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Salyer v. Southern Poverty Law Center, 2009 WL 1036907 (W.D. Ky. Apr. 24, 2009) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
The Southern Poverty Law Center publishes an internet and print version of its “Intelligence Report.” Plaintiff Salyer claims that he discovered defamatory statements about him made in the July 2006 website version and the August 2006 print version of this publication. The alleged statements indicated that Salyer had been disbarred from practicing law in military courts and that he had received a dishonorable discharge. As statements concerning his professional reputations Salyer alleged defamation per se.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
Actions for defamation must be brought within one year of the cause of action accruing and the action accrues when the material is published. While the court acknowledged arguments to apply the discovery rule — where the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff learns of the alleged misconduct — no Kentucky precedent was found to apply this rule to defamation cases.
The court also noted that a cause of action for defamation is governed by the single publication rule in that a statement is considered published, and the statute of limitations begins to run, as soon as the “communication enters the stream of commerce”; multiple simultaneous publications are treated as one communication giving rise to one cause of action. Noting that easy access to the internet can make the single publication rule seem harsh at times because of the sheer volume of recipients of online statements, the court also suggested that this ease of access makes it possible for a potential plaintiff to respond in kind concerning their version of the truth.
While the plaintiff in this case was left without a remedy at law, not all plaintiffs where the statute of limitations has run are left without a claim. The republication rule operates as an exception to the single publication rule where a defendant republishes the communication in a new edition or volume. In the case of a website if the content is “substantially modified” so long as the original statement “is not substantially changed after its initial appearance,” a plaintiff may bring a claim after the one year time limit has run.