The defamation lawsuit brought against Rolling Stone by three University of Virginia Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers was thrown out by Judge P. Kevin Castel yesterday. According to the Daily Mail, the US District Judge Castel dismissed the case, claiming that the lawsuit “cited comments that were offered as speculation and hypothesis rather than fact.”
The lawyer for George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler, the three men who brought the lawsuit against Rolling Stone, has not confirmed or denied that he will appeal the ruling.
Last year, three UVA Phi Kappa Psi brothers filed a defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone. The basis of the lawsuit was that Rolling Stone falsely accused the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity as being complicit in the gang rape of an anonymous woman known only as “Jackie.” Days after its publication, Rolling Stone retracted the story and apologized for its mistake.
But an apology wasn’t enough for Phi Kappa Psi. The fraternity as a whole had been unfairly punished and treated by the school’s administration, even after the publication’s public retraction.
But specifically, Elias IV, Hadford, and Fowler (the three men who weren’t mentioned by name, but instead described with what the lawsuit called “sufficient identifying facts) filed a defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone. They claimed that since the article’s publication, they had suffered “vicious and hurtful attacks.” Their names had been posted on websites and message boards. Similarly they began getting harassing phone calls, text messages and threats to their safety.
You can read the Elias, Hadford and Fowler v. Rolling Stone, Erdely and Wenner Media lawsuit in its entirety here.
Why Was It Thrown Out?
One of the things the Elias, Hadford and Fowler v. Rolling Stone, Erdely and Wenner Media lawsuit case claims is that the Rolling Stone article made it seem like the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity engaged in “ritualized sexual assault as part of its initiation process.” Seemingly, US District Judge Kevin Castel took issue with this.
From the Daily Mail:
Castel said claims that the article made it seem that rape was an initiation ritual had to be dismissed because interpreting comments in the article to mean ‘all aspiring members were required to commit an act of rape stretches the language beyond its plausible meaning and surrounding context.’
‘Viewed in the overall context of the article, the quotes cannot reasonably be construed to state or imply that the fraternity enforced a rape requirement as part of an initiation ritual or a pre-condition for membership,’ he said.
I’m not a lawyer or a judge, but if this case was dismissed because of one single accusation, then something went seriously wrong in the pre-trial strategy meetings. To me, this lawsuit seemed like a total layup. Rolling Stone screwed up, they were about to pay the piper, and then one single accusation (which honestly came from left field) fouled the whole thing up.