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HuffPo Cleared for IDing Candidate as ‘Arsonist’

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - A former congressional candidate waited too long to sue the Huffington Post over an article that labels him an "arsonist," a federal judge ruled.

Jack Shepard, who ran for the Republican nomination in Minnesota's 4th Congressional District in 2010, claimed that The Huffington Post libeled him with article titled "Support Jack Shepard, the Arsonist, for Congress."

He says he "was never convicted of arson."

"I have formally asked the prosecutor's office in Minnesota on many occasions to drop the clearly unsupported charge of arson going back to 1982," according to the complaint Shepard filed pro se in June 2012. "It related to an alleged arson of my own house. The basis of this very old charge is evidently fragile and not believable: there is no evidence, no motive (no insurance benefit or other advantage accruing to me), no means. Which explains why the charge was not proceeded with and I haave not been convicted (even in absentia)! I have always affirmed my innocence and indicated the likely true authors, but to no avail.

HuffPo's article also claims that Shepard is now "cloistered in Italy," where he is a practicing dentist, and that he fled to Europe to escape prosecution.

Shepard claimed that the article destroyed his dental practice in Italy overnight and that "it is no longer possible for me to get a fair trial because millions of people believe the Huffington Post as a credible source of information and people will believe by viewing the headline that I am a convicted arsonist."

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson dismissed the complaint with prejudice this month after finding it barred by the statute of limitations.

Shepard had claimed that HuffPo had updated the article since publication of the original post in May 2010, restarting the statute of limitations, but Magnuson disagreed.

"Contrary to his assertions, however, the content of the article does not appear to have changed," the ruling states. "Instead the 'new' articles cited by Shepard appear to be hyperlinks to the original article, which do not restart the statute of limitations. Accordingly, any subsequent republications of the article were incidental and the single-publication rule applies to bar Shepard's claim."

Magnuson also rejected Shepard's claims of libel altogether, ruling that "three of the four allegedly defamatory statements are not actionable because they are either true or permissible hyperbole."

Though Shepard insists that arsonist label is libelous since he was never convicted of arson, Manguson pointed out that "the body of the article ... states that Shepard 'was accused of arson in 1982,' thereby clarifying the article's title."

"Because the 'defamatory character of any particular statement must be construed in the context of the article as a whole,' ... the use of the term 'arsonist' in the headline is not actionable," the ruling states.

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