The legal system giveth $338,000, and the legal system taketh $338,000 away.
Former Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones, a former teacher who pleaded guilty to having sex with one of her students, has lost the appeal of a six-figure judgment against a gossip website. According to the Associated Press, the federal U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has overturned a verdict entered against TheDirty.com over anonymous user comments that defamed Jones.
A jury had found that the posts were substantially false, and that the site’s owner had acted with malice or reckless disregard in allowing them to be published. Jones won a verdict of $338,000 in a trial completed last July.
Internet giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google filed a brief supporting the website’s position, arguing that liability for the content of comments posted by anonymous users violates the federal Communications Decency Act. The federal appeals court has agreed, and Jones will now get the verdict reinstated only if she first convinces the United States Supreme Court to take the case.
The U.S. Supreme Court accepts only a very small percentage of the cases submitted to it.
The appeals court ruling means that the litigation never should have proceeded to trial. While the website won’t have to pay Jones $338,000 (unless the highly unlikely happens before the Supreme Court), it shouldn’t have had to defend itself through a pair of trials — one ending in a mistrial and the other resulting in the verdict.