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Appeals court applies 'single publication rule' to Internet

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  1. Libel and Privacy
Jan. 18, 2008  ·   The "single publication rule," which holds that the statute of limitations for libel begins when…

Jan. 18, 2008  ·   The “single publication rule,” which holds that the statute of limitations for libel begins when a defamatory statement is first published, applies to publications on the Internet, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Dallas (5th Cir.) ruled last month.

The appeals court upheld the district court’s decision to grant the defendants’ motion.

The appeal was the result of a defamation charge against Belo Corp. for an article published in both the print and Internet editions of its publication, The Dallas Morning News, concerning the questionable business procedures of Nationwide Biweekly Administration, Inc.

The article, criticizing one of Nationwide’s mortgage programs, initially appeared in The Dallas Morning News’ financial column on July 29, 2003, and was later made available on the newspaper’s Web site. Nationwide filed suit on July 28, 2004, alleging defamation.

Belo successfully brought a motion to dismiss based on Nationwide’s violation of Texas’ one-year statute of limitations for libel claims. The one-year limitation starts on the last day of publication, commonly known as the “single publication rule.” This rule serves to prevent the same recurring claims against publishers. Although Nationwide successfully filed suit on July 28, 2004, just within the allotted time period, it did not serve the defendant until over 10 months after filing the complaint

Nationwide appealed the decision, arguing that the Internet edition of The Dallas Morning News constituted “continuous publication” of the article.

Noting that “Texas courts have not yet considered whether the single publication rule should apply to Internet publications,” the court of appeals examined earlier cases to help determine how the state high court would likely come down on the matter.

“[T]he continued availability of an article on a website should not result in republication, despite the website’s ability to remove it. Perhaps more important than the similarities between print media and the Internet, strong policy considerations support application of the single publication rule to information publicly available on the Internet,” Judge Harold R. DeMoss wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. “We agree that these policy considerations favor application of the single publication rule here and we note that application of the rule in this context appears consistent with the policies cited by Texas courts in adopting and applying the single publication rule to print media: to support the statute of limitations and to prevent the filing of stale claims.”

Paul C. Watler, an attorney for Jackson Walker in Dallas and the lead counsel for the defendants, hailed the decision.

“I think it’s an important case because it’s only the second published opinion by the federal circuit of appeals applying the single-publication rule to Internet context,” he said. “This circuit had addressed the issue that no Texas state court has.”

(Nationwide Biweekly Administration, Inc., v. Belo Corp., Media counsel: Paul C. Watler, Dallas)Alanna Malone

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