A federal judge in Washington D.C. has tossed a lawsuit filed against Fox News by the family of murdered Democrat staffer Seth Rich saying that the suit did not meet the legal requirements to continue.
The parents of Seth Rich, who worked for the Democrat Party before his death in July of 2016, sued Fox News claiming that the network fabricated a story that accused the victim of secretly working with the whistleblower site WikiLeaks. Among other charges, the suit alleged that the story “intentionally” inflicted emotional distress on the family.
But in a ruling on Thursday, Federal Judge George Daniels decided that the complaint failed to satisfy requirements under federal law and cannot continue.
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“It is understandable that Plaintiffs might feel that their grief and personal loss were taken advantage of, and that the tragic death of their son was exploited for political purposes,” Daniels wrote. “However, a general allegation that Defendants had an ‘agreement to collaborate against’ Plaintiffs cannot form the basis of an IIED claim. … Plaintiffs’ complaint is dismissed in its entirety.”
Fox News published an article on its website on May 16, 2017, asserting that Seth Rich had leaked thousands of DNC emails to WikiLeaks before he was shot and killed in July 2016. The network later retracted the story, saying it did not meet its standards. Police have said that Rich was likely killed in an attempted robbery.
The suit alleged that political operative Ed Butowsky used the Rich family’s Jewish heritage to gain their trust, reaching them through their temple. Butowsky persuaded them to hire Rod Wheeler, a private investigator, to look into their son’s death, according to the suit. Wheeler was later quoted in the story alleging email exchanges between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks. He then sued the network, saying he was misquoted.
Were he alive, Seth Rich might have grounds for a defamation claim. But Joel and Mary Rich were not defamed in the article, and in order to prove infliction of emotional distress, they had to meet a higher burden, namely that the network’s conduct was “extreme and outrageous.” Daniels ruled that the network’s behavior did not rise to that level.
Judge Daniels also dismissed Wheeler’s suit against Fox News, Butowsky, and reporter Malia Zimmerman. Wheeler claimed that he had not given the quote linking Seth Rich and WikiLeaks in the Fox story, and argued that the fallout from the retracted story had harmed his reputation as an investigator. But the judge noted that Wheeler had given a similar interview to Fox 5, a local affiliate, in which he said a source had linked Rich and WikiLeaks.
The judge went on to insist that several other statements that those suing Fox said were defamatory did not rise to the standards of being so. Indeed, the judge found that they can’t sue since they can’t escape their “complicity and coordinated assistance in perpetuating a politically motivated story.”
The judge also threw out Butowsky’s demand that Fox pay his attorney fees. Amusingly, the judge gave them all the back of his hand saying, “the situation in which all of the parties now find themselves hardly engenders sympathy.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.
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