Johnny Depp Granted Permission to Proceed with $50 Million Defamation Suit Against Amber Heard
The actor, 58, is suing his ex-wife over a 2018 Washington Post op-ed where Heard, 35, wrote about surviving domestic violence. (Heard never named Depp in the op-ed, but she did accuse the actor of domestic violence amid their 2016 split, which he denied.)
In court documents obtained by PEOPLE on Tuesday, a Virginia judge granted the actor the right to pursue his lawsuit, denying Heard's supplemental plea to dismiss the case after Depp lost his U.K. libel lawsuit against British tabloid The Sun.
In November 2020, the Pirates of the Caribbean star lost his case against the British tabloid which called him a "wife-beater." The court upheld the outlet's claims as being "substantially true."
Heard's plea to dismiss Depp's lawsuit, filed in Virginia in March 2019, came as the actress argued the U.K. judgment should hold sway on the proceedings in the U.S. since both lawsuits center on allegations of the actor as an abuser.
Reps for Heard and Depp did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
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Instead, Fairfax County Chief Judge Penney Azcarate rejected the actress's plea, saying while Heard's op-ed and The Sun's article may be similar in that they related to claims of abuse, the statements made by the tabloid and Heard's in her op-ed were "inherently different."
"[Heard] argues she was in privity with The Sun because they both had the same interest in the case. However, for privity to exist, [Heard's] interest in the case must be so identical with The Sun's interest such that The Sun's representation of its interest is also a representation of [Heard's] legal right," Azcarate wrote in her ruling. "The Sun's interests were based on whether the statements the newspaper published were false. [Heard's] interests relate to whether the statements she published were false."
Azcarate added Heard hadn't been named a party in Depp's lawsuit against The Sun because her op-ed was published after he sued the tabloid.
In her December 2018 op-ed, Heard wrote, "I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture's wrath for women who speak out."
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Three months after it was published, Depp filed a defamation lawsuit against the actress for $50 million. At the time, Depp's lawyers said in the lawsuit, "Mr. Depp never abused Ms. Heard. Her allegations against him were false when they were made in 2016. They were part of an elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity for Ms. Heard and advance her career."
In response to the lawsuit, Heard's rep told PEOPLE in a statement, "This frivolous action is just the latest of Johnny Depp's repeated efforts to silence Amber Heard. She will not be silenced. Mr. Depp's actions prove he is unable to accept the truth of his ongoing abusive behavior. But while he appears hell-bent on achieving self-destruction, we will prevail in defeating this groundless lawsuit and ending the continued vile harassment of my client by Mr. Depp and his legal team."
Following the loss of his libel case against The Sun, Depp attempted to appeal but two U.K. justices refused his application for a fresh trial on the grounds that a second hearing was unlikely to produce a different outcome.
Earlier this month, Depp was granted permission to determine if Heard had donated part of her $7 million divorce settlement to the ACLU. Heard previously pledged to donate the settlement to the ACLU and Children's Hospital Los Angeles after their divorce was finalized in 2017.
In a July 22 hearing transcript provided to PEOPLE by Heard's attorney Elaine Bredehoft said her client is still planning to donate one half of her total settlement to the ACLU and the other half to CHLA — and while "it is undetermined what those payment schedules will be," Heard has already made "the first payment toward the pledges" and then some — specifically, "more than a million" each to the ACLU and CHLA.
"We produced the documents from the ACLU on how much she has. She has always said she fully intends to continue to give the full $7 million, but she can't do it yet. She will do it when she can. But she has given a significant amount to both," Bredehoft added of Heard, in part.
In an interview with U.K.'s The Sunday Times last week, Depp claimed there was a "boycott" of him in Hollywood as he discussed his latest film, Minamata. The movie premiered in the U.K. last week but has not been given a U.S. release.
"Some films touch people and this affects those in Minamata and people who experience similar things. And for anything … for Hollywood's boycott of me?" he told the outlet. "One man, one actor in an unpleasant and messy situation, over the last number of years?"
"But, you know, I'm moving towards where I need to go to make all that . . . to bring things to light," Depp added.
Depp plays W. Eugene Smith, a photojournalist who visited the town of Minamata in Japan in the 1970s to document the effects of mercury poisoning there.
When asked if Smith's despair resonated with him, Depp told the publication, "I didn't approach playing Smith in that way . . . Although you bring your toolbox to work and use what is available. Having experienced . . . A surreal five years."
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.