On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 154 N.J. Super. 271 (1977).
For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber and Handler. For affirmance -- None. Pashman, J., concurring. Pashman, J., concurring in the result.
[78 NJ Page 371] The judgment of the Appellate Division is reversed and that of the trial court reinstated substantially
for the reasons expressed in the opinion of the dissenting judge in the Appellate Division, reported at 154 N.J. Super. 271, 276.
PASHMAN, J., concurring. I concur in the result reached by the majority. The allegedly libelous article which forms the basis of plaintiffs' suit was printed in the January 9, 1975 edition of defendant newspaper. Defendant Hartnett was not joined as a party to the action until May 11, 1976. Since a one-year statute of limitations is applicable to "[e]very action at law for libel," N.J.S.A. 2A:14-3, plaintiffs' claims for damages against Hartnett are time-barred.
Plaintiffs contend, however, that the "discovery rule" and the doctrine of "equitable estoppel" should lead this Court to hold that Hartnett was timely joined as a defendant to the action. A review of the facts upon which plaintiffs premise these claims and relevant case law shows clearly that plaintiffs' contentions in this regard are lacking in merit.
Plaintiffs are former officers of the Rahway Taxpayers Association. In an attempt to prevent the construction of a new municipal firehouse, they filed with the city clerk petitions purportedly signed by Rahway citizens which demanded that the question be placed on referendum. On January 9, 1975, defendant-newspaper ran a story which indicated that city officials were investigating the authenticity of some of those signatures. Plaintiffs demanded a retraction, in response to which the newspaper printed an article in the April 17, 1975 edition stating that the earlier story had been the product of information received from "a source in the [city] administration."
On May 8, 1975 plaintiffs commenced a libel action against the newspaper, its president, its editor, and a reporter. Also joined as a defendant was "John Doe," described in the
complaint as the fictitious name of a newspaper employee who was the "composer and writer" of the allegedly libelous story.
Through depositions and interrogatories plaintiffs attempted to discover the source behind the January 9 story. When defendants refused to reveal the name, plaintiffs moved for an order compelling disclosure. That motion was granted.*fn1 On February 10, 1976, defendants identified the source as City Administrator Joseph Hartnett.
Plaintiffs proceeded to depose Mr. Hartnett on March 3 and 18, 1976. During the course of that deposition, Hartnett stated that he had requested the newspaper to keep his name confidential when he supplied the information which formed the basis of the January 9 article. Having acquired this data, on May 11, 1976 -- more than 16 months after the allegedly libelous ...