Fox News parent must face defamation lawsuit over election coverage

FILE PHOTO: A Fox News channel sign is seen on a television vehicle outside the News Corporation building in New York City, in New York

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A Delaware judge on Tuesday rejected a motion by the parent of Fox News Network to dismiss Dominion Voting Systems Inc's $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit over the network's 2020 presidential election coverage.

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis, who last December said Dominion could sue Fox News Network, said the voting machine company can also sue Fox Corp on a theory it was directly liable for statements on the network.

Fox Corp did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In a statement, Dominion said: "We are pleased to see this process moving forward to hold Fox accountable."

Dominion accused Fox of trying to avoid viewer defections to conservative rivals Newsmax and One America News by amplifying false theories that the company rigged the 2020 election so Republican Donald Trump would lose to Democrat Joe Biden.

Video: Dominion Voting Systems wins appeal in election inquiry

Some theories were floated by Trump surrogates like the lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and included claims that votes were changed through algorithms created in Venezuela to rig elections for that country's late president Hugo Chavez.

In court papers, Dominion claimed that Fox Corp, through Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son Chief Executive Lachlan Murdoch directly participated in, approved and controlled the network's election coverage and its aftermath.

Without ruling on the merits, Davis said the allegations permitted "reasonable" inferences that Fox Corp acted with malice and proximately caused Dominion's alleged damages.

"Dominion has adequately pleaded actual malice with respect to Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch," the judge wrote.

Davis dismissed a related defamation claim against another Fox entity, Fox Broadcasting, for posting the challenged statements on, citing a lack of evidence that anyone there was "subjectively aware of anything."

Smartmatic, another voting machine company, is also seeking billions of dollars in damages from Fox and various Trump allies it has accused of defamation.

The case is US Dominion Inc et al v Fox Corp, Delaware Superior Court, No. N21C-11-082.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)