New York trial court grants motion to dismiss defamation claim by Trump presidential campaign against The New York Times holding that article was non-actionable opinion, that statements were not “of and concerning” plaintiff and that complaint failed to allege facts supporting malice. 

Plaintiff, Donald J. Trump for President Inc., filed suit against defendant The New York Times Company alleging defamation based on an opinion column published in The New York Times titled “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo.” The column, written by Max Frankel and published on March 27, 2019, related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report regarding his oversight of the United States Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian infiltration of the 2016 presidential election, officially titled “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election.”

The New York Supreme Court dismissed the Trump campaign’s complaint for several reasons. First, the court held that Frankel’s commentary in the article at issue was nonactionable opinion after finding that “the overall context in which the article was published, in the opinion section of the newspaper, signaled to the reader that ‘the broader social context and surrounding circumstances [indicate] that what is being read … is likely to be opinion, not fact.’” 

Second, the court held that the challenged statements in the article were not “of and concerning” plaintiff, which is a necessary element for a defamation action. A corporate entity has no standing to sue over statements that concern an entity’s employees or affiliates but not the entity itself. Moreover, the court found that the focus of the column “was the former President’s associates and family members, not the Trump campaign itself.” 

Third, the complaint failed to allege facts sufficient to support the required element of actual malice. This element requires knowledge that the statements were false or made with reckless disregard for the truth. The court noted that this “heavy burden exists because news organizations function as a platform for facilitating constitutionally protected speech on issues of public concern and courts will not impose defamation liability against these entities absent a clear showing of actual malice.”

While the court granted the motion to dismiss the action with prejudice, the ruling declined to impose sanctions.