Delaware court upholds dismissal of Candace Owens lawsuit

February 22, 2022 GMT

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware’s Supreme Court has upheld a judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by conservative political commentator Candace Owens against USA Today and another media organization over fact-checking coronavirus posts she made on Facebook.

After oral arguments two weeks ago, the court issued a two-paragraph order Tuesday affirming the July decision by Superior Court Judge Craig Karsnitz.

Karsnitz said Owens had failed to state an actionable claim against USA Today or Lead Stories LLC, a Colorado-based entity. Lead Stories, like USA Today, is paid by Facebook to publish fact-check articles examining whether certain posts contain false information, according to the court ruling. Dozens of outside organizations, including The Associated Press, participate in Facebook’s fact-checking program.

Lead Stories published an article in April 2020 about a Facebook post in which Owens claimed the way government officials counted COVID-19 deaths overstated the pandemic’s scope and dangers. The article labeled Owens’ post with the terms “Hoax Alert” and “False.”

USA Today said in an article that same month that a post in which Owens questioned the relationship between the counting of COVID-19 deaths and flu deaths in early 2020 contained false information.

As a result of the articles, Facebook put false information warning labels on Owens’ posts.

Owens claimed the defendants’ articles prevented her from deriving advertising revenue from her Facebook page and promoting her book “Blackout” on Facebook. She sued USA Today and Lead Stories for intentional interference with contractual relations, tortious interference with prospective business relations, and unfair competition. She also filed separate defamation claims against Lead Stories.

Karsnitz, a Democrat, ruled that Owens had failed to show that statements made by Lead Stories were false under a “reasonable conceivability” standard. He also said readers would not understand the term “Hoax Alert” to mean that Owens was intentionally spreading a lie. Karsnitz also ruled that Owens failed to adequately plead that the defendants improperly or wrongfully interfered with the contract between her and Facebook.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling came just weeks after the justices upheld a decision by Karsnitz to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by former Donald Trump campaign operative Carter Page against the media company that includes Yahoo! and AOL and formerly owned HuffPost.

Page claimed he was harmed by the publication of false and defamatory statements suggesting he was secretly plotting with Russian officials. He was the target of a secret surveillance campaign by the FBI but was never charged with any wrongdoing.

While upholding the dismissal of Page’s suit, the Supreme Court ruled Karsnitz had abused his discretion in barring Georgia lawyer and Trump supporter Lin Wood from representing Page, after initially granting him permission to do so.

Karsnitz suggested Wood’s participation in lawsuits in Georgia and Wisconsin challenging the 2020 election results demonstrated “a toxic stew of mendacity, prevarication and surprising incompetence.” He also cited tweets by Wood attacking former Vice President Mike Pence and Chief Justice John Roberts, and the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The Supreme Court noted, however, that Wood had not been cited for sanctionable conduct in either Georgia or Wisconsin. The insinuation that Wood was at least partially responsible for the events of Jan. 6 was even “more questionable,” it said.

“One cannot read the court’s order without concluding that the court intended to cast aspersions on Wood’s character, referring to him as ‘either mendacious or incompetent’ and determining that he was not ‘of sufficient character’ to practice in the courts of our state,” the justices added. “We offer no opinion on the accuracy of these characterizations, but we see no evidence in the Superior Court’s record that supports them.”