A Venezuelan businessman can proceed with a defamation suit against Fox Corp., Fox News Network LLC, and Lou Dobbs, based on reports that he was involved in a scheme to rig voting machines against former President Donald Trump during the 2020 election.
Majed Khalil adequately alleged that Dobbs’ reported accusations against him, which originated with attorney Sidney Powell, were untrue and harmed his reputation, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York said.
Khalil also sufficiently alleged that Fox and Dobbs acted with knowledge that the statements were probably false, the court said in an opinion denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint.
Dobbs and Fox stated on air and on Twitter that Khalil was the “COO of the election project” in which Venezuelan government officials conspired with voting machine makers Smartmatic Corp. and Dominion Voting Systems to ensure Trump lost, Khalil alleged. They also said he was “a liaison with Hezbollah” who “executed an electoral 9-11" and a “cyber Pearl Harbor” against the US, according to the complaint.
No evidence of this alleged scheme ever surfaced because it never existed, Khalil said.
Fox didn’t show that it was entitled to a “fair report” defense based on its reporting of an “ongoing investigation,” the court said. The report was based on Powell’s statements, and she wasn’t working on a case or behalf of a public agency at the time, it said.
The “neutral report” defense also didn’t apply, the court said. This doctrine protects organizations that report on serious charges made by responsible sources against public figures, it said. Khalil wasn’t a public figure, and Powell wasn’t a “responsible source,” as her election fraud theories “had already been debunked,” it said.
Additionally, Khalil’s complaint adequately alleged that Fox and Dobbs “espoused and concurred in the charges,” the court said. The neutral report doctrine requires that the reporting be “neutral and dispassionate.” According to the complaint, Dobbs’ reporting was neither, the court said.
The reports also didn’t qualify as non-actionable opinion, the court said. Dobbs was believed to be a reporter of facts, and several of the tweets were capable of being proven true or false, it said.
The complaint also adequately alleged that Fox made the statements with “a high degree of awareness” that they were probably false, Judge Louis L. Stanton said in Monday’s opinion.
Brown Rudnick LLP represents Khalil. Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, and Clement & Murphy PLLC represent Fox and Dobbs. Howard Kleinhendler of New York City and Kennedys Law LLP represent Powell, who’s also a defendant in the case.
The case is Khalil v. Fox Corp., S.D.N.Y., No. 21-cv-10248, 9/26/22.