North Dakota Supreme Court rules in favor of outdoor blogger in defamation lawsuit

North Dakota Supreme Court dismisses Arthaud v. Fuglie defamation lawsuit related to assertions made in a public post on the internet regarding a controversial bridge project.

Outside the North Dakota Supreme Court chambers. John Hageman / Forum News Service
Outside the North Dakota Supreme Court chambers. John Hageman / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — A 17-month legal battle involving a defamation claim that pitted prominent Billings County oil businessman Jim Arthaud against Bismarck outdoor blogger Jim Fuglie came to an end Friday after a decision to dismiss was announced by the North Dakota Supreme Court.

In June 2022 a Burleigh County District Court granted Fuglie’s motion to dismiss the case, which reached the high court after Arthaud appealed that decision.

Since 2010 Fuglie, the State’s former Tourism Division director, has been publishing essays on a website called The Prairie Blog, in which he has been a staunch opponent to attempts by the Billings County Commission to utilize eminent domain to build a bridge across the Little Missouri River. Fuglie's blog has gained a following on the Western Edge, where he called the attempts to move forward with a bridge project a “boneheaded, stupid, selfish idea.”

After being declared dead in the water by two Billings County Commissioners in 2021, the bridge project became a renewed possibility with the election of pro-bridge Commissioner Steven Klym in November. The Commission took steps to move forward on the bridge at a regular meeting on Feb. 7, 2023.

Little Missouri R
The Little Missouri River in Medora, N.D.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press

Fuglie argued that the bridge would be detrimental to wildlife habitats at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, through dust from the road and disruptions of animal trails in the area. In the Aug. 2, 2018 blog post that triggered Arthaud to file the lawsuit, Fuglie claimed that Arthaud exercised an inappropriate level of influence over a prominent Republican politician.


“Arthaud knows something about dealing with politicians. Here’s a story from a friend of a friend of a friend. Someone was in Arthaud’s office and needed something from Sen. John Hoeven. Arthaud picked up the phone, dialed up Hoeven’s office in Washington, DC, got Hoeven on the phone, got what his friend needed, hung up, and said ‘That’s what $20,000 will get you,’” Fuglie stated in the post, which remains published on his website.

North Dakota has a two-year statute of limitations for any lawsuit involving defamation of character, unless the alleged offense was unknown to the individual in question. Arthaud claimed he did not learn of this post until September of 2021.

The State’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the lawsuit in a 5-0 decision handed down on Friday, with Chief Justice Jon Jensen writing the majority opinion, which was signed by Justices Jerod Tufte and District Judge Cherie Clark, who sat in for a disqualified Justice Daniel Crothers. Justice Douglas Bahr wrote and Justice Lisa Fair McEvers signed a concurring opinion.

“Arthaud argued this Court should adopt the 'discovery rule' when determining whether a litigant has timely brought a defamation claim. We hold it is unnecessary to decide whether to adopt the discovery rule for defamation claims because the Uniform Single Publication Act precludes the discovery rule from applying to statements made to the public. We affirm,” Jensen’s opinion stated in part. “The Uniform Single Publication Act’s purpose is to prevent both multiple and stale defamation claims. These purposes would be frustrated by application of the discovery rule where the alleged defamatory remark was published through a public format, such as the internet.”

In his concurrence Bahr wrote that he does not agree with Jensen’s interpretation of the law, but reasoned that precedent compelled him to enforce uniform laws in a uniform manner.

“Although I disagree the language of the Uniform Single Publication Act implies the discovery rule is inapplicable in cases where the alleged defamatory remark was made to the public, I agree with the majority’s result because the Act is a uniform law and other courts have interpreted the Act in a similar manner as the majority,” Bahr stated.

ND Supreme Court Opinions by inforumdocs on Scribd

The court’s judgment ordered Arthaud to pay Fuglie’s legal fees the blogger incurred as part of the appeals process.

Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge. His reporting focuses on Stark County government and surrounding rural communities.
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