Delaware Supreme Court Rejects Carter Page’s Lawsuit Against Yahoo!, HuffPost & Michael Isikoff

Today’s major opinion of Chief Justice Collins Seitz is in Page v. Oath:

Carter Page is a prominent figure who has ties to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. He claimed Oath Inc.’s internet news outlets had published eleven defamatory pieces about him between 2016-2017. Yahoo! article by Michael Isikoff was published by Michael Isikoff News article that forms the backbone of the amended complaint …. [Ten] other articles were written by employees at … and refer to the Isikoff Article …. The remaining seven articles were written by HuffPost non-employee “contributors” …. These articles cover an intelligence report from a well-placed Western intelligence source. It includes information Page received about Russian officials who discussed possible benefits for Russia should Donald Trump win the presidency.

Oath moved to dismiss at the Superior Court. The Superior Court found the Isikoff Articles, as well as the Employee Articles, to be true. Page, who was at most a limited purpose public figure and was subject to the fair report privilege in government proceedings, failed to do so. Oath was also protected under the federal Communications Decency Act for Contributor Articles. Page appeals to the Superior Court, with the exception of the Superior Court ruling that the Employee articles were true.

We agree with the Superior Court’s decision. The Isikoff Article describes a federal investigation into a report about Page—an investigation that existed and was being pursued by the FBI. The article, which is essentially true at a minimum and Page didn’t claim defamation on the basis of it, does not contain any falsehoods. Page fails to assert a defamation claim with regard to any of the articles. Page admitted that the Isikoff Article was not defamatory during oral argument.

Page did not also claim that those responsible for publishing the articles were acting with actual malice. Page also does not dispute the Superior Court’s conclusion that the Employee Articles are true. These grounds dismiss Page’s defamation claim. We do not discuss any other grounds of dismissal by the Superior Court.

Justice Karen Valihura dissented:

While I dissent only on one article of eleven that was challenged, it is the core of Page’s Complaint. I disagree with the Majority that Page did not adequately allege that it is reasonably conceivable that Oath, acting through Michael R. Isikoff …, the author of the article dated September 23, 2016 entitled “U.S. Intel officials look into ties between Trump Advisor and Kremlin,” published on Oath’s Yahoo website …, acted with actual malice. I disagree with Majority’s assertion that the Isikoff Article is substantially true. I also disagree with the Fair Report privilege. The privilege cannot be conferred upon another person (even a member or the media). A person can only make the initial statement by entering into a collusive agreement with the person to grant the privilege. Page claims that Page is involved in a collusive agreement.