Sarah Palin’s 2017 defamation lawsuit against The New York Times, which was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge soon after it was filed, has been revived by the Second Circuit appeals court, meaning the 2-year-old case will likely go to trial.
The former GOP Vice President candidate sued the New York Times Co. after it published an op-ed linking her to the 2011 shooting in Arizona involving Rep. Gabby Giffords. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ruled at the time that while the piece (which was later amended online by the writer, NYT editorial page editor James Bennet) may have been negligent, “defamation of a public figure it plainly is not.”
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In its ruling (read it here) today, the three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated and remanded Rakoff’s original ruling, reached after hearing from testimony from Bennet, on procedural grounds. Therefore it did not offer an opinion on the merits of Palin’s case.
“The district court (Rakoff, J.), uncertain as to whether Palin’s complaint plausibly alleged all of the required elements of her defamation claim, held an evidentiary hearing to test the sufficiency of Palin’s pleadings. Following the hearing, and without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment, the district court relied on evidence adduced at that hearing to dismiss Palin’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). We find that the district court erred in relying on facts outside the pleadings to dismiss the complaint. We further conclude that Palin’s Proposed Amended Complaint plausibly states a claim for defamation and may proceed to full discovery.”
Bennet testified in the unusual hearing that he did not intend to draw a “causal link” between the 2011 shooting that left Giffords severely wounded and a notorious “crosshairs” map distributed at the time by a Sarah Palin PAC.
Listening to Bennet’s testimony and considering the circumstances of law and otherwise, Rakoff made the call that Palin’s case could not effectively demonstrate actual malice, as would be required to move the matter forward.
Writing the Second Circuit’s ruling today, Judge John M. Walker noted that it was clear Rakoff “viewed the hearing as a way to more expeditiously decide whether Palin had a viable way to establish actual malice. But, despite the flexibility that is accorded district courts to streamline proceedings and manage their calendars, district courts are not free to bypass rules of procedure that are carefully calibrated to ensure fair process to both sides.”
A New York Times spokesperson said it was “disappointed in the decision and intend to continue to defend the action vigorously.”