Defamation suit against Cosby dismissed, but criminal charges remain

On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that comments made by Bill Cosby, his wife, and his attorney detailed in the suit are constitutionally protected opinions and could not be proven to be defamatory.

Victoria Will/Invision/AP/File
Actor-comedian Bill Cosby poses for a portrait in New York, Nov. 18, 2013. A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by Renita Hill of Baldwin, Pa., who claims Mr. Cosby defamed her when he and his representatives responded to allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted her and other women. The October lawsuit filed Ms. Hill was dismissed with prejudice, meaning she cannot try to amend and re-file it.

Bill Cosby has been granted a temporary win in the legal firestorm that has surrounded him for more than a year.

On Thursday, a federal judge dismissed the defamation lawsuit that Renita Hill, a resident of Pennsylvania, had brought against the now-controversial comedian.

The lawsuit charged that Mr. Cosby defamed her in comments he, his wife, and his legal team made in 2014. That year, Ms. Hill went public in an interview with a local news station with accusations that he had sexually assaulted her.

Cosby responded to those allegations in an interview with Florida Today, saying that “people should fact-check.” He has denied the allegations brought against him by the more than 50 other women that have also accused him of rape and sexual assault.

Cosby’s attorney made a similar pronouncement, saying, "The new, never-before-heard claims from women who have come forward in the past two weeks with unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40, or even 50 years ago have escalated far past the point of absurdity."

US District Judge Arthur Schwab said that Cosby’s remarks, as well as those made by his wife and legal team, were constitutionally protected opinions and could not be proven to be defamatory.

"Even considering these three statements together as a combined, single statement, this newly 'conjoined' statement does not lead to an inference that plaintiff is a 'liar and an extortionist,' " he wrote in his ruling opinion.

Because the defamation lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, Hill cannot amend and re-file it, but her attorney said that he plans to appeal, the Associated Press reports.

"The basis of his opinion is these are constitutionally protected, 'pure' opinions," her attorney said. "But, looked at as a whole, they contain all sorts of innuendo and undisclosed facts."

Some of the allegations against Cosby accusing him of sexual assault date back to the 1960s, making them too old to be criminally prosecuted. The only criminal charge against Cosby stems from an alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand, in 2004.

Cosby has been dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct since approximately 2000. Those accusations have picked up pace since a video of the comedian Hannibal Buress calling Cosby a rapist went viral in 2014. After one of Cosby’s alleged victims wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post detailing her experience, more women came forward to charge Cosby with sexual assault. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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