Court tosses libel verdict against gossip website

CINCINNATI — A former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader should not have been allowed to sue an Arizona-based gossip website over online posts about her sexual history, an appeals court ruled Monday in a case watched closely by Internet giants including Google and Facebook.

The ruling from the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a Kentucky federal judge’s decision that allowed the cheerleader’s lawsuit to proceed and further strengthens broad immunities enjoyed by Internet providers for content posted by third parties.

Former Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones sued thedirty.com and its owner, Nik Richie, over graphic posts about her and her ex-husband’s sexual history. Jones said the posts were untrue and caused her severe mental anguish and embarrassment.

In July, federal Judge William Bertelsman rejected arguments from Richie’s attorneys that the publisher should be immune from lawsuit. .

In Monday’s ruling, a three-judge appeals panel said Bertelsman should have granted Richie immunity, citing the federal Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that gives websites immunity from liability for content posted by users.

The posts about Jones were unrelated to a criminal case against her in which she was accused of having sex with a 17-year-old former student. Jones later pleaded guilty as part of a deal that allowed her to avoid jail time but prohibited her from teaching.

Jones, 29, and the student, now 19, say they’re in love and engaged to be married.

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