A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Judge Bertelsman dismisses Nick Sandmann’s multimillion lawsuits against media companies

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter

A federal judge has dismissed five libel cases former Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann filed against national media companies for their coverage of his 2019 encounter with a Native American elder in Washington, D.C.

U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman of the Eastern District of Kentucky’s Northern Division issued a 21-page ruling Tuesday dismissing the suits against The New York Times, CBS News, ABC News, Gannett Co. and the Rolling Stone.  Gannett is the parent company of the Cincinnati Enquirer, as well as USA Today and Courier Journal in Louisville.

Sandmann’s attorney, Todd McMurtry of Ft. Mitchell, said Wednesday without elaboration, “We are disappointed. We intend to appeal.”

Captured from the viral video

Sandmann filed the multimillion-dollar lawsuits on March 2, 2020, after he was the subject of much social media debate regarding his encounter with Native American rights activist Nathan Phillips in Washington after an anti-abortion rally in January 2019.

He claimed some of the media coverage in their reporting of the incident defamed him and made false statements about him with malicious intents.

Phillips and Sandmann’s encounter occurred near the Lincoln Monument in Washington, D.C.  Phillips was at the Indigenous Peoples march and Sandmann and some of his classmates had attended the anti-abortion March for Life. 

Phillips had accused Sandmann in some media reports of blocking his way but Sandmann denied that and said such reports were defamatory.

Bertelsman, in his  21-page ruling, said Phillips’ statements about any blocking are unverifiable “and thus unactionable opinions protected by the U.S. Constitution.”

Judge Bertlesman

He added:  “And because the reader knew from the articles that this encounter occurred at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, he or she would know that the confrontation occurred in the expansive area such that it would be difficult to know what might constitute ‘blocking’ another person in that setting.”

The judge noted that, “It has long been established that someone’s state of mind is not capable of being proven true or false.

“The media defendants were covering a matter of great public interest, and they reported Phillips’s first-person view of what he experienced. This would put the reader on notice that Phillips was simply giving his perspective on the incident.”

Sandmann settled for undisclosed amounts with CNN and The Washington Post in 2020 and NBC News in 2021. USA Today said the combined eight lawsuits Sandmann filed were seeking a total of $1.25 billion.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Wednesday that Sandmann now is a student at Transylvania University in Lexington and a field director for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington.

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  1. J says:

    Jack Brammer’s story is the clearest explanation of this case that I’ve read.

    Looks like this incident made Sandmann a Republican hero, since he worked for McConnell and now works for Andy Barr.

  2. Geegetaught says:

    Smirkboy really thought he’d never have to work a day in his life from the money he’d get from these lawsuits. Hey, get a job, Junior.

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