Rep. Devin Nunes’ lawsuit against Twitter is moving forward in Virginia, but expect more legal challenges to unfold before the California Republican gets a chance to make his case in a courtroom.
Two of the defendants – Twitter and Republican political strategist Liz Mair – on Monday said they intend to continue fighting Nunes’ lawsuit in Virginia’s Henrico County Circuit Court.
Last week, Judge John Marshall dealt Twitter a setback when he rejected the company’s argument that Nunes had no grounds to sue the San Francisco social media company in Virginia. Twitter argued the case had to be tried in a California court.
Marshall ruled the Henrico County Circuit Court had jurisdiction because Mair wrote tweets that were critical of Nunes while she was living and working in Virginia. Nunes argues in legal documents that Twitter’s alleged “negligence” in not removing her messages affected his reputation in Virginia.
The lawsuit was the first of five Nunes, R-Tulare, filed this year alleging that various groups conspired against him while he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
In the Twitter case, filed in March, Nunes alleges the social media company enabled Mair and anonymous writers behind two parody social media accounts known as Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Mom to defame him and damage his 2018 re-election bid.
After Marshall’s ruling, a Twitter spokesman in a written statement said the company “continues to dispute the claims raised by Congressman Nunes. We enforce the Twitter Rules impartially for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation. We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent in our efforts.”
The company has a record of refusing to disclose the authors of anonymous accounts, including suing the Turmp administration after the government attempted to force it to reveal the identity of someone behind an anti-Trump account.
‘It talks about a cow’
Mair in a written statement suggested her attorneys are preparing a new motion to dismiss the case.
“While I appreciate Judge Marshall’s careful consideration of the issues relevant to the motion to move this case to California, I highly doubt that this will be the court’s final word on the propriety of this frivolous lawsuit,” Mair said. “This case fundamentally goes to the heart of civil liberties protections and American citizens’ ability to use our God-given, constitutionally-protected rights of free speech to hold government officials accountable.”
Marshall’s opinion did not discuss the two anonymous accounts Nunes is suing. Through their attorneys, they have maintained in court documents that they do not live or work in Virginia.
Ryan C. Young, the president of the Henrico County Bar Association, said Twitter and Mair have options. He believes their next move would be to file another attempt at dismissal that essentially would argue Nunes doesn’t have a case.
“They’d attack this on him being a public official, so the standard is higher, and basically say ‘so what?’ to his allegations,” Young said. “I mean, it talks about a cow, who’s going to take it seriously?”
Twitter and others will likely be able to continue delaying Nunes’ discovery requests unless Marshall orders them to produce documents, according to Young, which he has not done. Twitter’s lawyers have complained to Marshall that Nunes’ discovery requests are particularly extensive.
They include documentation of any time a Twitter employee has gone to Virginia since 2014; all information related to the parody accounts @DevinCow and @DevinNunesMom, including phone numbers and all their tweets, messages, likes and retweets; and Mair’s tax returns dating back to 2016 and a report of her assets and liabilities.
What does Johnny Depp have to do with it?
The six-page decision by Marshall partially relied on another case garnering some public spotlight – the case of Johnny Depp suing Amber Heard, his ex-wife. Heard wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in December 2018 about her experiences with domestic abuse and the societal backlash. She didn’t name Depp, but Depp’s lawyers argued she implied through the op-ed that Depp was a domestic abuser.
Since the Washington Post’s servers are located in Virginia, Depp’s lawyers argued the case belonged in the state. Heard argued that she had written the op-ed in other states and had not even directly communicated with any Washington Post employees when submitting it through a third party, so she moved to dismiss the case in Virginia.
Judge Bruce D. White ruled earlier this year that because publication occurred in Virginia, the state was the proper venue for the case. The Washington Post distributes newspapers in Virginia and is widely read there.
Marshall cited that decision in ruling that his court has jurisdiction over Mair and her tweets.
Nunes in Virignia is also suing McClatchy, the parent company of The Fresno Bee. He alleges that a newspaper article about an employee’s lawsuit against a company in which Nunes has a limited partnership defamed him.
Sacramento-based McClatchy has filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that Nunes has no grounds to sue the California newspaper company in Virginia. Mair is also a defendant in that lawsuit.