A federal court judge has ruled a Covington Catholic High School student can – with certain exceptions – continue with his $275 million libel lawsuit against NBC Universal for the network's coverage of a viral interaction between the Kentucky teenager and a Native American man, court papers and reports show.
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Nicholas Sandmann's attorneys filed the lawsuit after he and several classmates were accused of harassing Nathan Phillips, a Native American man, in the network's coverage of viral videos of their encounter on Jan. 18 at the Lincoln Memorial. They slapped The Washington Post and CNN with similar suits.
Video widely shared online showed Sandmann and Phillips standing close to each other, with Sandmann staring and at times smiling at Phillips as the man continued to beat on a drum. Both Phillips and Sandmann have said they were trying to defuse tensions rising among three groups on a day when Washington hosted both the anti-abortion March for Life, attended by Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High School classmates, and the Indigenous Peoples March.
U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman ruled on Thursday that if NBC’s statements that Sandmann “blocked” Phillips or "did not allow him to retreat” are false, then they are libelous. NBC Universal did not immediately respond to FOX Business' request for comment.
The Washington Times reported the teen’s suit against NBC is seeking $275 million.
L. Lin Wood, one of Sandmann’s attorneys, called the decision a “huge win.”
Bertelsman’s decision reiterates his late-October ruling in a similar lawsuit that Sandmann filed against the Jeff Bezos-owned newspaper, The Washington Post.
On Oct. 29, the jurist reopened the case against the Post, writing in court papers after careful review he decided "'justice requires' that discovery be had regarding these statements and their context." The decision means lawyers for Sandmann will be allowed to request information and documents from the newspaper.
Among the published statements that Bertelsman ruled required further review was a quote from Phillips saying Sandmann "just blocked my way and wouldn't allow me to retreat."
But he noted that Phillips asserted he was being blocked from passing, and Phillips' opinion was reported by the newspaper.
"They may have been erroneous," Bertelsman wrote, “but they are opinion protected by The First Amendment."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.