A federal judge in Kentucky partially reopened a defamation lawsuit on Monday filed by Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann against the Washington Post, allowing an amended version of the suit to move on to the discovery phase.
Sandmann filed a $250 million defamation lawsuit against the Post in February following an encounter with Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, at a protest at the Lincoln Memorial. The suit accused the outlet of defaming Sandmann in “false and defamatory articles” that suggested he “assaulted and/or physically intimidated” Phillips and “wrongfully targeted and bullied Nicholas because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ souvenir cap.”
In July, U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman dismissed the case, ruling that “Sandmann’s allegation attempts to insert innuendo not found within … the publication.”
But on Monday, Bertelson reversed course, ordering that while the majority of his previous ruling remained, three published statements in articles that the plaintiff took issue with in the initial suit — which all included claims that Sandmann “blocked” Phillips and “would not allow him to retreat” — were plausible enough to move the lawsuit forward to the discovery phase.
“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,” Bertelson wrote, essentially narrowing the statements in question from 33 down to three.
Sandmann’s amended suit also adds more detail regarding Phillips’ “state of mind,” which Bertelson said in his court order sheds new light on “the original complaint that Phillips deliberately lied concerning the events at issue, and that he had an unsavory reputation which, but for the [Washington Post’s] negligence or malice, would have alerted [the Post] to this fact.”
“This is a huge win. Now #NickSandmann will be able to start discovery and find out exactly what the reporters were thinking when they attacked Nicholas and the #CovingtonCatholic kids,” Sandmann’s lawyer, Todd McMurtry, tweeted on Monday.
A representative for the Post declined to comment.