Breitbart Gets Out of Defamation Lawsuit Over Project Veritas Video

A Florida judge won't assert jurisdiction over Breitbart even if Steve Bannon is a resident.
Getty

There have been news organizations brought down in lawsuits fought in Florida (think Gawker), so Breitbart News is probably breathing a sigh of relief after being allowed out of litigation arising from surreptitious filming by James O'Keefe's Project Veritas.

The lawsuit is brought by Steve Wentz, the president of the United Teachers of Wichita.

While attending a teachers union conference in the summer of 2015 in Orlando, Wentz was secretly recorded relaying a memorable anecdote about feigning force on one of his former students. A few months later, Wentz was contacted by a man who identified himself as an uncle for one of his former students and was incited to make a response. That was recorded by a hidden camera, too.

Later, Project Veritas edited a video and published it on YouTube. It was titled, "Teachers Union President to Kid 'I Will Kick Your Fing Ass."  In June 2016, Veritas and O'Keefe published an overview of news coverage, adding they had launched the story with "friends" at Breitbart.

Wentz subsequently filed a lawsuit against Veritas and O'Keefe with a claim of defamation against Breitbart.

The subject of yesterday's ruling was whether a Florida federal court had sufficient jurisdiction over Breitbart, formed under Delaware law and headquartered in California. Wentz argued yes because among other things, Breitbart solicits readership in Florida, Breitbart's advertisers are located there, Breitbart regularly covers Florida affairs like the 2016 Presidential primary and Breitbart's chief Steve Bannon is a Florida resident.

"Wentz's jurisdictional allegations concerning BNN [Breitbart News Network], even when accepted as true, are insufficient to establish general personal jurisdiction over BNN as a matter of law," rules U.S. District Court Judge G. Kendall Sharp. "The alleged facts do not demonstrate that BNN is 'essentially at home' in Florida, and the Court is not persuaded that this case is an 'exceptional' case that merits subjecting BNN to general personal jurisdiction in Florida."

Sharp adds that he has no reason to believe that Breitbart's contacts with Florida, in comparison to other states, is any more pervasive, and accordingly is dismissing Breitbart because "due process concerns preclude the exercise of personal jurisdiction over BNN under Florida's Long-Arm Statute."