Judge tosses lawsuit against Daily Californian editor

Statute of limitations had expired

CALIFORNIA — A judge on Wednesday dismissed an emotional distress lawsuit against the editor in chief of the Daily Californian.

Rajesh Srinivasan was sued in a Fresno County small-claims court by podiatrist Harvey Purtz over articles written about his late son, Chris Purtz. Purtz’s suit claimed an article and two blog posts “inflict harm” upon his son’s memory. The articles detail an altercation involving Chris Purtz at a San Francisco nightclub, and his departure from the University of California at Berkeley football team.

The stories regarding Chris Purtz were published in late 2006 and early 2007. Purtz died in June 2010.

According to the Daily Californian, Dr. Purtz said at a Jan. 19 hearing that the articles’ publication was a “major triggering event” in his son’s life, leading to “deterioration of his mental state and to emotional distress on his father's part.”

Srinivasan“I’m very pleased the court made the correct decision in this case, but I can understand it was a difficult decision for them to reach, perhaps not legally but from an emotional standpoint, and that was just amplified during the trial,” Srinivasan said.

According to the court’s docket report, Chris Purtz’s obituary linked to the Daily Californian’s article, a main argument by Harvey Purtz. Judge Mark Cullers acknowledged the emotional aspect of the lawsuit, but said he must remain mindful of statutes and case law.

“The court is sympathetic to the pain and suffering endured by the parents of Chris Purtz. The court is mindful that today’s technology allows stories of loved ones to circulate on the internet in perpetuity. However, the court is also mindful of the applicable policies, statutes and case law,” Cullers wrote in his opinion.

Purtz demanded Srinivasan, who was in high school when the original story was published, remove the articles from the newspaper’s online archive. Purtz also asked for $7,500.

Cullers decided that Srinivasan owed no money to Purtz.

The court also noted the Uniform Single Publication Act which states that the statute of limitations on a publication is determined upon its first distribution to the public and the maximum two-year statute of limitations for emotional-distress claims worked against Purtz's claim.

Purtz did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Srinivasan said he was sympathetic toward the Purtz family, but maintained his decisions were the publication’s policy.

“I just have to follow [the Daily Californian’s] policy and the court has to follow the rule of law and I think they made the right decision in this case, but I still sympathize with Mr. Purtz and I’m sure the judge did as well,” Srinivasan said.

Student Press Law Center attorney advocate Adam Goldstein said Cullers’ decision wasn’t surprising.

“You can’t argue with the outcome. It was the obviously correct decision. For two reasons: one is that there was no intentional infliction of emotional distress here and even if such a claim existed small-claims court would be the wrong place to bring it,” Goldstein said.

“Intentional infliction of emotional distress is a very unusual claim and it’s difficult to analyze and a small-claims court has almost certainly never seen it. It’s not meant for really arcane, metaphysical issues of emotional wellbeing. I’m glad it’s over.”

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