Bernson v. Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc.

7 Cal. 4th 926, 30 Cal. Rptr. 2d 440, 873 P.2d 613 (1994)

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Bernson v. Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc.

California Supreme Court
7 Cal. 4th 926, 30 Cal. Rptr. 2d 440, 873 P.2d 613 (1994)

Facts

Hal Bernson (plaintiff), a Los Angeles City Council member, became aware in 1988 that a highly critical dossier about him was being circulated among the Los Angeles media. Bernson obtained a copy of the dossier, but he had no success learning the identity of the parties behind it until February 1990, when two local reporters informed him that the dossier had been prepared by Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. (BFI) (defendant). When Bernson confronted BFI’s attorney to confirm the reporters’ assertion, the attorney emphatically denied that BFI had any direct or indirect responsibility for the dossier. It was not until May 1991 that Bernson learned the true identities of those behind the dossier when another local reporter informed him that Mark Ryavec (defendant), an independent political consultant, had prepared the dossier on behalf of BFI. Within the year, Bernson filed a libel action against BFI, Ryavec, and others. The trial court dismissed the claims as time-barred under the applicable one-year statutory limitations period. Bernson appealed and argued that BFI, Ryavec, and the other defendants should be estopped from asserting the limitations defense because they acted to conceal that they commissioned, authored, and disseminated the allegedly defamatory dossier.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Arabian, J.)

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