NY Judge Largely Depoliticizes Dan Rather’s Lawsuit Against CBS

Allahpundit and HuffPo take differing looks at Manhattan state court trial judge Justice Ira Gammerman’s decision (the text of which is here) dismissing some parts of Dan Rather’s complaint against CBS. Note that under NY state procedure, the decision on a motion to dismiss a complaint (i.e., without hearing the evidence) is immediately appealable, and given the amount of money and ego involved it would not surprise me if one or both sides appealed.
As an economic matter, the decision is mainly a victory for Rather; Justice Gammerman allows him to seek substantial breach of contract damages for CBS “benching” him after March 2005, under a contractual provision the court reads as essentially allowing liquidated damages designed to cover that purpose, by requiring CBS to then immediately pay Rather his salary due through November 2006.
More significantly, in terms of the evidence that can be introduced (and, presumably, the remaining source of his punitive damages claims), the decision also allows Rather to argue that (1) CBS owed Rather a fiduciary duty and breached it (the decision is unclear as to whether the breach is the decision to bench Rather or a broader theory involving making him retract and apologize for the Rathergate story) and (2) Viacom, CBS’ parent, improperly and tortiously interfered with Rather’s contract with CBS by forcing its subsidiary to bench and fire him. The judge held that it was a factual issue whether Viacom acted in its own economic interests by sacking Rather, which under NY law is a defense to a tortious interference claim.
The more politically explosive parts of the suit – dealing directly with Rather’s claim that he was defrauded and effectively defamed by CBS making him apologize for the story when he really didn’t want to – were thrown out on statute of limitations grounds and for failure to show damages, so really neither side can claim any vindication on the merits.
The net result of this is that, while Rather gets to pursue the money he feels is owed to him, it may be difficult for him to get a Bush-hating Manhattan jury to rule on his claim that the story was true after all. But whether he can get the court to hear evidence on that point depends in large part on the contours of the remaining claims, and whether he ends up surviving summary judgment (CBS is vowing to get a later ruling that there’s insufficient evidence to send these claims to a jury) on any claim that goes beyond “after they benched me they didn’t give me enough to do” to “they shouldn’t have benched me because I was right.” As much money as is involved in the former, it’s only the latter that anyone will care about.