(CN) — A man cannot sue his childhood friend, a now-deceased New Jersey pastor, for allegedly defaming him in a novel based on their 1971 hitchhiking adventure, a federal judge ruled.
It took the late Rev. Kenneth Lobb about four decades to write "We Picked Up," a novel he described as "a cross-county hitchhiking story that seeks the soul of America," according to nj.com.
The 376-page book reportedly follows the journey of two 17-year-old boys, Roger and Otto — based on Lobb and his boyhood friend Raymond Neu — from Hunterdon County, N.J. to California in 1971.
"There is some embellishment and artistic license, but I believe it's all integral to the spirit of the story," the then-Annandale, N.J. Reformed Church pastor told nj.com. "Actually it happened so long ago, I forget what is true and what isn't. That's why it's a novel and not a memoir."
Yet Neu sued Lobb and the publishers for defamation in New Jersey federal court, one year and three days after its June 6, 2014 publishing.
Neu's character, Otto, engages in larceny, promiscuous sexual activity, and drug use in the novel, according to Neu.
Lobb's publishers, Balboa Press Inc., Hays House Inc., and Author Solutions Inc., moved to dismiss Neu's amended complaint as untimely and for failure to state a claim.
Though Neu did not dispute that the book was published on June 6, 2014, which would have put it just beyond the bar for being timely filed, but he claimed it was republished three days later, when a soft copy version was made available.
Lobb joined the motion, and U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman granted it April 6.
"The court finds there is no republication under these circumstances," Hillman wrote.
The judge found only a single publication of the book.
"A soft copy publication of the same book three days after the general release is even closer to the first publication than the three month gap in Barres v. Holt, Rinehart & Winston Inc.," wherein the New Jersey Superior Court held that a book's second printing was "sufficiently close" to the first printing to be considered part of it and not a second publication.
"Further, the material was identical in content," Hillman added. "As such, the facts of this case fall squarely within the single publication rule and plaintiff's claims are barred by New Jersey's one-year statute of limitations. Accordingly, the court need not reach the merits of plaintiff's claims and will dismiss plaintiff's amended complaint."
The publishers' attorney, Bruce Rosen with McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli in Florham Park, N.J., said the case was "frivolous and it should never have been pursued."
"Even if plaintiff has properly filed before the statute of limitations expired, there was nothing defamatory about this self-published novel," Rosen wrote. "The author was very ill during this litigation and was very concerned about its outcome. Plaintiff knew this and yet continued to press the case. Quite unfortunately, the author, Kenneth Lobb, died minutes before the ruling was released, never knowing that his family would not be burdened by it."
Neu's Philadelphia-based attorney, Raheem Watson, declined to comment on the matter.
Lobb's obituary says he suffered from ocular melanoma, a rare cancer, and died at 62.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.