How Long Do I Have to File a Defamation Lawsuit in Michigan?

Get your libel or slander case filed in compliance with the Michigan statute of limitations for defamation lawsuits, or the court will almost certainly refuse to consider it.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law

If you're thinking about bringing a defamation lawsuit to court in Michigan, you need to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for these kinds of cases. Read on for the details on the filing deadline set by this Michigan law, why it's so important to comply with the deadline, and when the filing period might be extended.

One Year is the Standard Filing Deadline for Michigan Defamation Lawsuits

You have one year to file a defamation lawsuit in Michigan, according to Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5805(9), which sets this deadline for the filing of any "action charging libel or slander."

Now is a good time to explain that in Michigan, as in most states, defamation can take one of two forms: libel or slander. Libel is typically defined as a false, harmful statement that is written down, or published in print or online (including via social media or even in the "comments" section of a web page), while slander is any form of oral or spoken defamation.

Note: When a statement meets certain criteria in terms of harmful subject matter and impact on the subject, it's considered "defamatory per se", meaning harm to the plaintiff is presumed. False statements that often qualify as defamatory "per se" in Michigan include those linking the plaintiff (the subject of the statement) to the commission of a criminal offense.

Learn more about the elements of a defamation claim and the difference between libel versus slander.

For purposes of the Michigan defamation statute of limitations, the "clock" begins to run on the date on which the defamatory statement is first made. If the statement is later repeated, copied, or republished verbatim and in the same manner, the one-year clock probably won't reset, and the plaintiff likely won't be entitled to bring another lawsuit. What usually matters is the date on which the defamatory statement was first made or first published, for purposes of the running of the statute of limitations, and for purposes of asking a court for defamation damages.

Extending the Michigan Statute of Limitations Deadline for Defamation Lawsuits

Michigan law identifies a number of scenarios that could serve to delay the start of the statute of limitations "clock" for potential defamation lawsuits (or pause the clock after it has already started), effectively extending the one-year filing deadline set by Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5805(9).

For example:

  • If the defendant (the person who made the allegedly defamatory statement) was (or is) out of the state for any part of the one-year period, and service of the lawsuit isn't possible, the time of absence will probably not be counted under the statute of limitations, as long as the defendant was gone for more than two straight months. (Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5853)
  • If the plaintiff (the subject of the defamatory statement) is under the age of 18 or had been declared legally insane at the time the statement was made, the case can be brought after the one-year deadline has passed, but only within one year of the plaintiff's turning 18 or being declared competent. (Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5851)

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than a year has passed since the defamatory statement was made, but you try to file a defamation lawsuit in the Michigan's civil court system anyway, your case will almost certainly be dismissed. If that happens, you'll have lost your right to ask any court for a legal remedy for the defamation.

It's important to note that the one-year Michigan statute of limitations isn't just a factor if you've decided to take your defamation case to court. It's also crucial to your position if you're negotiating an out-of-court settlement with the person who made the statement. If the statute of limitations deadline has passed, and the other side knows that your filing a lawsuit is now a procedural impossibility, you'll have lost all your leverage.

If you have questions about how Michigan's statute of limitations applies to your potential defamation lawsuit -- especially if the one-year deadline has passed or is looming -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Michigan attorney.

Learn more about defamation, libel, and slander.

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