Slander Subject to Six-Month Statute of Limitations

In Vaughn v. Methodist Hospital Staff & Administration, No. W2016-00422-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 8, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a slander claim due to the six-month statute of limitations.

Plaintiff, who was proceeding pro se, originally filed her action in general sessions court for “libel/slander/defamation of character…” on July 15, 2014. In court, she testified that her claims were all based on statements made on July 17, 2013. The general sessions court dismissed the case pursuant to the six-month statute of limitations, and the circuit court subsequently granted a motion for summary judgment on the same grounds, which the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Court noted that “[l]ibel and slander are both forms of defamation—libel being written defamation and slander being spoken defamation.” (internal citation omitted). The type of defamation claim presented affects the statute of limitation to be applied; while a libel claim is subject to a one-year statute of limitations, the limitation period for a slander claim is only six months pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-103. Here, plaintiff testified that her claims were based on “statements that the personnel at Methodist said to the police officers.” While she apparently tried to obtain an incident report at some point, no such writing was produced, and an article she tried to introduce at sessions court “was not a publication made by Methodist.” Because her claims were based only on oral statements, plaintiff’s complaint sounded in libel and was subject to the six-month statute of limitations. Accordingly, summary judgment was affirmed.

This case is a simple reminder of an important consideration when reviewing a possible defamation claim. Before filing a complaint, you must look at whether the facts support a libel or slander claim, as the differing statutes of limitation mean a claim for libel will be viable for six months longer than one for slander.

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