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

The Texas defamation statute of limitations sets a strict time limit on your right to have the state's civil court system consider your libel or slander lawsuit.

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

One Year is the Standard Filing Deadline for a Texas Defamation Lawsuit

You have one year to file a defamation (libel or slander) lawsuit in Texas, according to Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 16.002. And the "clock" begins to run on the date on which the defamatory statement is first made. Even if the statement is later repeated or republished, the one-year clock probably won't reset -- especially if restatements or re-publications are made verbatim and via the same medium -- and the plaintiff probably 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.

In Texas, as in most states, defamation can take the form of either:

  • libel, which Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 73.001 defines as a defamatory statement that is expressed in written or other graphic form (including online), and that "tends to blacken the memory of the dead" or "tends to injure a living person's reputation." Usually that means the statement exposes the subject (the person defamed) to "public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or financial injury." The statement may also call into question the subject's "honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation."
  • slander is usually defined as a defamatory statement that is spoken (not written down, published, posted online, for example), and that results in the same harm described above.

Learn more about the elements of a defamation claim.

Where Should a Texas Defamation Lawsuit Be Filed?

The Texas civil court system is broken up according to county, so the person filing the defamation lawsuit (the plaintiff) has to decide which county can and should consider the case.

According to Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 15.017, a libel or slander lawsuit can only be filed and heard in:

  • the county where the plaintiff resided at the time the allegedly defamatory statement was made
  • the county where the defendant resided at the time the statement was made
  • the county where the defendant currently resides (if different from the county where the statement was made), or
  • if the defendant is a corporation (i.e. a newspaper or online publisher), the county where the corporation has legal "domicile".

Keep in mind that it's the plaintiff's choice where to file the lawsuit. The defendant can argue that the choice of court ("venue" in legalese) is improper, but the court will need to be convinced of that before the plaintiff's choice is overruled.

Extending Texas’s Statute of Limitations Deadline for Defamation Lawsuits

A number of scenarios could serve to delay the start of the statute of limitations "clock" for potential defamation lawsuits in Texas (or pause the clock after it has already started), effectively extending the one-year filing deadline. For example:

If the defendant is absent from the state of Texas for any part of the one-year period, the running of the statute of limitations "clock" is suspended for the length of that absence (Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 16.063).

If the subject of the allegedly defamatory statement is "under a legal disability" (for example, he or she is under the age of 18 or has been declared "of unsound mind") at the time the statement is made, the time of the disability is not included in the one-year period. (But note that if a legal disability comes up after the limitations period has already started, that will not suspend the running of the period.) (Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 16.001)

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than a year has passed since the defamatory statement was first made, and no exception applies to extend the statute of limitations deadline, but you try to file a defamation lawsuit in Texas's courts anyway, it's a near-certainty that the court will dismiss your case.

It's important to note that the one-year deadline 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/published 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 Texas’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 Texas attorney.

Learn more about defamation, libel, and slander.

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