A United States District Court has denied Rolling Stone‘s petition to dismiss a defamation lawsuit stemming from story, “A Rape on Campus,” penned by Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
Judge Glen E. Conrad of the US District Court of the Western District of Virginia, ruled against Rolling Stone and Erdely’s Motion for Summary Judgment, noting that there is certainly a question of fact as to whether the magazine — and the author — knew or should have known that “Jackie,” who claimed to have been gang-raped by a UVA fraternity, was lying about her sexual assault.
UVA Associate Dean Nicole Erasmo brought the lawsuit, claiming that she, among others, had been unfairly maligned when Erdely reported that Erasmo failed to follow up on Jackie’s claims and turned a blind eye to what Erdely considered an epidemic of sexual assault on UVA’s campus.
The opinion, which is 26 pages long, examines Rolling Stone‘s and Erdely’s claims in detail, acknowledging that Erdely relied extensively on Jackie’s account of how UVA handled her sexual assault claim, and that Eramo suffered as a result.
While Rolling Stone did publish a retraction, blaming Jackie for “misleading” Erdely into maligning Eramo, Judge Conrad noted that there was enough evidence that a court could, in the light most favorable to Eramo, find that Erdely should have known Jackie’s story was inconsistent, and possibly incredible.
Since these questions of fact do exist, Judge Conrad said that he could not simply dismiss Eramo’s claims of defamation, actual malice, and republication out of hand.
He did, however, dismiss one of Eramo’s claims against Rolling Stone and Erdely, finding that Eramo, at least, was a “limited purpose public figure” (rather than a private citizen) at the time Rolling Stone published their article.
The court found that she was a public figure largely because she was vocal in her position, assessing students’ claims of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Subsequently, she had some access to media, allowing her to potentially mitigate damages she might have suffered at Rolling Stone‘s and Erdely’s hands.
The court will now set a date for trial, and it’s likely Erdely (and others) may have to testify.
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