On Friday, Judge Rakoff denied cross-motions for summary judgment in Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times. (See our earlier coverage here.) Palin argued that the “actual malice” standard for defamatory statements against public figures was no longer good law or did not apply to this case, while the Times argued that no reasonable jury could find that the allegedly defamatory statements were published with actual malice. The case will proceed to trial next Februrary.
Judge Rakoff declined what he described as a request “to ‘overrule’ New York Times v. Sullivan,” noting that the court was bound by Supreme Court precedent:
Perhaps recognizing that this Court is not free to disregard controlling precedent even if it were so inclined (which in this case it distinctly is not), plaintiff offers what she calls an alternative argument . . . that the actual malice rule, which was first articulated more than half a century ago in the days before the Internet and social media, has runs its course and should no longer govern our contemporary media landscape. Binding precedent does not, however, come with an expiration date.
But Judge Rakoff also found that Palin had established triable issues of fact as to actual malice:
Ultimately, while much of plaintiff’s evidence is circumstantial, as is often the case when actual malice is at issue, and while there is arguably contrary evidence as well, the Court finds that, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, she has sufficiently pointed to enough triable issues of fact that would enable a jury to find by clear and convincing evidence that Bennet knew, or was reckless not to know, that his words would convey the meaning in the minds of the readers that plaintiff asserts was libelous, to wit, that she bore a direct responsibility for the Loughner shooting.