U.S. Representative Devin Nunes of California sued journalist Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazine Media over an article Lizza wrote about the alleged employment of noncitizens without work authorization on a farm operated by Nunes’s relatives. The Eighth Circuit upheld the Rule 12 dismissal of Nunes’s claims about the news article itself. But the court reversed and remanded the remainder of the suit, concluding that the complaint raised a plausible inference of actual malice because, after the lawsuit was filed, Lizza posted a tweet with a link to the article. That is, the complaint sufficiently alleged that the article had been republished with reckless disregard of whether the article was false or not—because Lizza knew when he posted the link that Nunes was denying the truth of the article’s contents.
The case, Nunes v. Lizza, No. 20-2710 (8th Cir. Sept. 15, 2021), stems from a Sept. 30, 2018 Esquire magazine article about Nunes. The title of the online version of the article is “Devin Nunes’s Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret.” The print version’s title is “Milking the System.” The article includes a caption posing two questions about Nunes, who is described as having “spun himself as a straight talker whose no-BS values are rooted in his family’s California dairy farm”: “So why did his parents and brother cover their tracks after quietly moving the farm to Iowa? Are they hiding something politically explosive?” According to the Eighth Circuit, the article asserts that the Iowa dairy farm employs noncitizens without work authorization and “insinuate[s] that the farm’s use of undocumented labor is the reason that Representative Nunes and his family were hiding the family’s move and their operation of an Iowa dairy farm.”