Erie Postmaster’s Defamation Case against Project Veritas for False Reports of Election Fraud Allowed to Proceed

From the introduction to the order denying the motion to dismiss in Weisenbach v. Project Veritas:

Project Veritas is a non-profit media organization founded by James O’Keefe, III. On November 5, 2020, just two days after the November 3, 2020, presidential election, it published a story claiming to have uncovered a voter fraud scheme orchestrated out of the United States Postal Service General Mail Facility in Erie, Pennsylvania. Specifically, the article and accompanying video alleged that Erie Postmaster, Robert Weisenbach, directed the backdating of mail-in ballots in order to sway the outcome of the presidential election in favor of candidate Joseph Biden. Amended Complaint (Am. Compl), § 1. The report relied upon an anonymous whistleblower, later revealed to be Richard Hopkins, a postal employee who claimed he overhead a conversation between Weisenbach and another supervisor. Hopkins stated that Weisenbach’s motive for backdating mail-in ballots was that he was a “Trump hater,” although, in reality, Weisenbach was a supporter of President Donald Trump and voted for him on election day. Am. Compl. $§ 58, 70.

In the days that followed, Project Veritas posted two more video interviews with Hopkins. ‘where he repeated his false claims …. Weisenbach was forced to leave Erie for a time after personal details, including his address, were discovered and disseminated by readers of the Project Veritas stories. …

Weisenbach … brings this lawsuit against Hopkins, Project Veritas, and O’Keefe, alleging claims of defamation and concerted tortious activity. Defendants now seek to dismiss the claims before discovery has even begun by filing Preliminary Objections to Weisenbach’s First Amended Complaint. …

And from the order’s conclusion:

It is apparent that the parties perceive the events of the days following the 2020 presidential election through wildly different lenses. Today’s Opinion recounts those days through the eyes of Robert Weisenbach. As he sees it, Richard Hopkins was acting well outside the scope of his employment when he supplied false claims of mail-in ballot backdating to Project Veritas, and so, jurisdiction over the claims now levied against him does not lie exclusively in federal court pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act. Likewise, Weisenbach’s averments are legally sufficient to make out claims of defamation and concerted tortious activity against all Defendants, even under the demanding actual malice standard. Whether Weisenbach will be able to offer adequate evidence to support his claims, and whether a jury would ultimately be willing to credit such evidence after hearing both sides of the story, remains to be seen. For now, it is enough to hold that the averments set forth in the Amended Complaint are sufficient as a matter of law to permit the action to proceed to discovery, where the truth of these claims can begin to be tested in the crucible of our adversarial system.

Accordingly, and for the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ Preliminary Objections to Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint are overruled.

The media release of Protect Democracy, which represents Weisenbach, is available here.

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