14 May HEARD SEEKS TO HAVE LIBEL CLAIM DISMISSED AHEAD OF 2022 TRIAL
Amber Heard has sought to have Johnny Depp’s $50million (£35.5million) defamation claim in the US thrown out following the failure of his UK claim against the publisher of The Sun, after the trial in the American litigation was pushed back by the Virginia court to 2022.
The US claim has been brought over statements in an op-ed written by Heard in the Washington Post in 2018, which did not name Depp, but in which she alleged she was a victim of domestic abuse. Depp believes it cost him a role in Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean and brought a claim for defamation in Virginia, where the Washington Post is printed.
In February of this year, the trial, which was due to be heard in May after having already been rescheduled several times, was pushed back as a result of delays in the Virginia court system caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It will now take place on 11 April 2022, when it is due to be heard over two weeks before a jury – the UK libel case which Depp recently lost was decided by a single judge.
Following the dismissal of Depp’s application for permission to appeal by the Court of Appeal in London, Heard has argued that the Virginia case should be dismissed.
“Giving full effect to the UK Judgments necessitates a finding that statements in the op-ed published in the Washington Post are true – Mr. Depp committed domestic violence against Ms. Heard on many occasions, causing her to fear for her life,” read a document prepared by her lawyers. The document asked the court in Virginia to recognize the ruling by the trial Judge in London, who sided with Heard and the newspaper. It also emphasised the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of Depp’s effort to appeal. “Therefore, as a matter of law, Depp cannot prevail on any of his claims, and Depp’s complaint against Ms. Heard should be dismissed in its entirety,” continued the document. “Depp cannot relitigate these factual issues, and as a result of their preclusion, he cannot claim that the statements are false and ‘actionable’ under Virginia defamation law, so his claims are barred as a matter of law,” it added.
As in English law, there is what’s called an “issue estoppel” or “collateral estoppel” doctrine in US law, which means that it may be possible to obtain judgment against a party in the US where the issues in the claim have already been decided against them in a judgment of a competent foreign court.
This could mean that Depp is prevented from relitigating issues relating to the allegations of domestic abuse which have already featured in the English claim, although the application of this principle can be very complex in practice.
The scope of the US litigation has also expanded recently, with subpoenas issued earlier this year against Elon Musk and the American Civil Liberties Union. The delayed trial will offer the chance to both sides to develop their cases ahead of the claim finally being heard by a jury next year unless this latest application by Heard is successful.