Sandmann v. Cable News Network, et al., No. 2:19-cv-00031 (E.D. Ky.). Related matter: Sandmann v. Washington Post Company, No. 2:19-cv-00019 (E.D. Ky.)
Nicholas Sandmann visited the National Mall on January 18, 2019, joining with fellow Catholic High School students in a March for Life event. There Sandmann was confronted, face to face, by Nathan Phillips, a Native American participating in a separate event, subsequent to what appears to have been a series of taunts exchanged among protest groups.
The video confrontation, published nationally by mainstream media, including Cable News Network (CNN), precipitated officials, news commentators, church officials, and others to characterize Sandmann, shown in a “MAGA” (“Make America Great Again”) hat, a symbol of the current executive administration, as a racist.
Sandmann filed complaints against several media entities separately, two of which, against the Washington Post Company and CNN, have been assigned to the same senior federal judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Following dismissal with prejudice of the complaint against the Washington Post, Sandmann was granted reconsideration which set aside the dismissal in part and granted Sandmann leave to amend his complaint against the Washington Post.
In October, 2019, CNN’s motion was denied to dismiss and Sandmann’s motion to amend his complaint were granted.
A proposed discovery and pretrial schedule was submitted to the court in the Eastern District of Kentucky in both cases on January 3, 2020. The parties to the CNN case reported publicly on January 7, 2020 that settlement with CNN without trial, on undisclosed terms, had been reached.
Whether the settlement signals a change of course among other media defendants will likely unfold in the not distant future.
Notwithstanding — and perhaps particularly in light of — the rhetoric accompanying this case, the legal issues, while well grounded in history, seem to call for particular examination in the age of instant worldwide publication and the simultaneous formation of opinions. Whether a matter is one of fact, and therefore actionable in defamation, or of opinion, and therefore not, is a longstanding principle. Whether this is changed or modified or subject to new refinement in the age of instant worldwide transmittal and simultaneous formation and publication of opinions remains to be seen.
CNN’s account of the settlement may be found at:
The opinion dismissing Sandmann’s initial complaint against the Washington Post, of some historic note, may be found here: