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4th Circuit rules for ex-Miss West Virginia in sex-tape suit

RICHMOND, Va. — The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against 28 defendants who simply ignored a lawsuit over a sex tape they falsely claimed featured Miss West Virginia 2003.

Allison Williams won a $7.2 million verdict in 2009 against nine Internet companies and individuals who promoted the video. However, the federal judge who presided over the trial in Clarksburg, W.Va., dismissed 28 other defendants who were served but never responded to the complaint.

The lower court judge primarily relied on a 4th Circuit case from 2002, ALS Scan Inc. v. Digital Serv. Consultants Inc., in finding that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the 28 defendants’ commercial activities.

The judge refused to reconsider, and Williams appealed.

A three-judge panel of the Richmond-based appeals court ruled in her favor last week, noting that the 28 defendants also failed to enter an appearance before their court.

Thursday’s unpublished opinion ordered the lower court to enter a default judgment against all 28 defendants. The opinion is unsigned, but Judges Allyson K. Duncan, Andre M. Davis and Barbara M. Keenan sat on the panel.

“[T]he Default Defendants are commercial enterprises and persons involved in the distribution of adult Internet content,” the panel said in a final footnote. “These relatively sophisticated litigants pursued a litigation strategy that carried the real possibility of having a default judgment entered against them. Nonetheless, the Default Defendants failed to enter an appearance before the district court or this court at their own peril.”

The case is Williams v. Advertising Sex LLC et al., US4th No. 09-1412.