U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman decided to dismiss Nick Sandmann’s $250 million lawsuit against the Washington Post on Friday.
Sandmann filed the lawsuit after video of his encounter with a Native American man, Nathan Phillips, at a March for Life rally in Washington D.C., went viral online.
Even after additional footage surfaced and provided more context of the incident, the initial video had already made people accuse Sandmann of bigotry. Sandmann repeatedly denied the bigotry he was accused of and said that he was just trying to “defuse the situation” by “remaining motionless and calm.”
Judge Bertelsman said in his dismissal, “The Court accepts Sandmann’s statement that, when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with Phillips, his intent was to calm the situation and not to impede or block anyone. However, Phillips did not see it that way. He concluded that he was being ‘blocked’ and not allowed to ‘retreat.’ He passed these conclusions on to The Post. They may have been erroneous, but as discussed above, they are opinion protected by the First Amendment. And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions.”
The Washington Post said that it is pleased with the judge’s ruling.
“From our first story on this incident to our last, we sought to report fairly and accurately the facts that could be established from available evidence, the perspectives of all of the participants, and the comments of the responsible church and school officials,” a Washinton Post spokesperson said in a statement.
Sandmann’s parents said they plan to appeal the judge’s ruling.
“I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance,” Ted Sandmann said. “If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe.”
David Marburger, a Cleveland-based attorney, however, supported the judge’s decision.
“As a libel lawyer, I thought his claims were quite weak,” Marburger said, “so it’s renewed confidence in the judiciary that the judge would dismiss this case … by applying the settled law to the allegedly libelous publication. And rule in favor of the press.”