US Representative Devin Nunes cannot sue the Washington Post in Virginia, a judge ruled Thursday. Nunes filed the suit in March, one of many defamation actions he’s filed against media outlets and journalists.
In his original complaint, Nunes, represented by Charlottesville lawyer Steven S. Biss, argued that a Washington Post article written by Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey, and Anne Gearan that reported an intelligence official named Shelby Pierson had informed lawmakers in the House of Representatives that “Russia wants to see President Trump reelected” and that President Trump learned of the remarks via Nunes, a report Nunes contends was “manufactured out of whole cloth.”
Nunes argued that the Eastern District of Virginia was an appropriate venue because, among other reasons, the Post and its journalists “engage in continuous and systematic business in Virginia.” Virginia has become something of a “hotbed for SLAPP tourism,” as one advocate characterized the situation to Washingtonian, referring to nuisance suits that have the effect of daunting public participation like journalism. The actor Johnny Depp sued his former wife Amber Heard last year for defamation in Virginia over an op-ed published in the Post. Virginia lawmakers passed stronger anti-SLAPP bills in February.
In a decision Thursday, however, Eastern District Judge Robert E. Payne responded to a Post motion to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Harris, a former Washingtonian reporter who is named in the action, and his co-authors all live in the District of Columbia and the Post is headquartered there, Payne wrote, and all parties agree there was no reason the case could not have been brought in DC, noting that Nunes himself works in DC, which “acts to support transferring this action to the District of Columbia.” The Washington Post declined to comment. Biss has not yet replied to Washingtonian‘s request for comment.
Thursday did not appear to be a good day for Nunes’ legal theories about Virginia as a venue: As the Hollywood Reporter first reported, Payne also decided that day that Nunes could not sue CNN there. The court “has significant concerns about forum shopping,” Payne wrote about the Post case, calling the action “only slightly connected to this district.” Nunes’ lawsuit in Virginia against a fake cow remains active.