Texas Federal Court Dismisses Doctor’s $100M Defamation Suit Against CNN, Setting Useful Precedent for Cases That Interject Political Debate Into Courthouses

October 25, 2022 | Client Results

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Stella Immanuel, a Houston-based doctor and member of a group called “Americas Frontline Doctors,” publicly advocated for the use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to treat COVID-19 during a speech in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. When the video of Dr. Immanuel’s speech went viral online and then-President Trump tweeted about it, CNN published reports about her speech as well as statements that Dr. Immanuel had made in sermons she gave on her YouTube channel for “Fire Power Ministries Church.”

Dr. Immanuel subsequently filed suit against CNN in the Eastern District of Texas, alleging that CNN accused her of “spreading conspiracy theories on COVID-19” and of promoting an “unproven drug” as an effective treatment option. In the suit, she contended that the gist of CNN’s reporting was that she “is unfit to be a medical doctor, that her medical judgments and advice are unsafe and/or unsound, and that she peddles disinformation, including harmful medical treatments, and therefore, endangers patients.” She sought $100 million in damages.

In May 2022, the case – upon motion by CNN – was transferred to the Southern District of Texas – Houston Division. CNN, represented by Jackson Walker attorneys Robert P. Latham and Demi Williams and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, moved for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and Dr. Immanuel responded. The court on August 1, 2022, granted CNN’s motion to dismiss, finding that CNN’s reports were not false, were protected opinion, were fair comments on a matter of public concern, and/or were published without actual malice. In the court’s opinion, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote that “CNN accurately reported what [Dr. Immanuel] had said and the positions that government agencies and others had taken on medication for COVID.” Importantly, the court also held that:

“Statements of different, even conflicting, opinions, about unsettled matters of scientific or medical treatment that are the subject of ongoing public debate and deep public interest, cannot give rise to defamation claims.”

Regarding the opinion, Bob Latham and Kate Bolger (Davis Wright Tremaine) noted, “The court’s efficient yet thorough analysis of the issues in the case should be useful precedent in similar cases that may be brought seeking to interject political debate into courthouses.”

The case is Dr. Stella Immanuel vs. Cable News Network, Inc., No. 4:22-cv-02031. For more information about the lawsuit, view the following articles published in the media:

Meet Our Team

Robert Bob Latham


Robert P. Latham has developed nationally recognized experience in the areas of media law and intellectual property litigation. Bob’s Media Law practice has involved representation of international, national, and local media clients at the trial court and appellate court level regarding libel, invasion of privacy, newsgathering, access to information, prior restraints, right of publicity, and pre-publication review. Since 2007, Bob has been named among The Best Lawyers in America in the areas of Litigation – First Amendment, Litigation – Intellectual Property, and Sports Law, among other categories. Outside of his practice, Bob is a Governing Committee member of the ABA Forum on Communications Law, an International Board member and trustee of ARTICLE 19, and a former president of the Media Law Resource Center Defense Counsel Section.
Demi Williams Demi Williams focuses on sports, media, entertainment, complex litigation, and government investigations. Prior to Jackson Walker, Demi served as a litigator and prosecutor, with experience in complex civil litigation, criminal prosecution, federal government investigations, and school law. Demi honed her trial skills as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco and in pro bono immigration defense matters. Outside of the law, Demi has worked in various capacities within the sports industry, including as a speaker to student-athletes.

Founded in 1887, Jackson Walker has grown to become the largest law firm in the state of Texas. With about 30% of the Firm’s more than 450 lawyers practicing litigation, Jackson Walker has one of the largest trial practices in the Southwest and was identified among the top law firms “Most Feared in Litigation” by BTI Consulting Group in 2022 and 2023 for demonstrating a “fearless nature, urgency, relentlessness, and an aggressive strategy.” To explore the Firm’s experience defending media clients against libel, obscenity, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress cases, visit our Media practice page.