Tort Law

2nd Circuit reinstates fraternity members' defamation suit against Rolling Stone

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A federal appeals court has ruled that two of three University of Virginia fraternity members who sued Rolling Stone magazine over a retracted article about a gang rape can pursue their individual defamation claims even though they weren’t named in the piece.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Phi Kappa Psi members George Elias IV and Ross Fowler could pursue individual claims that details in the article could have led readers to believe they were involved in the alleged gang rape. The New York Times and the New York Law Journal (sub. req.) are among the publications with stories. How Appealing links to the decision.

The court refused to allow an individual claim by a third fraternity member, Stephen Hadford. But the court said all three plaintiffs could sue under a theory of small group defamation because a reader could conclude each fraternity member was implicated directly or indirectly in the alleged rape.

The debunked November 2014 article had claimed the rape occurred in a room “up a staircase” at the fraternity; Elias had the first room at the top of the stairs.

Fowler, who was rush chairman at the fraternity, said the article appeared to refer to him because of its inference that rape was part of the initiation process. He also said the article said one of the attackers was a lifeguard at the university pool, and he often swam there.

Hadford had said the article appeared to refer to him because it said the rape victim saw her attacker on a bicycle, and he often rode his bike around campus.

Two defamation suits against Rolling Stone have concluded, according to the Times. One suit by the fraternity settled for $1.65 million. In the other suit, jurors awarded $3 million to former administrator Nicole Eramo, who said the article portrayed her as unresponsive to rape claims.

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