Federal Judge Refuses to Dismiss Rolling Stone Magazine Lawsuit

You can’t write a false, harmful story, and then say you’re sorry, a federal judge tells Rolling Stone Magazine.

A Virginia judge has ruled today that the lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine must go forward. Attorneys for the magazine had tried to have the $25 million suit dismissed.

Rolling Stone first published “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” on November 19, 2014. Written by Sabrina Erdely, the piece claimed that several members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia had raped a woman (identified only as Jackie) along with two others during a chapter house party as part of their initiation rite. Once other journalists started investigating the piece, however, they found that there were several “significant discrepancies,” leading Rolling to retract the article as well as issue several apologies. Erdely ended up gaining notoriety in the journalism world, and even won several awards: Columbia Journalism Review’s “the Worst Journalism of 2014” and Poynter Institute’s “Error of the Year.”

Three graduates from the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity presented their lawsuit on July 29, 2015. The lawsuit claims that Rolling Stone, its publisher Wenner Media, and Erdely inflicted emotional distress on Phi Kappa Psi members. In the suit, George Elias, Stephen Hadford, and Ross Fowler state that the actual events and statements depicted in Erdely’s piece are “categorically false.” These statements have also been disproved by “publicly available information.”

What exactly did happen that night, then? Absolutely nothing at all.

In fact, Phi Kappa Psi did not have a party, date function, or gathering that night…Phi Kappa Psi did not participate in rush or have a pledge class in the fall semester, and no brother existed by the name of ‘Drew’ or ‘Haven Monahan.’

What about the woman “Jackie” claimed were raped? “The two women…were never identified and their existence was never verified.” What about the actual piece, then?

“Erdely and Rolling Stone’s allegations against the members of Phi Kappa Psi are defamatory.”

In his ruling, Charlottesville Circuit Judge Richard E. Moore agreed with the three graduates’ assessment, explaining that the statements made in the piece could be considered defamatory. Thus, the $25 million lawsuit will press on. We’ve included the actual lawsuit below. UVA associate dean Nicole Eramo has also filed a separate, $7.5 million lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine for “vilifying” her.

No image by sboneham, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)