Judge Allows Covington Catholic Teen’s Case Against NBCUniversal to Proceed

November 22, 2019 Updated: November 22, 2019

A federal judge ruled that Nick Sandmann’s case against NBCUniversal can proceed, denying the company’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman dismissed parts of the suit but allowed the case to proceed on limited grounds, similar to how he let Sandmann’s cases against the Washington Post and CNN proceed.

Those two outlets, along with NBC, reported that Sandmann, a 16-year-old Covington Catholic High School student, “blocked” the way of Native American activist Nathan Phillips in Washington and did not let Phillips retreat.

Video footage showed that Phillips approached Sandmann and banged a drum close to his face as Sandmann stood still and smiled.

Bartelsman said that the motion to dismiss Sandmann’s suit was being “granted in part and denied in part for the same reasons” as the other two cases.

Pedestrians walk past NBC’s headquarters in New York City in a file photograph. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NBC may have defamed Sandmann under Kentucky law. A statement or news broadcast is defamatory “if it tends to (1) bring a person into public hatred, contempt, or ridicule; [or] (2) cause him to be shunned or avoided,” Bertelsman ruling stated (pdf), quoting a previous ruling.

As in the other two cases, “the court finds that the statements that plaintiff ‘blocked’ Phillips or did not allow him to retreat, if false, meet the test of being libelous per se under the definition quoted above,” Bertelsman, a President Jimmy Carter appointee, wrote.

The case will proceed to the discovery and summary judgment phases and NBC was ordered to participate in a preliminary pretrial conference on Jan. 7, 2020.

NBCUniversal didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Lin Wood, an attorney representing Sandmann, celebrated the ruling, writing in a statement: “As predicted, today Judge Bertelsman entered an order allowing the Nicholas Sandmann case against NBCUniversal to proceed to discovery just as he had earlier ruled with respect to WaPo & CNN cases. Huge, huge win!”

Sandmann’s legal team said in a video in March that the lawsuits against major media companies came after the teen “was falsely targeted, attacked, vilified, and threatened.”

“The Washington Post, owned by the richest man in the world, led the print media’s false attacks against Nicholas’ reputation. CNN led the broadcast media’s charge against Nicholas. Both recklessly spread lies about a minor to advance their own financial and political agendas,” the video stated.

“How long will we allow these media giants to tear at the fabric of our lives to further their own agendas? Will they ever be held accountable? Yes, they will,” it added later.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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