The substance of the $250 million lawsuit Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) filed against a Republican strategist, the company Twitter and two troll accounts purporting to be his “cow” and his “mom” has been ridiculed across the internet, questioned by allies like Sean Hannity and deemed “meritless” by legal experts.
But, instead of tackling the claims made in the suit — which includes an actual meme diagram of Nunes, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a “human centipede”-style relationship — both Twitter and the GOP operative, Liz Mair, filed motions to dismiss the suit in the last week, arguing solely that the suit was brought in the wrong state.
Twitter argues that it’s not only nonsensical for Nunes to sue them in Virginia when the company’s headquarters are in California — the lawmaker’s home state — but that it’s a violation of standard policy for Twitter users. When signing up for a Twitter account, all users agree, as part of the social media platform’s terms of service, to bring any lawsuit against the company in the state of California.
Nunes can hardly be mocked for not reading the user agreement as a casual tweeter. Who actually does that? But perhaps his lawyers should have skimmed that document before suing one of the most prominent social platforms in the world.
Mair made a similar argument when she filed her motion to dismiss on Tuesday evening. While she’s maintained that Nunes’ suit is an attempt to dismantle free speech, her lawyers also argue that Nunes simply doesn’t like the anti-SLAPP laws — which allow for quick motions to dismiss complaints against speech that is informative to the public — in his home state. California has some of the strongest in the country. Virginia has some of the weakest.
Mair also argues that the only reason the lawmaker even decided to include her in the suit is because she lives in Virginia, giving the congressman cover to bring a defamation suit in a state with more limited press protections.
Legal observers have plenty of other arguments outside of the location of the filing for why the case should be dismissed. Experts told TPM that this Twitter suit, as well as the $150 million lawsuit against McClatchy, are meritless. The defendants’ strongest defense is that Nunes is not only a public figure, but an elected official — the exact brand of public official that the First Amendment allows the press to not only cover extensively, but also to mock.
But a dismissal over the location of the suit might be the easiest argument for defendants to make right out the gate, given Twitter’s terms of service. Or maybe Nunes never intended the suits to go anywhere. Both McClatchy and Mair have told TPM in recent days that Nunes hasn’t actually served them.