Defamation Lawsuits: Jurisdiction and Limitations

Technicalities play a significant role in defamation lawsuits. Simple provisional mistakes have thwarted, and will continue to impede, plaintiffs suing for slander or libel. Just last week, two courts  – one in Ohio and the other in Massachusetts – dismissed defamation suits over practical issues involving jurisdiction and limitation statutes.

Ohio Man Filing Defamation Lawsuit Pro Se Ejected From Federal Court

Jurisdiction is the first issue addressed in a lawsuit. If you get the jurisdiction wrong, you could be out of luck even before making your argument. Simply put: if you don’t file your claim in the correct court, it’ll be thrown out.

Defamation plaintiff Dennis Givens learned this lesson the hard way. Givens, who is representing himself, filed a libel lawsuit in federal court against WTOV-TV and Ogden Newspapers. In order to file in federal court, the case must involve either (a) a high dollar amount or (b) jurisdictional diversity, which means the parties hail from different states.

In an attempt to prove jurisdictional diversity, Givens submitted a page from a West Virginia phone book that included a phone number and address for WTOV-TV in West Virginia. However, Judge Irene Keeley ruled that the “nerve center” for  WTOV-TV was Ohio, rendering the jurisdictional diversity argument moot.

Givens can, however, refile in Ohio.

Barbara Walters Escapes Defamation Lawsuit In New England

Venerated reporter-turned-cackle-curator, Barbara Walters, has managed to escape a libel lawsuit related to her 2008 memoir, Audition.

The story begins in 1983 when Nancy Shay and Jackie Guber– Walters’ daughter – were caught in bed together at boarding school, allegedly. Eventually, the school expelled Shay over the incident, but Guber escaped the dean’s academic guillotine. Shay says the incident caused her to sink into a deep depression from which she never fully recovered. She also alleges that Barbara called her and instructed her to keep her mouth shut about the incident. Shay also had reason to believe that Walters played a hand in having her expelled.

Decades passed; the issue was a distant memory. Then, Barbara Walters decided to include a story about “Nancy” in her autobiographical opus, Audition. In the book, Walters asserts that her daughter’s friend “Nancy was kicked out midterm for bad behavior” and was “found in a nearby town, high on God-knows-what.”

After reading the book, Shay decided to resurrect the issue in a court of law. She filed a lawsuit against Barbara for both tortious interference (with the school) and defamation. Unfortunately for Shay, though, the statute of limitations had run out on both charges. In addition, the judge ruled that the passages in Walters’ book were not malicious or negligent and therefore not defamatory. Moreover, the judge reasoned that most people would not link Nancy Shay with the “Nancy” described in the book.

When the incident occurred, a faculty member at the boarding school, who knew about the matter, approached Shay and explained to the young student that the school violated her (Shay’s)civil rights. That same law degree-sporting teacher offered to represent Shay if she wished to sue.  Not wanting to bring any more attention to the issue, Shay declined the offer.

But now it’s too late for Nancy Shay. As such, her story serves as a good reminder to check the defamation statute of limitations in your jurisdiction before beginning a slander or libel lawsuit.

Are you in need of a defamation attorney to assist with a legal matter? Contact Kelly / Warner to begin the conversation.

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