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Phi Kappa Psi to “pursue legal action” against Rolling Stone

Phi Kappa Psi to “pursue legal action” against Rolling Stone

Send in the lawyers

When Rolling Stone inflicted its UVA “gang rape” fantasy on the American people, it didn’t just damage its own reputation; it took down members of the targeted fraternity and university communities down with it.

As I reported on yesterday, there will be no consequences for the RS staff members who contributed to the now-redacted article. No one has resigned in disgrace, or been given 15 minutes to clear out their office. It’s business as usual at Rolling Stone—at least for now.

Spokesmen representing Phi Kappa Psi fraternity have made a statement indicating that the organization will “pursue all available legal action” against Rolling Stone.

From CNN Money:

“After 130 days of living under a cloud of suspicion as a result of reckless reporting by Rolling Stone magazine, today the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi announced plans to pursue all available legal action against the magazine,” the fraternity said in a statement.

In a statement on Monday, Stephen Scipione, the president of the Phi Kappa Psi chapter, said “this type of reporting serves as a sad example of a serious decline of journalistic standards.”

“A lot of people threaten defamation and don’t follow through with a lawsuit,” HLN legal analyst Joey Jackson said on CNN on Monday afternoon. “In this case, it’s hard to argue that there were not tangible, recognizable reputational injuries. This story went viral. Everyone was talking about it.”

That’s all we know at this point; we don’t have a timeline, or a specific list of action items, or named plaintiffs and defendants. All we know is that a lawsuit is looming on the horizon.

Anyone else salivating? I know I am.

That being said, this course of action will be more complicated than it appears to be. According to law professor Eugene Volokh, the Columbia report could provide evidence of negligence on the part of RS and its staff members, but that’s where the easy part ends.

UVA isn’t going to be the one to sue, because government agencies can’t sue for libel. That leaves the fraternity and its members, and individual university employees. We could see lawsuits brought by those individually alleged in the RS article to be rapists, the UVA Phi Psis as a group, Phi Kappa Psi fraternity as an organization, or the university officials and/or students named in the article.

I’m already tired. And excited.

I’m not a chum-in-the-water kind of attorney. I don’t normally get excited over the prospect of a juicy lawsuit—but the day has come. As I said above, this story didn’t just harm the image of Rolling Stone and its employees. It damaged the reputations and seriously disrupted the lives of innocent people, because its author was in pursuit of a blistering take on a particular narrative about campus sexual assault.

This lawsuit, unlike the hell its subjects inflicted, is well-earned, and I can’t wait to see what form it takes.


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They need to sue Teresa Sullivan.

    Estragon in reply to MTED. | April 7, 2015 at 1:26 am

    Can’t. All the Greek orgs have to sign operating agreements to be certified on campuses these days – and they always include broad waivers and indemnity for the schools.

      Oh, I would be willing to bet that there’s one or more ways for those waivers or indemnity agreements to be broken:

      * Make a claim that it’s a ‘contract of adhesion’ that should be disregarded on public-policy grounds, because it did not allow for any meaningful bargaining between the parties, but merely a “take it or leave it” proposition with one party holding all of the power.

      * Make a claim that the actions of the University were a bad faith failure to investigate the baseless nature claim, which should subject them to liability in the face of any waiver agreement.

      * Make a claim that the actions of the University were grossly negligent in their handling of the claim and the statements made to the press.

      * Make a claim that the actions of the University were knowingly libelous once certain information about Jackie came to light, and that the length of time to present a retraction of those statements has hurt both the Fraternity and it’s individual members.

      It CAN be done. They just need to get a pit-bull of an attorney who is willing to chew on the University like a bone.

Your last sentence says it all!

Even as a non-lawyer, I can see some problems for PKP here.
1) Proving libel will be almost impossible, because RS can plead incompetance instead of malice, and that’s pretty obvious.
2) Discovery will be a bear. Every party they’ve thrown just became open season in order to prove a pattern of loose morals.
3) RS did not take action against PKP, the university did. And even if they could sue UVA, that’s not a good idea for practical purposes. Those students will be gone in four, but the frat organization will have to live with UVA forever. (and they certainly would remember)

How about suing “Jackie”, the source of the malice?

    No money.
    No favorable visuals.
    No way.

    Estragon in reply to MarkS. | April 7, 2015 at 1:33 am

    For WHAT, exactly?

    Remember she never said it was that frat, she only told Erdely a friend had suggested that was where it happened when they walked by the house the following school year.

    The only named individual was a fictional character she made up. She referred to two alleged attackers’ nicknames, but those were probably inventions, too.

    She never filed a false report with police or the U.

    Even if not for all that, what could you win from a troubled, unemployed 20 year old dropout?

      LCVRWC in reply to Estragon. | April 7, 2015 at 11:21 am

      Estragon, you are probably right, but I pray the fraternity takes this all the way, refusing to settle. Or, if they settle, settle for 10X whatever their damages request is, plus an equal amount if RS wants a “No disclusure” clause. Make RS hurt.

        LCVRWC in reply to LCVRWC. | April 7, 2015 at 11:23 am

        Whooops! I replied to the wrong Estragon post. I’m sure you’ll figure out which post I meant to reply to.

      Depending on her age, she may still very well be covered under her parents insurance liability policy, if any. If the parents have a general insurance liability or umbrella policy, the Fraternity may be able to get a judgment against Jackie for defamation, and then go after the insurer to fund it as a 3rd party defendant.

      Alternatively, the fraternity MAY (maybe) be able to go after the assets of Jackie’s parents (again, if any). It depends on where they live and how a “dependent” is defined in whatever state that is in.

      Again, alternatively, if it looks like Jackie’s parents are going to leave her any sort of major inheritance in the future, you sue now, get the judgment now, and then when the money transfers hands, execute upon it. Make it a debt judgment, and you can hold onto it for approximately 20 years before the statute of limitations would prevent collection.

Not A Member of Any Organized Political | April 6, 2015 at 8:59 pm

“Phi Kappa Psi to “pursue legal action” against Rolling Stone” and that’s a VERY GOOD THING!

I expect their case will be quickly settled with no admission of wrongdoing by RS, but for enough for the frat to remodel the house.

If they were smart that is what they would do but they aren’t and won’t. And they are going to have to apologize as that is as important as the settlement in an international libel. One of the things Jackie is going to have to do is co-operate in establishing that she is a psychiatric patient to avoid culpability. Otherwise the fact that she catfished and outsmarted a Rolling Stones star reporter and editorial staff will be the centerpiece of a trial. Both of her “friends” who spilled the beans to the WaPo were on Kelly last night and had difficulty not bursting out laughing. Jackie is a well known and obvious fabricator of malarkey that even then freshmen boys figured out and avoided.

rorschach256 | April 7, 2015 at 12:45 pm

I understand that there have been whispered threats that PKP is opening itself up to being eviscerated in the press because the Frat has had other run-ins with the law in the past. While the lawsuit is specifically about RS’s blatant disregard to facts or truth or professional ethics, the court of public opinion is another matter entirely. They may win, but ultimately lose in the end.

    Maybe. But the other side of that is that any one of those press-individuals who writes may be opening themselves or their organizations up to a libel claim by PKP if the press acts negligently in researching those claims. The question will be whether or not PKP and the individuals involved have become “public figures” in the mold of “NYT v Sullivan” and “Gerts v. Robert Welch, Inc.” to add the actual malice standard, or if mere negligence will suffice.