A federal judge on Thursday handed Fox News a victory in a lawsuit filed against the network by the parents of Seth Rich over a now-retracted article pushing the unfounded claim that the slain DNC staffer was murdered because he leaked sensitive documents to WikiLeaks.
Joel and Mary Rich filed the suit last year against Fox News, reporter Malia Zimmerman, and contributor Ed Butowsky, claiming the defendants conspired to inflict emotional distress upon the Rich family by publishing the false story.
In his decision to dismiss the case on Thursday, District Judge George Daniels threw out all of the claims against Zimmerman, Butowsky, and Fox News, saying the plaintiffs had “not adequately” backed up their claim.
The judge additionally rejected the emotional-distress claims and the accusation that Fox News itself knew that Zimmerman and private investigator/Fox contributor Rod Wheeler had a “propensity” to commit emotional distress with the piece they worked on.
“It is understandable that Plaintiffs might feel that their grief and personal loss were taken advantage of, and that the tragic death of their son was exploited for political purposes,” Daniels said. “However, a general allegation that Defendants had an ‘agreement to collaborate against’ Plaintiffs cannot form the basis for an IIED [intentional infliction of emotional distress] claim.”
The judge pointed out that the Rich family was “styling their defamation claim as one for IIED,” since the family members of the deceased cannot bring defamation cases on behalf of their dead relatives.
During oral arguments in Manhattan last month, Daniels repeatedly clashed with the Rich family’s attorneys, saying that they did not understand the standard needed to prove an intentional infliction of emotional distress argument.
“What you are saying is legally wrong,” the judge said.
Though the family declined to comment to reporters at the time, Rich’s parents politely smiled and shook hands with the rival legal team during oral arguments last month. They sat quietly through the majority of the hearing, occasionally nodding when the judge pressed Fox News’ lawyer about the arrangement that Butowsky, Wheeler, and Zimmerman concocted.