BUFFALO — The Buffalo Bulletin was victorious in the libel lawsuit brought by the Patriot Conservatives of Johnson County Political Action Committee.
“We are happy this whole ugly saga is over,” Bulletin publisher Robb Hicks said. “This was never about libel. It was about trying to punish the newspaper because the Patriot Conservatives didn’t like what was said about them. They tried to weaponize the court system to bully us into submission. Thankfully, the judge clearly saw through their ruse. We are grateful to our attorney, Chris Wages, and are pleased that justice prevailed.”
On Dec. 8, Fourth Judicial District Judge William Edelman granted the Buffalo Bulletin’s motion for judgment on the pleadings because the plaintiff’s complaint failed to show slander, defamation or libel, and the plaintiff is not authorized to file a civil lawsuit alleging a violation of election law.
The conservative PAC filed the suit in the Fourth Judicial District Court on Aug. 16. The suit alleged that the defendants, Weiser Signal American Inc., the Buffalo Bulletin Inc., Pronghorn Publishing Inc., Frontier Newspapers Inc., and Eclipse Media, Inc. published “false defamatory articles and ads.” The plaintiffs sought $36 million as damages — “the full tax dollar amount” for a 1% special use tax ballot measure before voters that failed on Aug. 17. The PAC also alleged the Buffalo Bulletin violated Wyoming election statutes.
In a motion hearing on Nov. 10, Chris Wages, attorney for the Buffalo Bulletin, asked Edelman for a judgment on the pleadings.
In his order, Edelman ruled the PAC failed to “allege or identify any oral communication made by Eclipse Media, Inc., which is required for a claim of slander.”
Edelman ruled that even if the allegations in the complaint are true, the plaintiff has no cause for action for defamation because the PAC is considered a public figure that inserted itself into a public controversy and they failed to make any credible claim for economic damages.
“As for the damage to Plaintiff’s reputation, there are no facts pled to show how or to what extent the publication affected Plaintiff — for example, there is no indication that Plaintiff lost members or monetary support as a result of the publication. Furthermore, to the extent Plaintiff attempts to tie the $36 million dollar tax levy to alleged injury, the issue is moot because the ballot measure failed on August 17, 2021.”
The plaintiff alleged Eclipse Media, Inc. violated Wyoming election statutes by printing an advertisement for a political action committee without disclosing who approved and paid for the ad. However, Edelman wrote that Wyoming election law does not authorize private civil action for a violation of the Election Code. Therefore, the PAC is not authorized to bring this complaint.
Edelman dismissed the complaint against defendants Weiser Signal American Inc., the Buffalo Bulletin Inc., Pronghorn Publishing Inc., and Frontier Newspapers Inc. because either the entities no longer exist or there is no nexus — or connection — between any actions taken by the defendants and any injury alleged by the plaintiff. Because there is no connection between the defendants and Eclipse Media Inc., publisher of the Buffalo Bulletin newspaper, there is no relief that the court could grant.