VA Citizens Defense League v. Couric, No. 17-1783 (4th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, aggrieved at their portrayal in a documentary on gun violence called Under the Gun, filed suit alleging defamation by the film's creators. The crux of plaintiffs' defamation claims was that an edited interview manufactured a false exchange that made them look ridiculous, incompetent, and ignorant about firearm ownership and sales, including the policies surrounding background checks.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that the edited footage did not arise to the level of defamation under Virginia law. The court held that plaintiffs' defamation per se claims failed, and that the edited footage was not reasonably capable of suggesting that the Virginia Citizens Defense League and its members were "ignorant and incompetent on the subject to which they have dedicated their organizational mission." Finally, regardless of how certain media outlets covered the short-lived frenzy surrounding this incident, the Supreme Court of Virginia has consistently stressed that it is the province of courts to perform the gatekeeping role of distinguishing defamatory speech from mere insults. In this case, the district court properly performed its independent gatekeeping role and the district court reached the correct result on the merits.