of these statements is more than opinion and capable of being proven true or false.

While the parties may continue to investigate allegations of abuse in the Heard-Depp relationship, any evidence going to the truth of what happened between the two of them isn't likely to be showcased in public court filings until much later in the case should it survive a motion to dismiss. The two sides are also currently at odds over a protective order being demanded by Heard that would provide confidentiality in whatever discovery proceeds.