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New York Times seeks dismissal of anthrax libel lawsuit

[JURIST] The New York Times has asked US District Judge Claude M. Hilton to dismiss a libel lawsuit brought by Dr. Stephen J. Hatfill, a former Army germ-warfare researcher who was named a "person of interest" by the FBI [JURIST news archive] in its investigations of anthrax mailings shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. Hatfill sued the Times for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress after the newspaper published a story stating that the government's decision not to further pursue Hatfill as a suspect was the result of "poor investigation." The newspaper moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that as a public speaker on bioterror, Hatfill is a public figure and therefore must prove a higher standard of defamation. The "public figure" must prove that the defamatory actions were taken with "actual malice", a standard which the Times motion contends Hatfill has failed to meet.

Hatfill's suit against the Times and columnist Nichols Kristoff was initially dismissed by a trial court, who ruled the columns were an ongoing report about a government investigation, not libel. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed [opinion text, PDF], ruling that a jury should decide that issue. In March, the Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari [JURIST report] in the case. Hatfill has also sued [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] the government for related claims. The New York Times has more.

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