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Virginia Citizens Defense League v. Couric

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

December 13, 2018

VIRGINIA CITIZENS DEFENSE LEAGUE; DANIEL L. HAWES, ESQ.; PATRICIA WEBB, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
KATIE COURIC; STEPHANIE SOECHTIG; ATLAS FILMS LLC; STUDIO 3 PARTNERS, LLC, d/b/a EPIX, now known as EPIX ENTERTAINMENT LLC, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: October 30, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Richmond. John A. Gibney, Jr., District Judge. (3:16-cv-00757-JAG)

         ARGUED:

          Joseph Ronald Oliveri, CLARE LOCKE LLP, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellants.

          Nathan Ellis Siegel, DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Thomas A. Clare, Elizabeth M. Locke, Megan L. Meier, CLARE LOCKE LLP, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellants.

          Kevin T. Baine, Thomas G. Hentoff, Nicholas G. Gamse, Emily A. Rose, WILLIAMS & CONNOLLY LLP, Washington, D.C.; Elizabeth A. McNamara, DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE LLP, New York, New York, for Appellees.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, and MOTZ and WYNN, Circuit Judges.

          DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         This case arises from the creation and publication of Under the Gun, a documentary film on gun violence in America. Aggrieved at their portrayal in the film, appellants - Virginia Citizens Defense League and two of its members, Daniel L. Hawes, and Patricia Webb - filed this action. They alleged defamation by the film's creators, appellees Katie Couric, Stephanie Soechtig, Atlas Films LLC, and Studio 3 Partners, LLC (doing business as Epix Entertainment LLC). The district court dismissed their complaint, and appellants appeal. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         I.

         In 2016, journalist Couric and filmmaker Soechtig released a documentary titled Under the Gun. The documentary concerns gun policy in America, and it takes a perspective favoring regulation. Couric narrated the film, interviewed participants, and served as an executive producer. Soechtig directed and edited the film, which Atlas Films produced and Epix distributed.

         Although the film advocates for gun control, its creators assertedly sought to present viewpoints from organizations that opposed measures like universal background checks. To that end, a producer employed by Atlas Films contacted the Virginia Citizens Defense League ("VCDL"), a non-profit gun-rights organization, and set up an interview with ...


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