Fox News on Tuesday lost an attempt to dismiss a multibillion-dollar defamation lawsuit that accuses the network of spreading lies that a voting technology company helped “steal” the 2020 election from then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, a mid-level appeals court, ruled against the network, which wanted judges to dismiss the $2.7 billion defamation case.
The company that brought the case, Smartmatic, said it played a valid and small role in the election. He hailed the decision as a step towards holding Fox News accountable for amplifying the unsupported and damaging claims of Trump lawyers.
Fox News pitched the case as an attempt to cool down journalism, expressing confidence that the network would eventually prevail.
Tuesday’s decision means Smartmatic’s lawsuit continues against Fox News, hosts Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro, former host Lou Dobbs and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani. A lawsuit against Trump’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, was earlier rejected because she has no ties to New York, where the case was filed.
The five-judge decision concluded that there were “significant allegations” that Giuliani and Powell defamed the company.
“The complaint alleges in detail that, in their coverage and commentary, Fox News, Dobbs and Bartiromo effectively endorsed and participated in the statements with reckless disregard or serious doubts about” whether there was any credible evidence for them, five justices wrote in unanimous opinion. Citing “the same reasoning”, they also reinstated Smartmatic’s claims against Pirro, which a lower court had rejected.
Federal and state election officials, exhaustive analyzes in battleground states, and Trump’s own attorney general found no widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 election. They also found no credible evidence that the vote was tampered with. Trump’s fraud allegations have also been rejected by dozens of courts, including judges appointed by him.
The decision comes as Fox News fights a separate $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit from Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, which has a trial date in April. The network is also fighting a lawsuit from a Venezuelan businessman who said he was wrongly accused of trying to corrupt the election.
Florida-based Smartmatic said that in the 2020 presidential election, its technology and software were only used in Los Angeles County, California. The Democratic bastion went, as expected, to Democratic candidate and now President Joe Biden.
But Smartmatic says that Fox News and the three newscasters repeatedly allowed Trump lawyers to falsely portray Smartmatic as a foreign company involved in a multi-state operation to “trade” votes from the current Republican to Biden.
During a series of post-election day appearances, Giuliani claimed the company had been “formed to fix elections”. Powell called it an “enormous criminal conspiracy” and the two claimed that evidence would be presented.
After Smartmatic’s lawyers demanded a retraction, Fox News aired an interview with an election technology expert who said there was no evidence that the company’s technology manipulated election results. He refuted several claims made by Giuliani and Powell.
“Fox News, its anchors and guests knowingly and falsely published lies,” J. Erik Connolly, an attorney for Smartmatic, said in a statement Tuesday. The company claims the network cannot claim free speech protections for its conduct.
Fox News argues that it did, saying it was informing the public of noteworthy, if controversial, claims by a leading figure on a matter of public concern.
“There is nothing more interesting than covering the President of the United States and his lawyers making allegations of election fraud,” the network said, adding that it was confident it would be vindicated. Fox News called the damage claim “outrageous” and “nothing more than a blatant attempt to stop our journalists from doing their jobs.”
A message requesting comment on Tuesday’s ruling was sent to Giuliani’s lawyers. They said Giuliani’s remarks were protected by the First Amendment and other laws and principles.
Associated Press writer Randall Chase contributed from Dover, Delaware.