Federal appeals court backs dismissal of Lt. Gov. Fairfax’s defamation lawsuit against CBS

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a lower court’s decision to dismiss a $400 million defamation lawsuit filed by Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax against CBS over the network’s interviews with the two women accusing him of sexual assault.

After hearing appeals from the attorneys representing Fairfax and CBS on March 11, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond issued an opinion Wednesday upholding the district court’s ruling to dismiss the defamation suit and deny CBS’s effort to have Fairfax pay for its attorney fees and costs.

Lt. Gov. Fairfax claims in the lawsuit, filed against CBS Corporation and CBS Broadcasting Inc., that the network broadcasted two interviews on “CBS This Morning” in April 2019 with Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, the two women accusing Fairfax of sexual assault, despite having doubts over their accusations.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga dismissed the defamation lawsuit on Feb. 11, 2020, but agreed the allegations against Mr. Fairfax were “uncorroborated” and ruled that he did not have to pay CBS’s legal fees, a condition the network appealed for in March but failed to secure.

While not weighing in on the veracity of the allegations from Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson, the federal appeals court found Fairfax did not back claims “that CBS made the allegedly defamatory statements with knowledge or reckless disregard of their falsity.”

“Fairfax does not allege that CBS broadcast the April 1 and 2 programs actually knowing that either Tyson’s or Watson’s allegation of sexual assault was false. To plead actual malice, therefore, Fairfax must plausibly allege that CBS aired the broadcasts with a ‘high degree of awareness’ that Fairfax likely did not sexually assault Tyson or Watson,” U.S. Circuit Judge Allison Rushing wrote in the panel’s unanimous opinion.

Fairfax, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in the Virginia’s governor race, sought an appeal to clear his name while still running in the primary. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Fairfax wrote in a text to 8News that the lieutenant governor would continue that effort.

“The allegations made against Justin Fairfax and broadcast by CBS are false and politically-motivated. For more than two years, Mr. Fairfax has gone above and beyond to prove his innocence,” the statement from Fairfax’s spokesperson read. “In addition to repeatedly calling for law enforcement investigations, he has passed multiple lie detector tests administered by an expert previously chosen by Debra Katz and filed civil litigation to present evidence, to seek cross-examined testimony under oath and penalty of perjury and to finally obtain due process.”

A CBS spokesperson did not immediately respond to 8News’ request seeking comment.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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