SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — ABC's news anchor Diane Sawyer, two of the network's correspondents and other defendants in a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against the company related to its coverage of a meat product could be deposed following a ruling by the South Dakota Supreme Court.
The state's high court on Thursday denied a petition by the network and other defendants to review the case and largely dismiss it. The court also lifted a stay issued in April that had prevented the lawsuit's discovery process, including depositions, to begin.
The court did not express an opinion as to the merits of the appeal.
Beef Products Inc. sued the television network in 2012 seeking $1.2 billion in damages for the coverage of the meat product called lean, finely textured beef, which critics dubbed "pink slime." Dakota Dunes-based BPI said ABC's coverage led to the closure of three plants and roughly 700 layoffs by misleading consumers into believing the product is unsafe.
Attorneys for ABC in court have said the network in each of its broadcasts stated the U.S. Department of Agriculture deemed the product safe to eat. They said BPI might not like the phrase pink slime, but like all ground beef, it's pink and has a slimy texture.
The network didn't immediately respond to requests seeking comment Thursday.
BPI attorney Erik Connolly said the company is pleased with the ruling.
"We look forward to starting discovery," he said.
A South Dakota judge in March refused to throw out the lawsuit. Union County Judge Cheryle Gering dismissed some claims but allowed most to go forward. Gering ruled that ABC isn't protected against liability by saying in its news reports that the product is beef, is safe and is nutritious.
ABC filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking to have some of the claims that Gering allowed to move forward to be dismissed.
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