Statute of Limitations Libel Slander Starts from Date of Publication
The statute of limitations for actions alleging libel or slander prescribes a period that runs from the date of publication -- that is the date on which the injury to the plaintiff's reputation occurs and the cause of action is completed. See Tonsmeire v. Tonsmeire, 285 Ala. 454, 455, 233 So. 2d 465, 466 (1970).
Moreover, every distinct publication of libelous or slanderous material gives rise to a separate cause of action, even if the material communicated by each publication relates to the same matter as the previous publications. Age-Herald Publ'g Co. v. Waterman, 188 Ala. 272, 278, 66 So. 16, 18 (1913).
the "single-publication" rule, generally applicable only to newspapers and similar media, is a notable exception to this general rule. That exception does not govern the resolution of this case, because of the nature of this defendant's alleged publications. An early statement of this exception is found in Age-Herald Publ'g Co. v. Huddleston, 207 Ala. 40, 92 So. 193 (1921).
In that case, this Court held that "repetition or republication of [an] identical libel [and slander] is not a new cause of action for which a separate suit may be maintained, but is merely an aggravation of the pre-existing cause, and in proper cases may tend to show actual malice." Age-Herald Publ'g Co., 207 Ala. at 44, 92 So. at 197.
X essentially argues that this exception applies to this present case because in each publication, Poff, he says, communicated the same defamatory information.
We find fault with this argument because the exception enunciated in Age-Herald Publ'g Co. only applies only to situations where subsequent acts of defamation are verbatim republications of previously made libelous or slanderous statements. S
ee id. Age-Herald Publ'g Co. v. Huddleston is inapposite to the case before us because each of Poff's alleged publications was a separate communication distinct from all others allegedly made.
The applicable statute of limitations allowed two years for filing the action. See 6-5-38(k), Ala Code 1975. the undisputed evidence tends to show that two publications occurred within the two-year period before X filed his action.
The first publication was made in a letter dated January 29, 1996, and the second publication was made in a letter addressed to a Birmingham television station and dated February 26, 1996.
X filed the complaint on September 10, 1997. Consequently, we hold that Poff was not entitled to a judgment on X's defamation claims.
The trial court erred, however, in not limiting X's defamation claims to the two publications that occurred within the two years preceding the date X filed his complaint. the judgment is reversed insofar as it related to claims alleging defamation.