Inmate’s Dispute Over Gang Label Came Late

     (CN) – A federal inmate waited too long to claim defamation over a book that portrays him as a member of a Philadelphia crime syndicate called the Junior Black Mafia, a federal judge ruled.
     James Cole says he denied involvement with the gang, and asked his fellow inmate Seth Ferranti not to use his name in a book that Ferranti was writing. Nevertheless Cole says the offensive statements about him appear in “Street Legends,” which Ferranti printed in 2008 through his company, Gorilla Convict Publications. Cole also says the book falsely attributes certain quotations to him.
     An excerpt of the book with several alleged Cole quotations appear on the publisher’s website. The paperback is priced at $15.
     Cole, Ferranti and Gorilla Convict all fought the case pro se in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
     Last year, U.S. District Judge John Jones III tossed Cole’s slander claim but refused to accept a magistrate judge’s recommendation that the statute of limitations had lapsed on Cole’s libel claim.
     In a new ruling Tuesday, Jones explained his reasoning for the previous order, and why he has concluded now that the statute of limitations has indeed expired.
     “Essentially, we were uncomfortable with granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants solely on the inferences drawn by the magistrate judge related to the tolling of the statute of limitation issue and thus remanded the matter for further development of the record,” Jones wrote.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Andrew Smyser recommended again that Cole’s libel claim is time-barred in March 2012. He pointed out that Cole received a courtesy copy of the “Street Legends” manuscript in 2007, that Cole read the published book in December 2009 and that he filed suit in late February 2010.
     Jones adopted this recommendation, noting a “trend” in Pennsylvania federal courts to adhere to the one-year statute of limitations on mass-media defamation claims.
     “These cases all recognize that the discovery rule, a narrow exception to an otherwise strict limitation standard, is intended for hard-to-discern injuries,” Jones wrote. “Thus, the discovery rule is at ‘odds with a cause of action based upon a defamatory statement disseminated through a mass medium.’ While we recognize that neither the Pennsylvania Supreme Court or the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has spoken directly to this legal issue, we are persuaded by the reasoning of our sister courts.”
     In a footnote to the eight-page decision, Jones says: “Plaintiff can hardly claim that he was unaware of the imminent publication of this book. Indeed, Plaintiff was aware of the prospect of the book’s publication in April of 2007 when he was given a manuscript to review. Thus, this is not a situation where a plaintiff had absolutely no way of learning of his injury until after the limitations period. Rather, Plaintiff was on notice of the potential contents of the book as well as the fact that Defendant Ferranti was attempting to have the work published. Regardless of the fact that Plaintiff was an inmate, he knew the book’s publication was impending. He was thereafter not vigilant in obtaining the book or learning of its contents, but rather slept on his rights. Based on these facts, this is not a circumstance where the discovery rule can save Plaintiff’s claims from being barred by operation of the statute.”
     “Street Legends” is one of a handful of Ferranti-written books that purports to chronicle the life of street gangs and gangsters, through character profiles.
     Ferranti says on the Gorilla Convict website that he is serving a 304-month sentence “for an LSD kingpin conviction,” and that he is due for release in 2015.

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