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Ogden v. Association of the United States Army

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Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff brought suit for an allegedly libelous book that was originally published at a time that would have caused the statute of limitation to have accrued, but more copies had been published since then.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under the single publication rule, written material containing defamatory matter gives rise to only one cause of action for libel. This cause accrues at the time of the original publication, and the statute of limitation runs from that date.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

The court stated: Although it may not be said that the publication and dissemination of books has reached that degree of mass production and widespread distribution now prevalent in fields invaded by newspapers and periodicals, it is our view that the publication of a libelous book, involving styling, printing, binding and those other acts which enable a publisher on a given date to release to the public thousands of copies of a single printing or impression, affords the one libeled a legal basis for only one cause of action which arises when the finished product is released by the publisher for sale in accord with trade practice.

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Facts. A book containing allegedly libelous material was published in November, 1955. This suit was filed on June 25, 1959. The District of Columbia has a 1-year statute of limitations for defamation.

Issue. Does the District of Colombia apply the single publication rule?

Held. Yes. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment granted
* Under the common law, every sale or delivery of libelous matter was a new publication, allowing a new cause of action to accrue. Under modern conditions, this would allow for an unnecessary multiplicity of suits. The number of copies of the offending publication that are published will be a factor in determining the amount of recoverable damages. However, the original publication of the defamatory material causes the statute of limitations to run.

Discussion. This case reflects the majority rule in American jurisdictions today.

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