Johnny Depp's $50 million defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard will go to trial, judge rules

Amber Heard’s motion to dismiss Johnny Depp’s $50 million defamation lawsuit was denied. (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against Amber Heard will go to trial in Virginia. The Aquaman star lost her motion to dismiss Depp’s defamation action prior to trial, Yahoo Entertainment can confirm. The judge announced the decision Friday in a lengthy opinion letter to Heard and Depp’s legal teams.

Depp is suing his ex-wife for $50 million over a 2018 op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post about surviving domestic abuse. Although Heard never named Depp, the actor asserts the article clearly implies he’s a “domestic abuser” which is “categorically and demonstrably false.”

The 56-year-old actor believed four statements Heard made in the op-ed were libelous:

  1. The article’s title, “Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture's wrath. That has to change.”

  2. “Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture's wrath for women who speak out.”

  3. “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”

  4. “I write this as a woman who had to change my phone number weekly because I was getting death threats. For months, I rarely left my apartment, and when I did, I was pursued by camera drones and photographers on foot, on motorcycles and in cars. Tabloid outlets that posted pictures of me spun them in a negative light. I felt as though I was on trial in the court of public opinion — and my life and livelihood depended on myriad judgments far beyond my control.”

Related Video: Johnny Depp’s Disturbing Texts About Amber Heard Read in Court

Fairfax County Chief Judge Bruce White ruled that the first three are actionable under a theory of defamation by implication, according to the document obtained by Yahoo.

The judge wrote the title of the article “could reasonably convey the alleged defamatory meaning — that Mr. Depp abused Ms. Heard — to its readers without extending the words beyond their ordinary and common acceptation.”

As for the second statement when Heard called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse,” the judge explained it “can be read to imply that she became a representative of domestic abuse because she was abused by Mr. Depp, not just because she spoke out against the alleged abuse.” As for her stating “two years ago,” the judge said readers can draw the conclusion that her high-profile divorce unfolded two years prior in 2016.

Thirdly, the judge stated that when Heard wrote “how institutions protect men accused of abuse” that could convey to the audience “that she saw how Mr. Depp was protected by institutions after he abused her and she spoke up against it.”

As for the fourth statement, “The Court finds that the circumstances alleged regarding the statements Ms. Heard made during and after the parties' divorce would not reasonably cause the fourth statement to convey a defamatory meaning.”

Yahoo Entertainment reached out to a lawyer for Depp, but did not immediately receive a response.

Heard’s legal team is undeterred by the ruling. Her top lawyer issued a response to Yahoo Friday.

“Today’s decision leaves it to a jury to decide the meaning of Ms. Heard’s op-ed and the truth of what she said. As we have said all along, the courts have strong mechanisms in place for determining the truth,” said attorney Roberta Kaplan. “Here, we remain confident that Ms. Heard will prevail at trial when the jury is presented with evidence on the question that the Court identified — namely, whether ‘Ms. Heard was abused by Mr. Depp.’”

Depp claimed Heard’s op-ed caused financial hardship, including a spot in Disney’s planned Pirates of the Caribbean reboot. Winona Ryder and Javier Bardem have filed declarations in support of the actor.

"The idea that he is an incredibly violent person is the farthest thing from the Johnny I knew and loved. I cannot wrap my head around these accusations," said Ryder, who dated Depp for four years in the ‘90s. She added, “I do not want to call anyone a liar but from my experience of Johnny, it is impossible to believe that such horrific allegations are true. I find it extremely upsetting knowing him as I do."

Bardem wrote, “I love Johnny because he is a good human being, trapped in the lies and manipulations of toxic beings and yet smiling and loving us all in spite of it.”

Heard is entangled in another lawsuit with Depp over in London. The actor is suing News Group Newspapers, the publisher of the Sun, over a 2018 story that called him a "wife beater." Heard is set to testify, but the trial was delayed due to the coronavirus.

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