Calif. high court finds exception to time limit on filing libel suit
CALIFORNIA — The California Supreme Court in San Francisco ruled 5-2 in early June that because the defendants in a libel suit allegedly concealed their identity, they might not be entitled to a dismissal on the grounds that the plaintiff filed suit after the statute of limitations period.
The court reinstated a libel suit brought by Hal Bernson, a member of the Los Angeles City Council, against Browning-Ferris Industries, Inc., which sponsored an anonymous report in 1988 that criticized Bernson’s travel expenses.
In 1990 two reporters for the Los Angeles Times told Bernson that the company had prepared the report. The company’s attorney denied this. In May 1991 another Times reporter told a Bernson aide that a political consultant had prepared the report for the company.
In January 1992 Bernson sued the company and the authors of the report. The trial court and mid-level appellate court ruled that Bernson could not sue over the 1988 report because of California’s one-year statute of limitations for libel actions.
The California Supreme Court held that under some circumstances a defendant’s intentional concealment of identity will stop the clock of the statute of limitations.
The court remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether the defendants’ concealment was intentional, and whether Bernson made a reasonable effort to discover their identity during the first year after he discovered the report.
(Bernson v. Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc.; Defendants’ Counsel: William Winslow, Santa Monica)