Federal judge dismisses anthrax defamation suit against New York Times

[JURIST] US District Judge Claude M. Hilton of the Eastern District of Virginia Friday granted a motion for dismissal made [JURIST report] by the New York Times in a defamation suit filed against the paper by Dr. Stephen J. Hatfill [Wikipedia profile], a former US Army germ-warfare researcher who was named a "person of interest" by the FBI [JURIST news archive] in its investigations of anthrax mailings [FBI backgrounder] shortly after the 2001 Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. Hatfill sued [complaint] the Times for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress after the newspaper published a story stating that the government's decision not to further pursue Hatfill as a suspect was the result of "poor investigation." The Times argued in its dismissal motion that as a public speaker on bioterror, Hatfill was a public figure and therefore had to prove the higher standard of defamation that requires "actual malice." The Times also contended that it did not attribute the attacks to Hatfill, but only reported the status of an ongoing government investigation. Hilton did not issue a detailed written opinion Friday, but that is expected in a few days.

Hatfill's previous suit against the Times and columnist Nicholas Kristof [NYT profile] were previously dismissed in the trial court, which ruled that the columns were an ongoing report about a government investigation and did not constitute libel. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed [opinion text, PDF], ruling that a jury should decide that issue. In March, the Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari [JURIST report] in the case. Hatfill has also sued [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] the government for related claims. The New York Times has more.

 

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