RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – The 4th Circuit reversed a federal judge’s decision to dismiss 28 defendants who sold an online sex tape that they improperly touted as featuring a Miss West Virginia beauty queen.
Allison Williams, who won coveted pageant title in 2003, sued 59 defendants for falsely using her name, pageant photo and title in advertising and marketing for the video.
Williams reportedly won a $7.2 million verdict against nine of those defendants when they were found guilty of defamation of character and wrongful profit from defamation in a Clarksburg, W. Va., federal court.
The couple in the video, which was available for paid download by the defendants, was not identified, and Williams maintains that she was not the female star.
Despite being served, 28 of the defendants failed to respond to the complaint. The court dismissed these default defendants on grounds that it did not have personal jurisdiction over them since they were only known to the court through Williams’ complaint.
In 2009, the District Court denied Williams’ motion to reconsider.
The three-judge appellate panel overturned this decision in an unpublished, unsigned opinion on Feb. 3. The 5-page ruling states that the defendants had become default appellees by failing to appear before the court and that there was no evidence to support the lower court’s jurisdiction finding.
The federal appeals court also declined to address the issue of whether a District Court must prove it has personal jurisdiction when entering a default judgment.