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'Fake Rape' Suit Revived Against Rolling Stone

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 22, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After a college party, Jackie went up to her date's bedroom where his Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers were waiting in the dark.

Someone grabbed her by the shoulders; another punched her in the face. One said: "Grab its motherf***** leg."

"As soon as they said it, I knew they were going to rape me," she told Rolling Stone, which grabbed 2.7 million views for its online edition.

The problem was, it was fake.

Group Defamation

After discovering the truth, Rolling Stone retracted the article. That was almost three years ago.

But the lurid tale still exists on the internet and in the annals of court cases that followed. Some have settled; the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled on another.

In Elias v. Rolling Stone, LLC, three frat brothers sued the magazine for defamation, but a trial judge threw the case out because the plaintiffs were not sufficiently identified in the notorious article. However, the Second Circuit said, they may proceed on a group defamation theory.

"The District Court erred by evaluating the Article's various allegations against Phi Kappa Psi in isolation, rather than considering them in the context of the Article as a whole," Judge Katherine Forrest wrote.

"Taking the allegations in the Article together, a reader could plausibly conclude that many or all fraternity members participated in alleged gang rape as an initiation ritual and all members knowingly turned a blind eye to the brutal crimes."

Individual Claims

The appeals court also said two of the plaintiffs could continue their case individually because details could have led readers to believe they were involved in the alleged gang rape.

However, the court said a third plaintiff was not sufficiently identified in the story. "Jackie" referred to "one of the boys riding his bike on the grounds," but that was not enough to identify the plaintiff.

According to reports, Rolling Stone was ordered to pay $3 million to an associate dean at the university and settled with the fraternity for $1.65 million.

The Second Circuit decision came days after the Rolling Stone announced it was for sale.

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