Johnny Depp’s Defamation Suit Survives Demurrer

Image Credit: Joel Ryan / AP

In the latest development in their very-public divorce, actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are fighting over whether Heard defamed Depp by implication in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed.

Despite the fact that Depp was not specifically named in Heard’s Washington Post op-ed, a Virginia judge has ruled that the piece she penned may have defamed Depp nonetheless. In March 2019, Depp initiated a defamation suit against Heard for $50 million over the op-ed she wrote in which she strongly implied that Depp is a domestic abuser. In his suit, he claims that he lost lucrative acting roles due to Heard’s allegations.

Image Credit: Glenn Hunt / EPA via nbcnews.com

After a failed attempt to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds, Heard filed a demurrer, arguing that the statements are not actionable. In a letter to the parties, Judge Bruce D. White states that Depp has met the requirements to “plead allegations of an implied defamatory meaning, that is in fact defamatory, as well as circumstances that would reasonably cause the statements at issue to convey an alleged defamatory meaning.”

Although editorials and op-eds are typically not actionable due to their nature as opinions, Virginia law has a somewhat relaxed cause of action for defamation. Virginia law provides a cause of action for defamation that “may be made by inference, implication, or insinuation.” In making the ruling, Judge White considered evidence that has been presented to provide context – mostly events and statements surrounding Depp’s and Heard’s divorce.

The statements Heard wrote in her op-ed piece that could potentially rise to defamation involve identifying herself as a victim of domestic abuse and heavily implying Depp to be the perpetrator of this abuse.

As truth is an absolute defense to defamation claims, things will undoubtedly get intense and personal as the case moves closer to trial. Both parties claim the other was abusive. Thus, a trial over this dispute will consist of each trying to prove the abusiveness of the other. Depp has already come forward with tape recordings in which Heard seemingly admits to her violence toward Depp during their marriage. And Heard has her own photographs allegedly evidencing Depp’s abusive behavior toward her.

For a timeline of Depp’s and Heard’s ongoing legal battle, check out the Washington Post article here. Stay tuned for future updates regarding the ongoing litigation.

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