Former University Dean Nicole Eramo recently filed a motion requesting partial summary judgment in her defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone, author Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Wenner Media. In response, the defendants have also filed a request for summary judgment.
Eramo’s lawsuit — filed more than a year ago — claims the now-retracted Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” unfairly depicted Eramo as a villain in her role as a University administrator handling sexual assault reports.
If the defendants’ motion for summary judgments is granted, the civil case will close quicker than it would have with the current trial date set for October.
A motion for partial summary judgment, on the other hand, only disposes some of the issues prior to the trial date.
Eramo is requesting judgment regarding five discrete, legal points in order to narrow the disputed issues of the lawsuit.
The motion for partial summary claims that Eramo was not a public figure or public official at the time of the release of the Rolling Stone article — and her administrative position at the University did not equip her with considerable influence regarding governance and policy. If considered a public official, Eramo would have to abide by a higher standard of proof in the lawsuit.
Eramo’s motion also claims statements in the article are clearly “of and concerning” her, per se defamatory, that the online and print articles published by Rolling Stone constitute separate causes of action for defamation and that the Dec. 5 statements about Eramo were published with "actual malice."
According to Eramo’s motion, statements in the article “took direct aim at Ms. Eramo’s fitness for that employment” and accused her of knowingly suppressing Jackie’s sexual assault, subjegating Jackie’s interests to those of the University’s reputation and “even subjecting Jackie to ‘abuse’.”
The motion also claims that "there is no material dispute" that Rolling Stone "had no factual basis upon which to publish its defamatory statements" besides the testimony of Jackie — whose credibility was in question.
According to the document, Rolling Stone was "nearly certain Jackie was not being truthful."
In response, the defendants’ memorandum in support of their motion for summary judgment states that Eramo was a figure of authority in handling sexual misconduct at the University.
The motion states Eramo was referred to as an “expert in all things related to sexual assault” by her colleagues, and that Eramo “acted in her official capacity as a U.Va. administrator” in her interactions with Jackie after Jackie came forward with an allegation.
The defendants’ motion argues that certain out-of-context phrases do not negate the article’s major critiques to the University administrators’ ineffective handling of sexual assault allegations.
“U.Va. should have alerted the university about a campus safety issue and should have sooner commenced an independent investigation into the multiple allegations of gang rape,” reads the defendants’ motion. “[Secondly] that strict allegiance to ‘victim choice’ has the net effect of causing victims to not pursue actions.”
The author of the Rolling Stone article — Sabrina Rubin Erdely — also recently submitted a declaration to the court in support of defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
Erdely claims that statements in the article do not aim specifically at Eramo. Erdely claims she was criticizing the University administration and at the same time made clear that Eramo “did take actions and offered to ‘assist’ Jackie if she elected to pursue proceedings.”
The defendants claim the article made accurate statements regarding Eramo and the University’s handling of sexual assault cases.
“It is undisputed that between 1998 and 2014, 183 students were expelled for Honor Code violations and none for sexual assault. Nor is it disputed that these statistics are not readily available to students and parents,” reads the motion.
Relying solely on Jackie does not create actual malice, the defendants added.
In Erdely’s declaration, she said she had entire faith in Jackie.
“After feeling so sure about the article, and believing so strongly that it would help spur change on college campuses, losing faith in the credibility of one of my major sources post-publication took me entirely by surprise,” Erdely said.
Three alumni of the University and previous members of Phi Kappa Psi — the fraternity where sexual assaults occur according to Jackie’s account — filed a defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone in Nov. 2015. The lawsuit was dismissed last week.
As of now, the judge has not responded to either the defendants' motion or the plaintiff’s motion for prior judgment.