Libel

Judge Throws Out Devin Nunes' Libel Lawsuit Against Ryan Lizza

The suit was based on an Esquire article about an Iowa farm run by members of Congressman Nunes' family.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

See Judge C.J. Williams' opinion today in Nunes v. Lizza (N.D. Iowa), which seems generally correct to me. Lizza's motion to dismiss was granted in its entirety as to the substance of the case. It was denied in part chiefly to the extent that it sought attorneys' fees and costs under the California anti-SLAPP statute (the judge concluded that this state statute couldn't apply in federal court, an important procedural  question on which federal courts are split).

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  1. Yeah, but what about the cow? Isn’t he still trying to sue a fictional cow?

    BTW, the Esquire article is definitely worth a read. Hopefully the Streisand Effect will give it another round of attention.

    1. And let’s put the Dems under the same scrutiny.

      1. Naw, this guy’s constant anti-speech lawsuits are pretty special.

        1. Nunes is the guy to know if an illusory cow is defaming people — his college degree is in cow-milking.

          1. He has both a BS in Agricultural Business and a MS degree in Agriculture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — you can dismiss it as “cow milking” but it’s a lot more than that!

            Farming isn’t Ma & Pa Kettle on the back forty anymore, it’s a capital-intensive, technology-intensive BUSINESS.

            1. > Farming isn’t Ma & Pa Kettle on the back forty anymore

              …Or on Nunes’ back 40, or even Nunes’ state. He is a farmer in the same sense I run an auto-body shop – a family investment in another state.

              Just ask his cow.

              1. He GRADUATED….

                Do you have any idea how many law school grads aren’t practicing law — including a good chunk of network newscasters…

                Are you dismissing them?

                1. As lawyers? Sure.

        2. Dr. Ed, it’s a huge shame you weren’t Ted Bundy’s defense attorney. Your defense could have been “But what about Charles Manson?”

          1. It’s been done — successfully.
            Google “Jason Vassel” and “umass”

            1. I did. I’ts Vassell BTW. No connection to Manson.

              1. Doesn’t seem to have any connection to anything germane. Apparently, Mr Ed is complaining about something but it’s unclear what. Is he complaining about Vassell getting away with GBH or is he complaining about the two drunks who attacked him getting away with everything?

    2. The claim against the fictional cow was dismissed in June.

      1. Fake moos!

        1. Brilliant! In the running for worst pun/best comment of the year.

      2. My understanding is that Twitter was absolved as a defendant, but the suit against the fictional cow lives on. But since Twitter is under no obligation to disclose the identity(s) of the people behind the cow, the plaintiff has serious issues.

        Correct me if I’m wrong.

        1. Well spotted. I am udderly ashamed of my mistake. Thank you for steering me back to the truth.

  2. Why would California law be relevant to a Federal court in Iowa?

    1. The things you don’t know about law rival the things you don’t know about everything else. Choice of law — which jurisdiction’s law applies — and choice of forum — where the suit is being heard — are different issues.

      1. David,
        I think 87% of what Ed posts is dopey. And 63% is made up out of whole cloth. But I’m gonna jump in here and defend his post. Yes, lawyer do know this. But Ed is not a lawyer (and, perhaps surprisingly, has not pretended to be a lawyer). And I suspect that pretty much all non-lawyers would assume that a court would automatically use local law, just as most would assume that if a case is moved to federal court, all procedural and substantive questions are answered using federal law.

        So, I think Ed’s comment is helpful to the community at large. (Alex: “Words I never thought I’d be typing.” for $800, please.) 🙂

  3. For the lazy (doing the Professor’s work for him I suppose) here are the statements addressed in the opinion.

    “Devin Nunes has a secret.”
    “Why would the Nuneses, Steve King, and an obscure dairy publication all conspire to hide the fact that the congressman’s family sold its farm and moved to Iowa?”
    “On the other hand, he and his parents seemed to have concealed basic facts about the family’s move to Iowa.”

    “Congressman Nunes used his position as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee as a “battering ram to discredit the Russia investigation and protect Donald Trump at all costs, even if it means shredding his own reputation and the independence of the historically nonpartisan committee in the process.”

