A federal judge in New York has dismissed a defamation lawsuit that three former members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia filed against Rolling Stone magazine, in which they alleged that a magazine article about a gang rape at the school implied they were involved in it.
The lawsuit centered around a sensational account of an alleged gang rape at the fraternity, which a U-Va. student named Jackie said happened in an upstairs bedroom during a party at Phi Psi during the fall semester of 2012. The article, published in late 2014, was later discredited, and Rolling Stone retracted the account.
Manhattan federal judge P. Kevin Castel dismissed the case because the three former members — U-Va. Class of 2013 graduates George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler — were not explicitly or implicitly identified in the 9,000-word account by journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
The case’s dismissal comes as two other lawsuits regarding the article continue forward in the courts, including one filed by an associate dean at U-Va. and the other a more general claim from the undergraduate members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
Castel ruled that the 2013 alumni did not have a claim against Rolling Stone because the article did not sufficiently identify or describe them.
Elias alleged that because he lived on the second floor of the Phi Psi house during the time of the alleged attack in 2012 that friends and acquaintances could have believed that he took part in the sexual assault Rolling Stone described.
But Castel wrote that “the article contains no details that plausibly distinguishes Elias’s bedroom from the several others on the second floor, even to those who knew extrinsic facts about the layout of the fraternity house.”
Hadford alleged that because he often rode his bike on campus in Charlottesville he could have been identified as one of the perpetrators, who is described at one point as bicycling on campus.
“These allegations are insufficient to plausibly state a defamation claim,” Castel wrote. “The article contains no additional, identifying details concerning the individual who rode his bike around campus.”
Fowler alleged that because he was “an avid swimmer” that readers could have possibly identified him as one of the attackers because the article described one of the assailants as a lifeguard at a campus pool. But Castel wrote in his opinion that such a claim was not plausible.
Lawyers representing the former Phi Psi members did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, and a spokeswoman for Rolling Stone also did not respond to a request for comment.