Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

District Court Follows Single Publication Rule For Web Defamation

In Atkinson v. McLaughlin, Case No. 1:03-cv-091, the district court judge has ruled that 1) the statute of limitation begins to toll the day that the defamatory statement is published to the web and 2) that the single publication rule applies. Patrick Atkinson, executive director of the God's Child Project, which provides charitable assistance to the poor in Guatemala, had claimed that the McLaughlins had published defamatory statements about him on their website concerning his work at the Covenant House in New York and had "compiled a list of allegations against [him] and, with the assistance of others, filed them with various Guatemalan authorities". The McLaughlins had also sent emails about Atkinson to various persons and had "prepared and caused to be widely distributed an international press release alleging that Atkinson had been arrested on charges of sexually abusing young boys."

The judge did consider the question of updating of websites. "...[E]ven under the single publication rule, the courts have recognized that a website may be republished and create a new cause of action....if the website is substantially modified....Republication triggers the start of a new statute of limitations and occurs upon a separate aggregate publication from the original...." However, the judge ruled that "...[A]s a matter of law, that the defamation claims arising out of the McLaughlins' website are barred by the two-year statute of limitations in North Dakota."

See Atkinson v. McLaughlin, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86405; 2006 WL 3409130 (D.N.D.)

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