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Harrington v. Costello, et al. (Lawyers Weekly No. 10-065-14)

NOTICE:  All slip opinions and orders are subject to formal revision and are superseded by the advance sheets and bound volumes of the Official Reports.  If you find a typographical error or other formal error, please notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, 1 Pemberton Square, Suite 2500, Boston, MA 02108-1750;  (617) 557-1030; SJCReporter@sjc.state.ma.us         SJC‑11383   JOHN P. HARRINGTON  vs.  WILLIAM M. COSTELLO & another.[1] Norfolk.     December 2, 2013.  ‑  April 9, 2014. Present:  Ireland, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Gants, Duffly, & Lenk, JJ. Libel and Slander.  Limitations, Statute of.   Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on November 1, 2010.   A motion to dismiss was heard by Renée P. Dupuis, J.   After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.     Frank L. McNamara, Jr., for the plaintiff. Ross A. Kimball for the defendants.       BOTSFORD, J.  This is a defamation action, before us on further appellate review.  The plaintiff, John P. Harrington, and the two defendants, William M. Costello and John A. Perry, are Roman Catholic priests.  Harrington claims that the defendants published, in the parish where Harrington was serving, a false and defamatory statement to the effect that a parishioner had accused Harrington of stalking her minor son, and that Harrington suffered substantial personal harm as a result.  A judge of the Superior Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint on statute of limitations grounds.  A divided panel of the Appeals Court affirmed.  Harrington v. Costello, 82 Mass. App. Ct. 812 (2012).   Harrington argues that under proper application of the so-called discovery rule, the statute of limitations is tolled until the plaintiff knows the identity of the defendant.  He claims that here, although he knew that Costello and Perry had published the defamatory[2] stalking accusation in 2005, he reasonably could believe they were privileged or entitled to do so; and that he did not know that they were the proper defendants until he discovered, in November of 2007 (within the limitations period), that Costello, with Perry’s knowledge, had fabricated completely the defamatory stalking accusation.  We agree with Harrington that under the discovery rule, knowledge of the identity of the defendant is necessary for a cause of action to accrue — in addition to knowledge of the harm for which recovery is sought and of the cause of that harm.  In the case of defamation, however, the harm for which recovery is sought, at its core, is the publication of the defamatory material, and therefore it is knowledge of the publisher’s identity that is required; whether the publisher can claim a qualified or […]

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Posted by Massachusetts Legal Resources - April 9, 2014 at 7:23 pm

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