Judge Dismisses Park County Resident Erik Prince’s Defamation Lawsuit
A federal judge has dismissed the defamation lawsuit filed last year by Erik Prince, Park County resident and founder of the private military company Blackwater, against the online news organization The Intercept and two of its writers.
The dismissal wasn't just about the merits of the lawsuit, but that it had no business being filed in Wyoming in the first place, U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson wrote in his order, agreeing with the motion to dismiss filed by the New York-based The Intercept and writers Matthew Cole and Alex Emmons.
"... Defendants do not have property, bank accounts, or employees in Wyoming; further, they do not advertise or market toward Wyoming citizens and their articles are directed at national and international news, not Wyoming news," Johnson wrote.
Prince sued the The Intercept in May 2020, a month after it published a story in April by writers Cole and Emmons titled "Erik Prince Offered Lethal Services to Sanctioned Russian Mercenary Firm Wagner."
"The central premise of the Defendants' Story is the false claim that Mr. Prince 'met earlier this year with a top official of Russia's Wagner Group and offered his mercenary forces to support the firm's operations in Libya and Mozambique,'" according to Prince's complaint.
The authors and The Intercept also accused him of illegal conduct because the alleged requests violated the sanctions imposed on Wagner by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control and essentially accused him of being a traitor, according to the complaint.
Prince claimed the story has harmed his reputation, income and business, and relationships with financial institutions and the media.
He also argued that he is a Wyoming resident and the lawsuit should be tried in the state.
However, Johnson agreed with The Intercept and the writers that Wyoming is the wrong jurisdiction for such a lawsuit,
Prince didn't show the article was expressly aimed at Wyoming, and he was only speculating that some of the writers' sources were from Wyoming, the judge wrote.
Johnson agreed with the writers that they didn't imply that Prince engaged in treason or illegality.
Prince also failed to show that Wyoming was harmed by the article, Johnson wrote.
While he has a residence in Wyoming, he career is not centered in the state, the judge added.
For these and other reasons, Johnson dismissed the lawsuit adding that Prince can refile it in New York.
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