A judge in Delaware has ordered a jury trial in Dominion Voting Systems’ blockbuster lawsuit against Fox News, setting the stage for one of the most consequential defamation decisions against an American media company in decades.
Lawyers for Fox and Dominion faced off in court during a two-day hearing for summary judgment last week, with each side unsuccessfully arguing the court should rule in their favor and forgo a jury trial that is expected to span weeks and could further bring to light internal discussions at the network following the 2020 election.
Dominion is suing Fox for $1.6 billion in connection with what it alleges was the network’s airing of false information about the company’s software, claims promoted by former President Trump’s associates and allies after the election.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis rejected Fox’s attempt to throw out the suit ahead of trial, and he ruled that Dominion has proven the first elements of their defamation claim: namely, that the network’s statements about Dominion and the 2020 election were false.
But he ruled that a jury must decide whether Fox operated with actual malice.
“The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear than none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true. Therefore, the Court will grant summary judgment in favor of Dominion on the element of falsity,” the ruling read.
The network’s lawyers have defended the conservative cable news company on First Amendment grounds, saying the claims being made by Trump and his allies were newsworthy.
“Even if the neutral report privilege did apply, the evidence does not support that FNN conducted good-faith, disinterested reporting,” Davis wrote, also rejecting Fox’s other First Amendment defenses.
The outcome of the closely watched case — which has already produced a number of embarrassing headlines for the nation’s cable news leader — is certain to have major implications for Fox’s future and media law more generally.
“We are gratified by the Court’s thorough ruling soundly rejecting all of Fox’s arguments and defenses, and finding as a matter of law that their statements about Dominion are false,” Dominion said in a statement to The Hill on Friday. “We look forward to going to trial.”
Fox said in its own statement that “this case is and always has been about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news.”
“Fox will continue to fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings,” the network said.
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