(Bloomberg) -- Fox News must face a lawsuit by the parents of a Democratic Party staffer whose unsolved 2016 murder touched off a flurry of right-wing conspiracy theories, a federal appeals court ruled.
The parents of Seth Rich sued Fox News over “sham” stories that ran in May 2017 claiming their son had leaked Democratic National Committee emails in the run-up to the 2016 election. The stories, which Fox later retracted, cited unidentified law-enforcement sources. A lower-court judge in Manhattan dismissed the case last year.
On Friday, the Manhattan-based appeals court revived the lawsuit, saying Joel and Mary Rich had adequately alleged that they suffered from “what amounted to a campaign of emotional torture.” The purpose of the stories, according to the Riches, was to take the heat off the Trump administration as investigators probed whether Russian-backed hackers had leaked the emails to advance Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.
“We would not wish what we have experienced upon any other parent -- anywhere,” the Riches said in a statement. “We appreciate the appellate court’s ruling and look forward to continuing to pursue justice.”
As of last year, Washington, D.C., police hadn’t identified any suspects in what they say was a botched robbery, but the killing led to politically charged speculation in conservative news media that it was Rich who provided the hacked emails to WikiLeaks and that he was killed to silence him.
“This decision now clears the way for a thorough investigation into the facts,” Lenny Gail, an attorney for the Rich family, said in a statement. “We will now obtain documents from Fox News and other parties and take testimony under oath from those involved.”
The appeals court found that the Riches’ claims about what the stories’ authors knew of the murder and the couple’s “susceptibility to emotional distress” were sufficient for the suit to go forward. The fact that they proceeded “in the face of this knowledge makes the authors’ conduct plausibly extreme and outrageous,” the court said.
“The court’s ruling today permits Mr. and Mrs. Rich to proceed with discovery to determine whether there is a factual basis for their claims against Fox News,” the network said in a statement. “And while we extend the Rich family our deepest condolences for their loss, we believe that discovery will demonstrate that Fox News did not engage in conduct that will support the Riches’ claims. We will be evaluating our next legal steps.”
The lower-court case is Rich v. Fox News Network LLC, 18-cv-2223, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The appeals-court case is Rich v. Fox News Network LLC, 18-2321, U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
(Updates with statement from parents)
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