To defame someone's character is to lower him or her in the eyes of the public by making false statements. In North Dakota, defamation is caused by either slander, which is to make verbal derogatory statements or libel, through written derogatory statements. In the U.S., very few plaintiffs win defamation of character suits and one of the reasons for this is the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to free speech.
Each state has varying defamation of character laws. North Dakota is one of 17 states which recognizes criminal defamation. This means that defamation can be a crime as well as a civil wrong. According to U.S. Legal, criminal defamation occurs when a person deliberately conveys false information, either verbally or in writing, which exposes another living person to "public hatred, contempt, or ridicule."
Read More: What Are Defamation of Character and Slander?
Defamation per se
In North Dakota some defaming statements fall under the category of "defamation per se." This means the statements are so slanderous, the plaintiff does not have to prove they harmed his or her reputation. Examples of such statements are allegations of a serious criminal offense, allegations of sexual misconduct or allegations that a person has a sexual disease. The majority of states in the U.S. recognize defamation per se.
According to North Dakota Century Code, a defense for defamation of character is if the statement came from a privileged source. This can include a statement made in court or any other official judicial proceeding, a government report or any report made "in the proper discharge of an official duty." Privileged communications have to be a fair, true and made without malice.
Proving the statement is true is of the utmost importance when fighting a defamation of character suit.
Statute of Limitations
North Dakota has a two-year statute of limitations for any lawsuit involving defamation of character. This means a suit for defamation of character must be filed within two years of the alleged offense. Most states have a one or two year statute of limitations, apart from Tennessee which has six months and New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Mexico which have four years.
North Dakota does not allow any person to file "more than one claim for relief of damages for libel or slander" cases. Referred to as the Uniform Single Publication Act, it stops any person filing the same complaint upon a "single publication, or exhibition or utterance," according to North Dakota Century Code. Under the act, the same statement which appears in numerous publications is considered a single publication therefore leading to one cause of action.
Louise Scrivens is a journalist and editor who started out on newspapers in 1998 and has since traveled around the world working as a writer and editor for BBC News in London, Australian Associated Press and Bloomberg News in New York. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English language and literature from Salford University, Manchester.