Judge Reopens Nick Sandmann’s $250 Million Lawsuit Against Washington Post

October 29, 2019 Updated: October 29, 2019

A federal judge this week partially reopened the $250 million defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post filed by high school student Nick Sandmann.

The news comes after the Kentucky judge dismissed the lawsuit in July on First Amendment grounds. It was brought by 16-year-old Nick, one of the students from Covington Catholic High School who, in January, were confronted by a Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The encounter prompted a whirlwind of media coverage, much of which, Nick alleged, was defamatory.

Nick’s lawyers, Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry, first filed the lawsuit against the Post in February, seeking $250 million in damages. Several other lawsuits, including against other news organizations, have followed. The Post has insisted its reporting was fair and accurate.

U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman on Oct. 28 reinstated part of the lawsuit (pdf), saying he would allow the plaintiff to seek discovery from the newspaper on three out of its 33 published statements regarding the Jan. 18 incident involving the activist, Nathan Phillips. Bertelsman’s new ruling is based on an amended complaint filed by Nick’s lawyers.

After a March for Life pro-life event in Washington, Nick and other students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky were waiting for their bus near the Lincoln Memorial, when they were approached by several Native American activists.

The encounter was extensively covered by media, using short video clips that made it appear as though the students were chanting and cheering in mockery of 64-year-old Phillips. Extended video footage of the incident showed that the students began to cheer and repeat their school chant, to drown out offensive remarks hurled at them by a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites nearby.

Some of the students, including Nick, were wearing hats with President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

While Phillips told media outlets that the students had surrounded and harassed him, the footage showed it was he who approached them, inserted himself into their crowd, and, for several minutes, banged a drum within inches of the face of Nick, who responded only by standing silently with a smile.

The three published statements in three separate articles in the newspaper include Phillips’s view that the teenager deliberately blocked or impeded him when the pair crossed paths at the Lincoln Memorial stairs, The Washington Times reported.

These include a quote from Phillips saying the teenager “just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.” The Post also attributed a statement to the Native American activist saying Nick “was blocking him from moving,” and a quote taken from Phillips’s Twitter account that alleged the student “just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”

Bertelsman said in an order on Oct. 28: “The Court will adhere to its previous rulings as they pertain to these statements except Statements 10, 11, and 33, to the extent that these three statements state that plaintiff ‘blocked’ Nathan Phillips and ‘would not allow him to retreat.’”

“Suffice to say that the Court has given this matter careful review and concludes that ‘justice requires’ that discovery be had regarding these statements and their context. The Court will then consider them anew on summary judgment,” he added.

McMurtry said that Bertelsman’s order is a “major victory” for the Sandmann family.

“The statements the court has allowed to remain in the case are the pivotal statements the underlie Nicholas Sandmann’s claims. We see this ruling as a major victory,” McMurtry said in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times. “We appreciate that the Court took the time to examine the additional evidence we submitted.”

The lawyer called Phillips “a provocateur” who “was pushing a false factual narrative.”

“We contend that the Post was grossly negligent in republishing Phillips’ statements. The Post knew or should have known he had an agenda. Now that the court has set aside the previous adverse judgment, we can start discovery,” he said. “This will reveal exactly what the Post’s agenda was. Why did it publish an unsourced viral video that violated its own editorial standards?”

Petr Svab contributed to this report.

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