Does the statute of limitations for an Internet defamation claim begin to run again every time the defamatory statement is republished? This question was addressed in a recent case entitled, Solomon v Gannett Co., Inc., Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (Docket No. A-6160-11T4).
In that case, the plaintiff was the subject of a news article posted on the Internet which reported that a police raid of his home had resulted in the seizure of two loaded .357 caliber handguns and a “slew of drugs and gun charges”. The plaintiff stated that this was defamatory because the guns that were seized were unloaded and the raid did not result in a “slew” of charges.
Unfortunately the plaintiff filed a lawsuit one year after the initial publication on the website. Since the statute of limitations in New Jersey for defamation is one year, the defendant filed the motion to dismiss the case as time-barred.
The plaintiff took the position that it was not time-barred because it had been republished each time the defendant changed ads on the site “to reach a new or broader audience.”
The Court disagreed and determined that the case was time-barred under the principle enunciated in Churchill v. State, 378 N.J. Super. 471, 478 (App. Div. 2005). That principle is known as the first publication rule. It states that “a plaintiff alleging defamation has a single cause of action, which arises at the first publication of an alleged libel, regardless of the number of copies of the publication distributed or sold.”