A federal judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed against Rolling Stone by three members of Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity implicated in the debunked and retracted gang rape story published by the magazine in November 2014. The judge ruled that while the story might have portrayed the fraternity in a negative light, it didn’t specifically defame the plaintiffs.
George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler filed suit against the magazine and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely in July of last year, saying she had defamed them by implying that they’d taken part in the gang rape of “Jackie,” because they’d lived in the house at the right time and had since graduated, as Rubin Erdely claimed Jackie’s attackers had.
Rolling Stone answered by saying that “no reasonable reader” would assume the three participated in the rape. The Hollywood Reporter reports that the suit has been dismissed after U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel sided with Rolling Stone, writing, “While the statements may portray Phi Kappa Psi in a negative light, they do not expressly or impliedly state that the fraternity required all initiates to participate in a rape, or impute any knowledge of such a requirement to the plaintiffs.”
Castel’s ruling also stipulates that the rape didn’t happen: “[T]he parties do not dispute that the rape depicted in the article did not occur, and was the fictitious creation of ‘Jackie.’”
UVA Dean Nicole Eramo is also suing the magazine and Rubin Erdely for defamation; a judge ruled in April that Jackie will have to be deposed in the lawsuit, although her testimony will be sealed by the court.
Erdely hasn’t published anything, at least under her own name, since the UVA story fell apart; she hasn’t tweeted since November 30, 2014.
The Phi Kappa Psi house at UVA. Photo via AP