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Rich v. Fox News Network, LLC

939 F.3d 112 (2019)

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Rich v. Fox News Network, LLC

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

939 F.3d 112 (2019)

Facts

On July 10, 2016, Seth Rich, an employee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), was killed outside his home in Washington, D.C. Police believed that Seth was killed during a robbery. After Seth’s death, a conspiracy theory developed among critics of the DNC. The theory purported that Seth had leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks, and that he was murdered in retaliation. Joel and Mary Rich (plaintiffs), Seth’s parents, opposed the theory. In early 2017, Ed Butowsky and Malia Zimmerman (defendants), employees of Fox News Network, LLC (Fox News) (defendant), convinced Rod Wheeler, a private investigator who had a contract with Fox News, to help further the conspiracy theory. Wheeler contacted the Riches, offering to work for them as an independent investigator. Butowsky, who had befriended the Riches at an earlier point, offered to pay for Wheeler’s services. Though the Riches initially declined Wheeler’s offer, Butowsky convinced them to accept Wheeler’s help. The contract between Wheeler and the Riches forbade Wheeler from speaking to the press on behalf of the Riches unless they explicitly agreed. Despite the contract, Wheeler continued to work with Fox News to further the conspiracy theory. On May 16, 2017, Fox News published two articles furthering the conspiracy theory and naming Wheeler as a source. The articles implied that the Riches believed the theory. The Riches filed a lawsuit in federal district court against Butowsky, Zimmerman, and Fox News, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court ruled against the Riches, holding that their allegations did not constitute extreme and outrageous conduct. The Riches appealed, arguing that Butowsky, Zimmerman, and Fox News engaged in an intentional harassment campaign against them and knew that they were vulnerable to emotional distress.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Calabresi, J.)

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