Appeals court gives new life to Sarah Palin's defamation lawsuit against New York Times

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Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times over an editorial that linked her political action committee to the shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., has been revived, after a lower court judge previously had dismissed it.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York strayed from procedural norms before tossing out Palin’s libel complaint in August 2017. Rakoff held a hearing to learn more facts about the case before ruling on the Times’ motion to dismiss, when such decisions typically rely solely on what is alleged in court documents.

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“We find that the district court erred in relying on facts outside the pleadings to dismiss the complaint,” Second Circuit Judge John M. Walker Jr. wrote.

The former vice presidential candidate sued the Times for libel after a June 2017 editorial about the shooting of GOP Rep. Steve Scalise and others mentioned a map put out years earlier by SarahPAC that had crosshairs over different Democratic congressional districts. While the map had been used in reference to ObamaCare, the editorial connected it to Jared Loughner’s 2011 shooting of Giffords, whose district was among the ones identified in the map.

The editorial said that the SarahPAC map had Giffords and other Democrats under crosshairs (though the targets were over their districts). In discussing the Scalise shooting, the Times said, “Though there’s no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.”

“No evidence ever emerged to establish that link; in fact, the criminal investigation of Loughner indicated that his animosity toward Representative Giffords had arisen before SarahPAC published the map,” Walker noted Tuesday.

The Times published a correction after receiving backlash for the editorial, noting that there was no link between the map and the shooting.

Rakoff had originally held the hearing in question in order to learn whether there was enough support for Palin’s claim that the editorial was published with “actual malice” – knowledge that a statement is false or reckless disregard for whether it is true – which is the standard for public figures to bring defamation claims.

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Rakoff brought in the author of the editorial, James Bennet, who answered questions about his knowledge that the Times had previously published articles that said there was no link between the map and the shooting. Bennet said he was unaware at the time he wrote the editorial.

The information Rakoff learned from the hearing was enough for him to dismiss Palin’s claim with prejudice, meaning she was not permitted to file an amended complaint.

The Second Circuit ruled that this was improper as it ran “headlong” into the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

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A Times spokesperson told The Associated Press that the newspaper is disappointed and will vigorously fight the lawsuit.

The Second Circuit sent the case back down to the Southern District of New York, ordering it to move forward with discovery.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.