Legal Translation Services for
Online Defamation Cases

Defamation Claim for Statement on
Vietnamese Website Barred by
Statute of Limitations

Vietnamese to English Certified Translation of Evidence in a Defamation Case

We’ve blogged before about the importance of using certified legal document translation services for Internet law attorneys. The case described below involves a situation where a website posting in Vietnamese was translated into English in conjunction with the plaintiff’s claims for defamation, false light and invasion of privacy.

In Thanh v. NGO, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging that the defendant defamed him in retaliation for the plaintiff publishing accusations against him in his newspaper. The complaint alleged that on October 2, 2011, the defendant “published on Google…what was a republishing of a document she had repeatedly used previously in her broadcasts and also on the internet” which placed the plaintiff in a false light. The complaint contained several portions of the publication which were translated from Vietnamese into English in which the defendant allegedly implied that the plaintiff was a “communist” or was under the control of the Vietnamese communist government. The publication also purportedly alleged that the plaintiff had cheated a certain business owner and asserted that he was a “cheater,” an “infidel,” and “bankrupt.”

In response to these allegations, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted in part. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim as to his defamation claim, finding that it was outside of the statute of limitations, but the court allowed the plaintiff’s claim for “false light” to proceed on the grounds that, when viewed most favorably to the plaintiff, the defendant had published what might be construed as “derogatory statements” about the plaintiff online.

The defendant then filed a motion for summary judgment as to this one remaining claim. The defendant argued that the evidence established that she had posted an article about the plaintiff to an online discussion group in 2007 and that a third party then posted the article on an online Vietnamese-language magazine. Thus, the defendant claims that there is no evidence that she published any statements against the plaintiff on October 2, 2011; accordingly, the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations because the discovery rule does not apply to matters published in mass media.

The defendant provided a Vietnamese to English certified translation of a Google cache, or “snapshot” of the page as it appeared on October 11, 2011 which demonstrated that the page was merely visible on the internet on that date, not that it was actually published or posted on that date. In response, the plaintiff argued that the defendant was not entitled to summary judgment because it was a question of fact as to whether or not the plaintiff had published the material.

In ruling on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the court held that there was no genuine dispute that the article against plaintiff was published and available online on November 2007 at the latest and that the article was merely available, as opposed to republished, on October 2, 2011. The court held that under the single publication rule, the Google cache of the article dated October 2, 2011 did not amount to “publication” of the article for purposes of plaintiff’s false light claims.

The court also rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the defendant had “republished” the article by sending the article out to thousands of Vietnamese speaking individuals through an “email blast” because the plaintiff had not presented any evidence to support this allegation.
The court further rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the “discovery rule” did not apply to this case. The plaintiff had argued that the court should find that his false light claim did not accrue until another Vietnamese individual brought the article to his attention as the plaintiff had not been previously aware of the allegedly damaging statement against him.

The court held that, under Maryland law, a plaintiff is assumed to have knowledge of the cause of action on the date of publication when the defamatory publication is made through mass media. In arriving at this conclusion, the court cited to Tani v. Washington Post, Case No. PJM 08-1130, 2009 WL 8652384, *2 (D. Md. June 18, 2009), in which the court held that where “articles were widely available online and could have been discovered immediately, the statute of limitations began to accrue on the date the articles were published.” The court held that there was no genuine issue of material fact that the website used to publish the statement against the plaintiff was widely available online, as the plaintiff himself had alleged that the statements reached a large number of Vietnamese readers and the parties had been litigating against one another regarding defamation claims for more than 10 years.

The case is Thanh v. Ngo, Court No. 8:2014cv00448, decided on July 22, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
For certified translation services from Vietnamese into English or matters involving Korean, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Mandarin Chinese,  Bulgarian, Spanish, Polish, and other foreign language, contact All Language Alliance, Inc.

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