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.”
Recently, an appellate court in Texas refused to deem a lawyer representing a native American tribe a “public figure” for purposes of a libel lawsuit. A newspaper article covering an increasingly public controversy within the Kickapoo Indian Tribe stated that the tribe’s lawyer, Gloria Hernandez, was “skimming 10% of casino profits off the top.” In fact, what she had said was that “she was hired to be legal counsel for the tribe in October 2002, and was on retainer at the time of the hearing. In response to a question about how much of her legal practice is devoted to work for the tribe, Hernandez testified, ‘I make roughly about ten percent of my income from the tribe.’” ZYZY Corp. v. Hernandez, No. 04-10-00311-CV, 2011 WL 228101 at *1 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 2011)
Hernandez sued the newspaper for libel. The newspaper argued that Hernandez had injected herself into the public controversy in an attempt to influence its outcome. As a result, the newspaper argued, Hernandez was a “limited-purpose public figure” and could only prove libel by showing the newspaper acted with actual malice. The trial court disagreed with the newspaper and denied its motion for summary judgment.
The appellate court agreed with the trial court and upheld its decision. The appellate court held that Hernandez’s actions, which included accompanying the tribe to meet with elected officials to discuss the controversy, did not render her a public figure. Instead, the evidence showed that Hernandez provided legal advice and representation to the tribe. There was no evidence she became involved in the controversy beyond her role as legal advocate. There was also no evidence that she thrust herself into the public eye by engaging the media, had any special access to the media or attempted to use the media to influence the outcome of the controversy in any way. As a result, Hernandez was not a “limited-purpose public figure” under the law and did not have to show that the newspaper acted with actual malice to prove libel. Download ZYZY Corp. v. Hernandez, No. 04-10-00311-CV, 2011 WL 228101 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 2011)
© 2011 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC