McClatchy calls Rep. Devin Nunes’ lawsuit ‘cynical’; asks Virginia judge to toss it

McClatchy in a new court motion called Rep. Devin Nunes’ lawsuit against the media company a “cynical maneuver to score cheap political points” and argued the case should be dismissed because it does not belong in the Virginia court where the California Republican filed it.

Nunes, R-Tulare, in April sued McClatchy alleging his hometown paper The Fresno Bee defamed him in the midst of his 2018 reelection campaign. The case cites a news story that described an employee of a winery in which Nunes has a limited partnership suing the business because she was asked to work at a function where men allegedly had sex with prostitutes and used cocaine.

McClatchy in its motion stands by the story.

“There is no claim here, despite a powerful politician’s demand of $150 million because his local newspaper (whose repeated past endorsements he seemed happy to accept) fairly reported something he did not like,” the motion reads.

McClatchy on Monday filed to dismiss Nunes’ lawsuit in Virginia, arguing he has no grounds to sue the Sacramento-based company there. The article at issue was published in California, the company’s headquarters is in California and Nunes has offices in California and not in Virginia. None of the 30 daily newspapers owned by McClatchy publishes in Virginia.

McClatchy also argues that Nunes is violating a user agreement by attempting to sue the company in Virginia. Nunes has subscribed to The Fresno Bee online since September 2016, and he agreed in the terms of service to file lawsuits against the newspaper in Fresno County courts.

McClatchy further accused Nunes of “forum shopping” by filing the suit in Virginia, because California has a strict anti-SLAPP law that discourages frivolous lawsuits.

“Unlike Virginia’s anti-SLAPP statute, California’s anti-SLAPP statute gives defendants the right to obtain attorneys’ fees and costs for defending ‘strategic lawsuits against political participation,’ like this one,” McClatchy’s motion to dismiss reads. “So instead of filing suit in his home forum, (Nunes) added to this court’s busy docket by filing suit 3,000 miles away, presumably in an attempt to evade that penalty, to avoid possible scrutiny by a jury of his California constituents, and to unduly burden McClatchy.”

Nunes has filed two other lawsuits in Virginia in 2019.

In one, he alleges that Twitter allowed Republican political strategist Liz Mair and two anonymous social media accounts to defame him as he ran for re-election last year and led the House Intelligence Committee.

Nunes won his reelection campaign in 2018, but by a closer margin than usual. Democratic challenger Andrew Janz raised $9 million in his attempt to unseat Nunes.

Twitter and Mair have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Nunes cannot sue them in Virginia.

In the other lawsuit, Nunes is suing political research firm Fusion GPS and Democratic advocacy group Campaign for Accountability. They also are not located in Virginia. That lawsuit was filed last week.

Nunes last week dropped a fourth lawsuit, the only one he filed in California. That one was against his own constituents and Democratic groups who had unsuccessfully challenged Nunes’ designation as a farmer on the 2018 ballot. Nunes did not give a reason for dropping the suit.

Nunes’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.