LBAC OBTAINS UNANIMOUS DECISION BY CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT IN DEFAMATION CASE

On December 22, 2003, in a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court held that the accrual of a cause of action for defamation was not delayed or otherwise tolled by the so-called discovery rule, where the alleged defamatory statements were republished in a mass media forum.  Reversing the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal, the justices refused to give the plaintiff the benefit of the discovery rule, which tolls the statute of limitations in cases in which plaintiffs do not immediately learn that they have been wronged.  Plaintiff was a witness in the O.J. Simpson murder case who sued her former boyfriend and a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney for making alleged false statements that she was a “felony probationer,” and also brought libel and slander claims against the author and publisher of a book that repeated those statements.  Her lawsuit, filed in October 1997, however, was not filed until one year and one day after the book containing the alleged defamatory statements was first made available for sale in California.  The trial court dismissed the suit pursuant to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff missed the one-year deadline, notwithstanding plaintiff’s declaration that she had not read the book and discovered the alleged defamatory statements until December 1996.  The 2nd District, however, reinstated the suit.  Chief Justice Ronald M. George, writing for the Supreme Court, reversed the appellate court decision, concluding that the one-year deadline for filing a suit began to run on “the date the book was first generally distributed to the public, regardless of the date on which plaintiff actually learned of the existence of the book and read its contents.”