June 16, 2014 / 9:04 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. appeals court overturns ex-NFL cheerleader's defamation award

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Monday overturned a $338,000 jury award for a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader who sued an Arizona-based website that posted anonymous claims she had slept with numerous players and suffered from sexually transmitted diseases.

The www.thedirty.com website and its founder did not develop or create the content and were immune from the lawsuit brought by Sarah Jones, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

Jurors had awarded Jones $38,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages in her defamation lawsuit against Dirty World LLC and its founder, Nik Richie. The case should never have gone to trial, the judges found.

The vast majority of content posted to www.thedirty.com is directly uploaded by third-party users and appears under the single anonymous source byline: “The dirty army.”

Richie chooses items to post from the submissions, makes some deletions, but makes no material changes to the content, the appeals court said.

Jones, a cheerleader for the National Football League team in 2009, said the allegations were false, asked Richie to take down the postings and sued for defamation when her request was turned down.

Her attorney, Chris Roach, said on Monday he planned to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeals court panel on Monday broadened decisions in other appeals courts to create “an almost absolute immunity” for content providers, he said.

The appeals court noted that Jones could seek to sue the authors of the comments that were posted on the website.

Richie’s attorney, David Gingras, said the decision was in line with that of other courts and was “a lot of relief.” He also said the site and Richie did not cross the line into creation or development of illegal content.

“You can’t sue Mark Zuckerberg because you don’t like a post on Facebook, that’s just how it is,” Gingras said.

Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Peter Cooney

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