The conservative commentator Glenn Beck failed to persuade a federal judge to dismiss a defamation lawsuit by a Saudi Arabian student who Beck repeatedly accused of involvement in and being the "money man" behind the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
U.S. District Judge Patti Saris in Boston on Tuesday said Abdulrahman Alharbi's allegations "easily permit an inference" that Beck, his company The Blaze Inc, and a distributor of his radio show were negligent toward him over Beck's comments.
Alharbi, 21, had been a spectator near the marathon's finish line on April 15, 2013, suffering minor injuries when two homemade pressure-cooker bombs ripped through the crowd. He was later mentioned in news reports as federal authorities briefly investigated him, and quickly concluded he had no involvement.
The lawsuit claimed that Beck made repeated false statements about Alharbi on his radio show, including that he helped fund the bombing, even after the probe was dropped.
Alharbi, of Revere, Massachusetts, said the statements damaged his reputation and subjected him to messages calling him a murderer, child killer and terrorist.
Saris rejected defense arguments that the lawsuit be dismissed because Alharbi was a "limited purpose" or "involuntary" public figure who failed to show that Beck acted with "actual malice," meaning he lied or recklessly disregarded the truth.
"Choosing to attend a sporting event as one of thousands of spectators is not the kind of conduct that a reasonable person would expect to result in publicity," Saris wrote.
Josh Raffel, a spokesman for Beck, declined to comment. Peter Haley, a lawyer for Alharbi, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
Federal prosecutors now believe the ethnic Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev carried out the bombing, which killed three people and injured more than 260.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev later died after a gun battle with police. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to federal charges over the bombing, and faces a Jan. 5, 2015 trial, court records show.
The case is Alharbi v. Beck et al, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, No. 14-11550.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese)