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Court Allows Discovery of Funding Sources for Nunes Family Farms' Libel Lawsuit

Added 10-26-21 04:21:02pm EST - “against Esquire and Ryan Lizza.” - Reason.com

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Posted By TheNewsCommenter: From Reason.com: “Court Allows Discovery of Funding Sources for Nunes Family Farms' Libel Lawsuit”. Below is an excerpt from the article.

Eugene Volokh | 10.26.2021 4:11 PM

Although Plaintiffs emphasize that the funding of the litigation is irrelevant to their defamation claim, the scope of discovery is not limited to that claim but extends to Defendants' own "claim[s] and defense[s]." …

First, Plaintiffs have not denied that the litigation is being funded by others. Second, Plaintiffs have only incurred $500 in charges during this protracted litigation. Third, Anthony Nunes III, an individual Plaintiff and the corporate representative has "no idea" who is paying the lawyers representing Plaintiffs.

These circumstances may not ultimately turn out to be "untoward," but they are certainly unusual. Moreover, these circumstances lift the basis for Defendants' inquiry above the level of mere speculation and raise legitimate subjects for inquiry not present in a more run-of-the-mill personal injury case or commercial dispute. The instant case is distinguishable from a case like Benitez where the defendant seeking litigation funding information could not point out how it might affect the plaintiff's credibility or be used for impeachment.

As Defendants point out, a crucial and often determinative issue in a defamation case is whether a plaintiff needs to prove actual malice. This Court has expressed doubt about the viability of a theory of defense based on the Plaintiffs' status as involuntary public figures. Nevertheless, the unusual facts presented here make Defendants' inquiry into litigation funding a legitimate subject for discovery to enable them to make the argument on a full record…. Congressman Nunes is clearly a public figure who would be required to prove actual malice. The requirement of actual malice was adopted by the United States Supreme Court because "[i]t would give public servants an unjustified preference over the public they serve, if critics of official conduct did not have a fair equivalent of the immunity granted to the officials themselves." New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 282-83 (1964.)

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