'Rolling Stone' Defamation Lawsuit Dismissal Reversed

Rolling Stone is being put through the wringer this week.

A federal appeals court has decided to reverse a decision to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against the music and entertainment publication regarding a retracted article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia. It is allowing it to go forward, just days after parent company Wenner Media announced it was putting the magazine up for sale.



Rolling Stone may have thought this particular lawsuit had ended. The magazine and Wenner Media did have to settle a suit from the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, the scene of the alleged assault in the 2014 article, for $1.65 million in June. Last year, Rolling Stone was ordered to pay $3 million in damages to an associate dean at the university.

A lower court had dismissed the third lawsuit, filed in 2015 by three former members of the fraternity: George Elias IV, Ross Fowler and Stephen Hadford.

A judge had ruled Elias, Fowler and Hadford, who were not named in the article, had not shown the story was “of and concerning” them personally, due to descriptions that were “too vague and remote” to point fingers at the three men.

But on Tuesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan reversed the decision of the district court, allowing the three former fraternity members to proceed with the lawsuit against Rolling Stone, Wenner Media and the author of the article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

The court found details in the article, such as descriptions of their rooms and hobbies, could have led readers to identify Elias and Fowler. Hadford, however, was only described as riding his bike around campus, a characteristic too broad to pinpoint the student.

Rolling Stone stated: “We are disappointed with the Second Circuit’s ruling today, but are confident that this case has no merit.”

The article, titled "A Rape on Campus," sparked a national conversation on the prevalence of campus sexual assault, as it portrayed a woman named “Jackie” as the victim of an alleged gang rape at a fraternity party. The story was retracted in April 2015 after investigations by The Washington Post, Columbia Journalism Review and police contradicted the magazine’s account.
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