Lawsuit against Fox News over retracted Seth Rich story is revived

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Friday revived a lawsuit against Fox News Network by the parents of Seth Rich, a former Democratic aide whose unsolved murder sparked uncorroborated conspiracy theories. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Joel and Mary Rich could sue Fox News for causing emotional distress and other harm by publishing a May 16, 2017 article claiming that their son had leaked Democratic National Committee emails to WikiLeaks, implying that the leaks were related to his death. Fox News, a unit of Fox Corp, retracted the article a week later, saying it fell short of its standards, but some leading conservatives and on-air guests discussed it for months. Seth Rich, 27, was killed in July 2016 near his Washington, D.C., home, in what police there consider a botched robbery. His parents said the Fox article about him left them with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder. They also said it left Mary Rich uncomfortable in public because she feared being asked about WikiLeaks. Their lawsuit also named the reporter Malia Zimmerman, who wrote the retracted article, and Ed Butowsky, a Fox News contributor who helped her. Lawyers for Fox News and Zimmerman referred requests for comment to Fox News, which did not immediately respond. Asked about the decision, Butowsky, who is representing himself in the case, said by phone: “That’s the craziest thing in the world. It has already been proven that the things they accused in the lawsuit never occurred.” In Friday’s decision, Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi said the Riches had “sufficiently pleaded extreme and outrageous conduct” by the defendants. The Riches said the campaign included their hiring, at Butowsky’s suggestion, a private detective to investigate their son’s death. They said Zimmerman later named the detective as a source for Seth Rich’s alleged contacts with WikiLeaks. The Riches said this included their hiring, at Butowsky’s suggestion, of a private detective to investigate their son’s death, and who Zimmerman later used to advance the “sham story” that Seth Rich had leaked DNC emails. “Zimmerman and Butowsky had enough specific knowledge of the family and the circumstances surrounding Seth’s murder to be keenly aware of the Riches’ susceptibility to emotional distress,” Calabresi wrote. The appeals court also revived a claim concerning the Riches’ contract with the detective, and said they could try to revive a negligent supervision claim against Fox News. Friday’s decision returned the lawsuit to U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan, who had dismissed it in August 2018. The case is Rich et al v Fox News Network LLC et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 18-2321.

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