Larue/Tucker v. Brown – 8/19/2014

August 26, 2014

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That the Single Publication Rule for Defamatory Statements Applies to Internet Publications, but Amending an Internet Publication to Add New Unrelated Material Constitutes Republication for Statute of Limitations Purposes.

Mindi Larue divorced David Brown and remarried Jeremy Tucker after a contentious and protracted custody battle.  In 2007, Brown and his new wife, Sarah, initiated a criminal investigation of Jeremy, alleging that he had abused one of the children.  The family court rejected a petition to modify custody based on the allegations, holding that the abuse allegations were not proven by a preponderance of the evidence.

In November 2008 Sarah Tucker posted two articles on a website accusing Jeremy of sexually torturing Mindi’s four-year-old daughter and accusing Mindi of allowing and covering up the abuse.  The posts revealed Mindi and Jeremy’s names, addresses, and phone numbers, as well as Jeremy’s employer.  Throughout 2009 Sarah and David posted comments to the article responding to critical comments posted by other internet users, including new allegations such as Jeremy’s refusal to submit to a polygraph examination.  Mindi and Jeremy filed a defamation lawsuit in December 2009.

Sarah and David filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the one-year statute of limitations had expired.  The trial court denied the motion and at trial instructed the jury on the statute of limitations defense, saying that when a statement is republished “in a modified form” the time limit begins running on the date of republication rather than the original publication date.  The jury found Sarah and David liable for defamation, awarding compensatory and punitive damages.  The defendants timely appealed on the statute of limitations issue.

The court of appeals affirmed the decision, addressing two issues of first impression.  The court first held that the single publication rule, which prevents plaintiffs from suing for every published copy of the same defamatory statement, applies to defamatory statements published to the internet.  The court then held that the republication rule applies to internet defamation when the changes to the original post are more than merely technical and nonsubstantive.  In this case, the comments posted by Sarah and David were appended to the bottom of the original post and added new substantive information.  Because new information was posted in 2009, the republication rule eliminated the statute of limitations defense.

Presiding Judge Gould authored the opinion.  Judges Swann and Thompson joined.