BuzzFeed is “respectfully” demanding the dismissal of an eight-figure defamation lawsuit filed in late January by the British journalist Michael Leidig and the news service he founded, Central European News.
In his lawsuit, Mr. Leidig claimed that an April 2015 BuzzFeed story about him and his company damaged his reputation and that of his company, which licenses buzzy news stories to larger news organizations around the globe. He also alleged that the article tangibly hurt his business. In return, he asked for BuzzFeed to pay just over $11 million, in addition to punitive damages.
But BuzzFeed, in a March 25 filing, pushed back strongly on the assertions made in the complaint. BuzzFeed said the article in question, which concluded that CEN-produced stories are often “inaccurate or downright false,” was “substantially true.” The company also said “the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” and that Mr. Leidig and his company can be considered “public figures,” and therefore would be held to a higher legal standard.
“Plaintiffs are public figures and cannot prove constitutional malice by clear and convincing evidence because the complained-of Article was published without constitutional malice in good faith, with the belief that the statements contained therein were true, and without knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth,” the filing reads.
The digital media company said that some of the charges made by Mr. Leidig and his company against BuzzFeed were “non-actionable statements of opinion.”
In addition, BuzzFeed said that Mr. Leidig and his company “have not been adversely affected in any way by the Article.”
In suing BuzzFeed, Mr. Leidig said BuzzFeed’s story lost Central European News clients and caused a drop in monthly sales. He also argued that, as a result of the story, he missed out “a high-six-figure investment that had been under discussion for many months.”
Although BuzzFeed has demanded that the suit be dismissed, in the event that it moves forward, the company has asked for a jury trial “of all issues triable by jury.”
BuzzFeed declined comment when asked about the case. A lawyer for Mr. Leidig did not respond to requests for comment.
UPDATE: Harry Wise, attorney for Mr. Leidig, replied after this post was published. “I would say that while defendants seem always able to deny the assertions in complaints more easily than one would expect, I have to say that I was a bit taken aback at Buzzfeed’s wholesale denial of pretty much every aspect of the case,” he wrote in an email. “It is one thing to deny that your story was false; it seems quiet something else to deny that charging a journalist with making up fake news stories is defamatory of the journalist.”
“As for settlement, I don’t expect any discussions of settlement until it is determined whether the case will go before a jury at a trial,” Mr. Wise added.