News agency CEN loses summary judgment bid in $11m Buzzfeed libel fight, plans to take case to trial

A New York Court has rejected news agency owner Michael Leidig’s bid to obtain summary judgment in his favour in his $11m defamation lawsuit against Buzzfeed.

His legal team had sought to persuade a judge that its case was such a clear win that it could be ruled on without the need for a jury trial.

Press Gazette understands that Leidig now intends to pursue the matter to trial.

Leidig is suing Buzzfeed over a 2015 article headlined “The King of Bullshit News” which accused his agency of circulating deliberately fabricated news stories.

Leidig’s lawyer sought summary judgment in his favour because, he said:

  • The article was defamatory
  • The defamatory statements were false
  • Leidig is not a ‘public figure’ as argued by Buzzfeed.

In the US a public figure bringing a claim for defamation has to prove malice, ie. that the accusation was made even though the publisher knew it was false.

The judgment summarises the Buzzfeed allegations against Leidig as follows:

“after purportedly investigating the facts contained in these and other CEN stories,  ‘the evidence assembled by BuzzFeed News suggests that an alarming proportion of CEN’ s ‘weird news’ stories are based on exaggeration, embellishment, and outright fabrication”

CEN argues that the story was false, because:

“Leidig has never created’or’knowingly published a fake news story, nor added phony quotations to a story’; Leidig ‘has no knowledge of anyone else at CEN doing either of these things; Leidig has explained his sources for the CEN stories attacked by the Article, thereby ‘demonstrating the falsity of BuzzFeed’s accusations of fraud’; and BuzzFeed has presented
no evidence that its libelous assertions are true.”

Judge Victor Marrero said: “The Court finds that there remain numerous genuine issues of material fact such that filing a motion for summary judgment would be premature and granting it would be improper.”

CEN lawyer Harry Wise said: “I’m disappointed but not shocked by the decision.

“It was early in the lawsuit to get even a partial summary judgment, but I was trying to eliminate issues from the case, to make it more manageable for Mr Leidig and CEN, who have struggled to meet the onerous demands for ‘discovery’ imposed by the procedure of the federal courts in the US.

“The most surprising aspect of Judge Marrero’s decision is his declining to decide whether the BuzzFeed piece is defamatory of Mr Leidig and CEN.

“Judge Marrero should have decided that the BuzzFeed article defames Mr. Leidig and CEN because it accuses Mr Leidig and his company of journalistic fraud – making up false stories or making up false quotes to make stories more attractive. Journalistic fraud is a capital offence – it ends the journalist’s career, because his credibility is forever damaged.

“So I have no doubt that eventually the article will be found to have defamed Mr. Leidig and BuzzFeed.

“And, since it is now clear that BuzzFeed has no evidence supporting those scurrilous allegations, I have little doubt that a jury will give judgment to Mr Leidig and CEN.”

Download the judgment in full via this link:

Buzzfeed vs CEN summary judgment

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