DOVER, Del. (AP) — A voting machine company’s defamation case against Fox News over its airing of false allegations about the 2020 presidential election will go to trial after a Delaware judge on Friday ruled that a jury must decide whether the network aired the claims with actual malice, the standard for proving libel against public figures.
Superior Court Judge Eric Davis ruled that neither Fox nor Dominion Voting Systems had presented a convincing argument to prevail on whether Fox acted with malice without the case going to trial. But he also ruled that the statements Dominion had challenged constitute defamation “per se” under New York law. That means Dominion did not have to prove damages to establish liability by Fox.
“The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that (it) is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” Davis wrote in his summary judgment ruling.
The decision paves the way for a trial start in mid-April.
Dominion is suing the network for $1.6 billion, claiming Fox defamed it by repeatedly airing false allegations by then-President Donald Trump and his allies in the weeks after the 2020 election claiming the company’s machines and its accompanying software had switched votes to Democrat Joe Biden. The network aired the claims even though internal communications show that many of its executives and hosts didn't believe them.
The company sued Fox News and its parent, Fox Corp. Fox has said it was simply covering newsworthy allegations made by a sitting president claiming his reelection had been stolen from him. In his ruling, Davis said Fox could not escape potential liability by claiming privileges for neutral reporting or opinion.
“FNN’s failure to reveal extensive contradicting evidence from the public sphere and Dominion itself indicates that its reporting was not disinterested.” the judge wrote.
In a statement issued after the ruling, Dominion said it was gratified that the court had rejected Fox's arguments and found “as a matter of law that their statements about Dominion are false. We look forward to going to trial.”
Fox emphasized that the case is about the media's First Amendment protections in covering the news.
“Fox will continue to fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings,” the network said in a statement.
The coverage fed an ecosystem of misinformation surrounding Trump’s loss in 2020 that has persisted ever since.
Associated Press writers David Bauder and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.
Randall Chase, The Associated Press