Federal Judge Dismisses $250 Million Sandmann Lawsuit Against Washington Post

Eastern District of Kentucky Judge William Bertelsman ruled that the Post's story about the initial viral video does not contain the defamatory content Sandmann's suit alleges.

Social Media image showing the viral encounter between Nathan Phillips and Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann - Autumn Rain, Instagram
Autumn Rain, Instagram
Social Media image showing the viral encounter between Nathan Phillips and Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the family of Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, who was at the middle of a controversy over a viral video filmed in January at a March for Life rally in Washington, D.C.

Sandmann and his attorneys, L Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry, claimed in the suit that early reports from the Washington Post and other outlets about the initial, short viral video suggested that a group of students from Northern Kentucky private school Covington Catholic, including Sandmann, had surrounded a small group of Native American marchers, including elder Nathan Phillips, on the National Mall and threatened or even physically harmed them. 

Later, longer videos showed a more complicated scenario in which the Native American marchers and students converged after the former walked in between the students and another group called the Black Hebrew Israelites. After that video came to light, many news outlets ran corrections or retractions to their original stories. 

Sandmann’s attorneys claim in the lawsuit that the assertions in the Post article were false and defamed Sandmann. However, Eastern District of Kentucky Judge William Bertelsman ruled that the Post's article "states none of those things."

Bertelsman acknowledged Sandmann's claim that he simply stood still as Phillips drummed. Phillips was quoted in the Post article and elsewhere saying he felt blocked in by Sandmann and other students, some of whom were chanting and making "tomahawk chop" motions.

But, Bertelsman wrote, that was Phillips' opinion, and, correct or incorrect, it is protected by the First Amendment and the Post and other outlets should be able to print it without penalty. 

Bertelsman also wrote that Sandmann's suit contained "precisely the type of explanation or innuendo that cannot enlarge or add to the sense or affect of the words charged to be libelous."

Sandmann and his attorneys have also filed similar $250 million suits against CNN and NBC for their initial stories about the events. Those cases are ongoing. Wood and McMurtry have indicated they will appeal Bertelsman’s decision.         


 



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