Friday, August 6, 2010

Judge Grounds Aviation Lawyer's Libel Claim Against Blogger

Eastern Air Liner crash landing, Curles Neck FarmImage by The Library of Virginia via Flickr
In Arthur Alan Wolk, Esquire  v. Walter K. Olson et al (Case No. 09-4001), U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Mary A. McLaughlin  this week held the discovery rule is inapplicable to mass media defamation cases and cannot toll the Commonwealth's statute of limitation [42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. sec. 5523(a)] in mass media defamation claims.

Judge McLaughlin granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the suit filed May 12, 2009, by Wolk, a nationally known aviation attorney, against the blog Overlawyered.com, which alleged defamation, false light invasion of privacy and intentional interference with prospective contractual relations, based on a post that ran on the Website in April 2007. In her 9-page decision, Judge McLaughlin said Wolk's suit cannot survive Pennsylvania's 1-year statute of limitations ("SOL").  Wolk has filed a notice of appeal of her decision.

The discovery rule stops the statute of limitations clock where a plaintiff, despite exercising due diligence, is unable to know that he has been legally injured and by what cause. Plaintiff's attorneys argued that the discovery rule should have tolled the 1-year SOL until the plaintiff discovered the existence of the allegedly defamatory blog posting, which happened in this case two years after the item initially appeared on the Website.

Judge McLaughlin, however, espoused the position taken by many courts around the nation that "as a matter of  law, the discovery rule does not apply to toll the statute of limitations for mass-media defamation." Overlawyered.com attracts more than 9,000 unique visitors daily, and is a popular destination among lawyers.

Had the plaintiff's suit survived the motion to dismiss,Wolk still faced an uphill battle on his defamation claim on First Amendment grounds, because the purportedly defamatory posting was arguably defensible as opinion.



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