News & Politics

Devin Nunes’s Weird Lawsuit Against Ryan Lizza Just Got Soundly Dismissed

US Representative Devin Nunes in November 2019. Photograph by Evy Mages

A Trump-appointed judge in Iowa has dismissed US Representative Devin Nunes’s defamation lawsuit against Politico reporter Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazines over a 2018 article Lizza wrote for Esquire called “Devin Nunes’s Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret.” Judge CJ Williams dismissed Nunes’s suit with prejudice, meaning Nunes cannot refile the lawsuit.

Nunes’ suit called the article, which detailed how the family of Nunes, a member of Congress from California, had moved its dairy operation to Iowa, a “scandalous hit piece” in a bizarre complaint that asserted various journalists, including New York magazine reporter Olivia Nuzzi, Lizza’s partner, had “republished” the article by tweeting a link to it. He asked for $75 million in damages.

Nunes filed the case in Iowa, which does not have an anti-SLAPP law, a legal concept in some states that can protect journalists from frivolous suits meant not to redress alleged libel but to prevent newsrooms from publishing stories that may prove expensive to defend. Law & Crime called Williams’s opinion a “dairylicious takedown of Nunes’s claims,” and indeed the whole thing is fascinating reading for journalists, particularly Nunes’ legal theory of “defamation by implication” and whether tweeting a story constitutes “republication.” (“This argument fails both factually and as a matter of law,” Williams writes.)

The judge denied the defendants’ motion to be compensated for attorney fees under California’s anti-SLAPP law, which they’d argued derives from the First Amendment and thus apply in Iowa, saying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure preempt it.

The lawsuit is one of several Nunes has filed with Charlottesville attorney Steven S. Biss that helped inspire some Virginia lawmakers to work on passing anti-SLAPP legislation. Despite some setbacks for that effort, a judge in the Eastern District of Virginia tossed a Nunes suit against the Washington Post earlier this year, saying Nunes’s suit was “only slightly connected to this district,” and another against CNN.

Dismissal of Devin Nunes’s Suit Against Ryan Lizza by Washingtonian Magazine on Scribd

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.