Elias v. Rolling Stone LLC
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
872 F.3d 97 (2017)
George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford, and Ross Fowler (plaintiffs) were members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity (PKP) in the University of Virginia (UVA) class of 2013. Elias had a large bedroom on the second floor of the PKP house, accessible by the staircase. Fowler regularly swam in UVA’s pool and was active in the PKP rush process. Hadford rode his bike around campus after graduating. Rolling Stone magazine published an article stating that a woman attended a party with a PKP brother she met at the UVA pool and was raped in an upstairs bedroom of the PKP house by seven brothers and two onlookers in an initiation ritual. The article identified the participants as PKP brothers who graduated in 2013 but did not name them. The dean reportedly told the woman that the participants all graduated in 2013, which mystified the woman because she had just seen a participant bike-riding on campus. After the article’s release, Elias and Fowler received harassing and humiliating comments from peers, coworkers, and reporters. The story turned out to be fabricated and was retracted. Elias, Fowler, and Hadford sued Rolling Stone, Inc., Wenner Media LLC, and author Sabrina Rubin Erdely (collectively, Rolling Stone) (defendants) for defamation. The district court dismissed the claims, finding that the statements were insufficient to be of and concerning each individual plaintiff. Elias, Hadford, and Fowler appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Forrest, J.)
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