Pursuing Claims of Defamation Involving Litvinenko Murder Coverage and Anticipated Defense

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by George Benaur

New York, September 10, 2018

A new defamation lawsuit has been filed in the Southern District of New York against RT America and Channel One Russia by Dr. Alex Goldfarb, an associate of Alexander Litvinenko.  Goldfarb claims that he was “an associate and a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident who was murdered in London by Russian agents in 2006.” The complaint alleges that “Dr. Goldfarb brings this action because he is a victim of malicious defamation by defendants, who have falsely accused him of murdering his friend Alexander Litvinenko and his own wife, as well as being an agent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”).”

Besides the intrigue of the facts involved, the case is interesting on a number of legal fronts. First, it will be very interesting to see if the U.S. District Court in Manhattan shall exercise jurisdiction over this case. One avenue for seeking dismissal, on a motion to dismiss at the very beginning of the case, would be to assert that the doctrine of forum non conveniens precludes the case. This doctrine “is a discretionary device” permitting a court in rare instances to dismiss a claim even if the court is a permissible venue with proper jurisdiction over the claim. Whether to dismiss an action on forum non conveniens grounds is a decision that “ ‘lies wholly within the broad discretion of the [ ] court’ and should be reversed only if ‘that discretion has been clearly abused.’ A court may dismiss an action under forum non conveniens “when considerations of convenience, fairness, and judicial economy so warrant.”

In this particular newly filed case, the argument is likely to be raised. For example, the complaint relies heavily on the a coroner’s inquest into Litvinenko’s death, which was conducted in the United Kingdom with the appointment of Sir Robert Owen, a High Court judge. Surely, much of the evidence involving the deaths in question lies in the United Kingdom, as part of the inquest and otherwise. The U.S. District Court could therefore dismiss this case on forum non conveniens grounds.

If the case makes its way past the motions to dismiss stage (which is likely to take some months), then, if there is a litigation and full blown discovery (with depositions and document productions), the fascinating aspect of the case shall be an examination of the details of the inquest and the murders themselves. In any case, regardless of the outcome, the case provides new and important precedent for future cases in the crazed world involving Russia in American courts, and should be monitored.

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