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Judge dismisses Rep. Devin Nunes' lawsuit over Iowa farm story

The judge ruled none of the statements Rep. Devin Nunes claimed defamed him in the Sept. 2018 magazine story “plausibly support a defamation claim."
Credit: AP
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, asks questions to former special counsel Robert Mueller, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A federal judge in Iowa has dismissed a lawsuit California Rep. Devin Nunes filed against a major media organization that alleged he was defamed in a magazine story about his family’s Iowa dairy farm.

Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, filed the $77.5 million lawsuit in September 2019 in federal court in Iowa against Esquire publisher Hearst Magazines and former reporter Ryan Lizza. It alleges a Sept. 30, 2018, story about the farm has caused “injury to his good name and professional reputation.”

Judge C.J. Williams found in an order posted Wednesday that Nunes failed to prove that Lizza's article contained false and defamatory statements about him.

“The article is written in a first-person perspective and includes numerous instances of Lizza’s subjective mental impressions. This weighs against the statements being reasonably construed as statements of fact as opposed to Lizza’s characterizations or opinions," the judge wrote.

He said none of the statements Nunes claimed defamed him “plausibly support a defamation claim."

Nunes has gone after other media outlets in court, filing similar lawsuits against Twitter and newspaper publisher The McClatchy Co.

Nunes in the latest lawsuit repeatedly refers to the Esquire story by Lizza, entitled “Devin Nunes’s Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret” as a “hit piece.”

Lizza, the chief Washington correspondent for Politico, wrote the story after traveling in August 2018 to Sibley, Iowa, a small farming community 170 miles northwest of Des Moines.

The story focused on Nunes’ parents, brother and other family members who have lived and operated a family dairy farm there for more than a decade even though Nunes continued to tout his deep roots around his family’s Tulare, California, dairy farms.

Lizza claims Nunes and his family kept their move from California to Iowa a secret.

The story also delves into the sensitive issue of immigrants living illegally in Iowa and working at the state’s dairy farms.

Nunes sought $75 million in compensation for defamation and $2.5 million in punitive damages. He also accused Lizza and Hearst of a conspiracy by promoting and republishing the story millions of times online, via social media and in print.

His lawyer did not immediately respond to a message. Lizza declined to comment.

Nunes also sued Twitter last year alleging defamation and negligence for two anonymous parody accounts, “Devin Nunes’ Mom” and “Devin Nunes’ Cow.” That lawsuit was dismissed in June by a circuit judge in Virginia who ruled Twitter is not liable for allegedly slanderous tweets about Nunes that were posted anonymously. The judge cited a federal law that provides internet services with immunity from liability for material posted by their users.

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