'No person shall have more than one cause of action for damages for libel or slander or invasion of privacy or any other tort founded upon any single publication or exhibition or utterance, such as any one edition of a newspaper or book or magazine or any one presentation to an audience or any one broadcast over radio or television or any one exhibition of a motion picture * * *.'
This Act has been adopted by the Legislatures of Arizona (1953);
North Dakota (1953);
and New Mexico (1955).
There are indeed a few States that expressly adhere to the original English rule in cases that were decided a great many years ago, Staub v. Van Benthuysen, 36 La.Ann. 467, 469; Street v. Johnson, 80 Wis. 455, 458, 50 N.W. 395, 14 L.R.A. 203. They are a small minority. As is to be expected in some States there are no decisions whatever on this question.
From the foregoing discussion the conclusion is inescapable that the modern American law of libel has adopted the so-called 'single publication' rule; and, therefore, this principle must be deemed a part of the common law of the District of Columbia. In other words, it is the prevailing American doctrine that the publication of a book, periodical, or newspaper containing defamatory matter gives rise to but one cause of action for libel, which accrues at the time of the original publication, and that the statute of limitations runs from that date. It is no longer the law that every sale or delivery of a copy of the publication creates a new cause of action.
The American rule is supported not only by the great weight of authority, but is also far more suited to contemporary life. To permit a separate suit to be brought in regard to the sale or delivery of every single copy of a modern publication would be inconceivable and intolerable.
In view of these considerations, the plaintiff's cause of action must be deemed to have accrued on the date of the original publication of the book in question and, therefore, is barred by the statute of limitations.
The defendant adduced as an additional ground in support of his motion for summary judgment, the contention that the material of which the plaintiff complains was issued by the defendant under a contract with the Government, that the book was an official publication of the United States and, therefore, was absolutely privileged. In view of the disposition made of the issue of the statute of limitations, it is not necessary to express any opinion or make any ruling on this point. It might be said, however, that the Court would not be inclined to extend the doctrine of absolute privilege beyond its scope as defined by the Supreme Court, since absolute privilege whittles away one of the most precious private rights protected by law, namely, the right to reputation.
As a third and last ground in support of the motion, it is urged that the accused material is not capable or susceptible of the defamatory construction sought to be placed on it. This too is a question that need not be determined, since the Court has upheld the plea of the statute of limitations.
The defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.