News & Politics

Johnny Depp’s Lawsuit Against Amber Heard Moves Ahead in Northern Virginia

The case stems from a Washington Post op-ed written by Heard.

Depp in 2018. Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against Amber Heard can proceed, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Penny Azcarate ruled on Tuesday.

The actor is suing Heard, his former wife, over an opinion piece that ran in the Washington Post in 2018, which Depp claims implies he abused Heard, though the op-ed never mentions his name. Heard had asked the court to dismiss Depp’s suit because he lost a libel action he brought against the UK publication The Sun. An English judge found that the Sun‘s characterization of Depp as a “wife beater” was “substantially true”; the actor lost a subsequent attempt to overrule the British ruling.

Heard argued that Virginia should dismiss Depp’s case based on the outcome of the Sun case, but Azcarate was unpersuaded: Heard was not a party to the UK case, the judge wrote, and her statements were not the basis of Depp’s claims there. “Although the claims are similar in the sense they both relate to claims of abuse by Plaintiff,” Azcarate writes, “the statements being defended in the UK case are inherently different than the statements published by Defendant.”

At the time Depp sued Heard in Virginia for $50 million, the Commonwealth had developed a reputation as a friendly venue for libel suits that had tenuous relationships to it, making it a “hotbed for SLAPP tourism,” as one advocate told Washingtonian last year, referring to lawsuits that would likely fail elsewhere. Indeed, Depp’s suit as well as U.S. Representative Devin Nunes’s lawsuits against media companies in Virginia prompted lawmakers in the state to undertake ongoing efforts to curb such actions.

Fairfax County Circuit Court, however, has already settled that matter in Depp’s case, saying in 2019 that since the Post is printed in Virginia and has servers there, the action could proceed. You can read this week’s order below:

Depp v Heard August 2021 ruling by Washingtonian Magazine on Scribd

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Senior editor

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.