    “Plaintiff “used the Intelligence Committee to spin a baroque theory about alleged surveillance of the Trump campaign that began with a made-up Trump tweet about how ‘Obama had my “wires tapped”in Trump Tower[.]’”

    “Devin;his brother, Anthony III; and his parents, Anthony Jr. and Toni Dian, sold their California farmland in 2006. Anthony Jr. and Toni Dian, who has also been the treasurer of every one of Devin’s campaigns since 2001,used their cash from the sale to buy a dairy eighteen hundred miles away in Sibley, a small town in northwest Iowa where they—as well as Anthony III, Devin’s only sibling, and his wife, Lori—have lived since 2007.”

    “Devin Nunes was the public figure at the heart of this, and he had no financialinterest in his parents’ Iowa dairy operation. On the other hand, he and his parents seemed to have concealed basic facts about the family’s move to Iowa. It was suspicious.And his mom, who co-owns the Sibley dairy, is also the treasurer of his campaign.”

    “I laid out the facts I had uncovered in Sibley, including the intimidation of sources and the Devin Nunes angle, and asked him for advice. ‘I’d tell that story,’ he said. He paused and added, ‘We’re a sanctuary church, if you needa place to stay.You’re safe here!’”

    “Is it possible the Nuneses have nothing to beseriously concerned about? Of course, but I never got thechance to ask because Anthony Jr. and Representative Nunes did not respond to numerous requests for interviews.”

    “‘They are immigrants andDevin is a strong supporter of Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump wants to shut down all of the immigration, and here is his family benefiting from immigrant labor’, documented or not.”

    “Other dairy farmers in the area helped me understand why the Nunes family might be so secretive about the farm: Midwestern diaries[sic]tend to run on undocumented labor.”(Doc. 23, at 9)“There was no doubt about why I was being followed.According to two sources with firsthand knowledge, NuStar did indeed rely, at least in part, on undocumented labor. One source, who was deeply connected in the local Hispanic community, had personally sent undocumented workers to Anthony Nunes[,]Jr.’s farm for jobs . . .asserting that the farm was aware of their status.”

    1. I actually disagree on the judge’s work as to the last two, and he needs to explain it further. I think the claim that someone utilizes illegal labor is an accusation of a crime and thus needs a much further inspection of the relationships involved. Here, the judge’s short work on these specific claims is incomplete. Even if Nune’s would ultimately lose on such a claim (the judge may be implying his mother might prevail?) I need a better explanation.

      1. Even granting the dubious proposition that these statements falsely accuse someone of committing a crime, that someone isn’t Nunes. Not sure what additional explanation you’re looking for on that point.

        1. His argument that “No reasonable person” would conclude Nunes is personally involved with the farm is pretty unbelievable if you read the article.

          I’d say, “no smart and extremely discerning reader” would be the standard the judge is actually applying.

          1. What in the article leads you to that conclusion?

          2. The article expressly says that he isn’t involved with the farm. So how could a reasonable person conclude that he is?

      2. Well, there is the question of if illegal aliens are employed on the farm or not, and that may possibly include without the knowledge of management. Mitt Romney got burnt by an illegal landscaper some years back, Mittens claiming he didn’t know.

        Now if they were innocent on that, wouldn’t the ideal plaintiff be the actual farmers (who aren’t CongressCritters and hence not public figures)?

        Conversely, why would a suit between a California resident (he has to be to be Congressman from there) a NY corporation and (I presume) a NY resident be brought in Iowa? Is it dismissal with prejudice in general, or only in Iowa?

        If Nunes neither owns nor operates the farm, what is the nexus to Iowa?

        1. Why was the suit brought in Iowa?

          Very simple.

          Iowa has no anti-slapp laws on the books.

          Same reason Nunes other suits were filed in Virginia.

        2. Well, there is the question of if illegal aliens are employed on the farm or not, and that may possibly include without the knowledge of management. Mitt Romney got burnt by an illegal landscaper some years back, Mittens claiming he didn’t know.

          This sad whatabout ignores the difference between an employee and a contractor.

        3. Is it dismissal with prejudice in general, or only in Iowa?

          Res judicata. When a suit is dismissed on the merits in one jurisdiction, you can’t bring it again in another.

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