Former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has dropped a lawsuit alleging the evangelical Christian institution he led for 13 years defamed him after he resigned in scandal this summer.
Lawyers for Falwell notified Lynchburg Circuit Court on Wednesday their client will not pursue his claim the school damaged his reputation by repeating what he labeled as lies about his participation in an extramarital affair involving his wife and a former business partner.
Judge James Watson granted the motion, terminating the suit without prejudice. Watson’s ruling leaves open the possibility of Falwell filing a similar suit at a later date. Under Virginia law, a plaintiff is allowed one nonsuit.
“I’ve decided to take a time out from my litigation against Liberty University, but I will continue to keep all options on the table for an appropriate resolution to the matter,” Falwell said in a brief statement Thursday.
A Liberty spokesperson said in a statement that Falwell’s decision to drop the suit “was not prompted by any payments, promises, or other consideration” from the university.
“The University’s administration and Board of Trustees are pleased that Falwell has dropped his lawsuit and look forward to pressing onward with the work of Liberty’s President and Chancellor Search Committee to find the new leadership to succeed Falwell,” spokesperson Scott Lamb wrote.
Falwell stepped down as president and chancellor of Liberty in August following a string of personal scandals, including a stunning allegation he and his wife, Becki Falwell, had a yearslong affair with Giancarlo Granda, a now-estranged business partner.
In the 29-page complaint filed in late October, Falwell claimed Liberty’s board pressured him into resigning before properly investigating Granda’s accusation.
“By forcing Mr. Falwell’s resignation from Liberty immediately following Granda’s false and defamatory statements, Liberty sent the unmistakable message to the public that Granda’s false statements were, in fact, true,” the suit alleged.
Granda claimed Falwell participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur — an allegation Falwell repeatedly has denied. Falwell has accused Granda of attempting to extort him, which Granda has denied.
The lawsuit had sought unspecified damages and a court order barring Liberty from repeating defamatory remarks about Falwell.
The suit claimed Liberty violated its employment agreement with Falwell because the contract included a non-disparagement clause. Falwell’s attorneys have claimed the provision bars university officials from making “defamatory or slanderous remarks” about Falwell and publicly discussing the reasons behind his resignation.
Neither Falwell nor the university have made the full employment agreement public. But excerpts of the agreement detailing the non-disparagement clause were unsealed last month.
The suit alleged Liberty’s actions “drastically reduced” Falwell’s ability to be publicly involved in businesses and charity organizations. It also claimed Falwell has not been invited to appear on television or to other events as a result of the allegedly defamatory statements.
“In addition, the Defamatory Statements have caused Mr. Falwell immense anguish as he now is deeply concerned that third parties will hold horribly false impressions of him,” the suit stated.