WASHINGTON — A panel of federal judges denied former Congressman Devin Nunes’ appeal to reopen a lawsuit against CNN over a 2019 report that the California Republican went to Vienna to gather political dirt on President Joe Biden.
In a split 2-1 decision on April 14, judges for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan affirmed a lower court ruling that Nunes did not seek a retraction promptly, as is needed under California law for most damages, and that he failed to show he deserved special damages.
It marks another legal setback for the former congressman, who is now the chief executive officer of former President Donald Trump’s social media company.
Earlier this month, a different set of appeals court judges said Nunes could not revive a lawsuit against the Washington Post over a 2020 story about an intelligence briefing.
Nunes, who represented the area around Tulare for nearly two decades, has filed 10 lawsuits against media organizations and critics whom he claims have defamed or conspired against him since 2019.
Nunes vs. CNN
On April 14, appeals court judges affirmed a 2021 ruling by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to dismiss the case because Nunes did not seek a timely retraction before suing, which is key under California libel law. As Nunes is a California resident, Judge Laura Taylor Swain said he was bound by state law.
This limited him to pursuing special damages, Swain wrote, which relate to direct economic suffering. She wrote that Nunes failed to demonstrate he had incurred fiscal damage and did not prove that the network conspired against him.
Two of the three appeals court judges agreed. They dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning Nunes cannot refile the suit there.
In his dissenting opinion, Judge Steven James Menashi wrote that as the story was broadcast across the country, the suit should not hinge on California’s law.
Nunes sued CNN over a report in which a source said he went to Vienna to meet with a Ukrainian prosecutor in 2018 to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic presidential candidate. Nunes was not in Vienna at the time, he later showed in pictures; he further claimed that the organization conspired to damage his reputation.
CNN wrote that Nunes declined repeated requests for comment before the story published in November 2019. Nunes sought more than $435 million in damages.
A lawyer for Nunes, Steven Biss, did not respond to a request for comment. Representatives for Nunes did not respond to a request through his website.
Neither lawyers nor a spokesperson for CNN responded to a request for comment.
Nunes vs. Washington Post
On April 1, a panel of appeals court judges prevented Nunes from reinvigorating a lawsuit against the Post over a story that detailed a classified House Intelligence Committee briefing. The story said Nunes informed Trump about remarks made by an intelligence official that Russia preferred the former president win the then-upcoming 2020 election.
Nunes, who was the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee at the time, alleged that the article defamed him and that the Post conspired with Democrats in Congress to do so.
The judges affirmed a 2021 dismissal by a federal judge at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia who ruled that Nunes failed to prove either defamation or defamation by implication.
Nunes vs. NBCUniversal
Nunes sued the parent company of MSNBC over statements anchor Rachel Maddow made in a March 2021 episode of her namesake show. The comments concerned a package Nunes received from a Ukrainian lawmaker who was sanctioned by the U.S. for attempting to influence the 2020 presidential election.
Nunes’ complaint claimed that MSNBC failed to ask him for comment when the network knew from published reports that he had given the package to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In January, a judge moved the lawsuit from a federal court in Texas to the New York court where a judge tossed his CNN case.
Nunes vs. Washington Post, again
Nunes sued the Post a second time in 2020 over a story that referenced a 2017 “midnight run” to the White House to get evidence that the FBI had been spying on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. He said the “midnight run” never happened.
He originally filed it in a Virginia court. A judge moved it to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Nunes vs. Benjamin Meredith
Nunes sued a then-constituent of his, Benjamin Meredith, claiming that he started a harassment campaign against him online. The Republican has not cited specific examples of Meredith doing so.
Originally, Nunes named Twitter in the suit filed in the Tulare County Superior Court. He dropped the company after another court told him he could not sue the social media giant in a different case; the suit was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
Nunes and family vs. Hearst
The former congressman and his family originally filed separate lawsuits against the parent company of Esquire magazine and a journalist who suggested in a 2018 story that the Nunes’ family knowingly employed undocumented immigrants on their Iowa dairy. Nunes is not a stakeholder in the family’s farm.
Nunes sued, claiming that journalist, Ryan Lizza, who now works for Politico, defamed him. His family, using a mutual lawyer, separately sued. Nunes and his family have denied that they knowingly relied on undocumented labor.
A judge in the Northern District of Iowa conjoined the separate lawsuits in February. The Nunes family’s lawyers had wanted separate suits to distinguish between private and public figures. Nunes, a public figure, has to prove actual malice — that the defendant knew statements were false or published them with reckless disregard to their validity — to recover damages in libel lawsuits.
Nunes vs. Fusion GPS
Nunes sued the compiler of the so-called Steele Dossier, alleging that the firm sought to damage his reputation and hinder his ability to investigate its work leading up to Trump’s election. He originally named Fusion GPS’ founder and a Washington D.C. watchdog that had filed ethics complaints against Nunes in his lawsuit filed in September 2019.
A federal judge tossed the suit. Nunes refiled. Another judge at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia tossed it again and barred him from refiling.
Nunes vs. Paul Buxman
In 2019, Nunes filed a lawsuit against a group of Californians who had claimed the congressman was a “fake farmer” ahead of the 2018 election and tried to change his ballot designation. The Republican, who said that the people had conspired with “dark money” groups to injure his campaign, dropped the suit about a month later.
Nunes vs. McClatchy
Nunes sued the parent company of The Fresno Bee alongside a Republican strategist over a 2018 story detailing an employee’s lawsuit against Alpha Omega Winery, a business in which Nunes had a limited partnership. Nunes said it was defamatory to mention his stake in the winery in a story about the events at a charity function that he did not attend. He said the strategist, Liz Mair, conspired to harm his reputation.
Nunes dropped McClatchy, citing the company’s bankruptcy in 2020. A judge dismissed Mair in 2021; Nunes appealed that decision and lost this year.
Nunes vs. Twitter
In his first defamation suit of 2019, the California Republican sued Twitter, Mair and people behind two anonymous accounts who parody a cow and his mother.
A judge dismissed Twitter, telling Nunes he could not sue the platform over what people posted on it. The judge later dismissed Mair.
The suit is ongoing because Nunes’ lawyer does not know who the people behind “ Devin Nunes’ cow “ and “ Devin Nunes’ Alt-Mom “ are and thus cannot serve them, he told the court.