THOMAS PRIORE v. STEPHANIE HAIG, SC 20511

Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Stamford

 

       Absolute Litigation Immunity; Defamation; Whether Defendant's Public Statements About Plaintiff at Town Planning and Zoning Commission Meeting Were Entitled to Absolute Litigation Immunity.  The plaintiff brought the underlying defamation action based on allegedly defamatory statements made by the defendant at a public hearing before the Greenwich Planning and Zoning Commission (commission) on the plaintiff's application for a special permit to construct a new residence and new sewer line on his property.  At the hearing, the defendant addressed the commission to share her concerns regarding the plaintiff's application.  In addition to her concerns regarding the effects of the proposed construction, she stated that the plaintiff had not been "trustworthy," had a "serious criminal past," and had paid more than $40,000,000 in fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Parts of the defendant's statements were later published in a local newspaper.  The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the action, claiming that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because her statements were entitled to absolute litigation immunity.  The trial court agreed and granted the motion to dismiss.  The plaintiff appealed, claiming that the defendant's statements were not entitled to absolute litigation immunity and arguing that, contrary to the trial court's conclusion, the commission's proceeding was not quasi-judicial in nature.  The Appellate Court (196 Conn. App. 675) disagreed, explaining that the commission's proceeding was quasi-judicial in nature because the commission, among other things, exercised its discretion, engaged in fact-finding, and heard witness testimony.  Moreover, the court determined that public policy interests in encouraging citizen participation in local government decision-making supported a finding that the proceeding was quasi-judicial in nature.  The plaintiff further argued that, even if the commission's proceeding was quasi-judicial in nature, the trial court erred in concluding that the defendant's statements about the plaintiff's criminal past and trustworthiness were pertinent to the subject matter of the commission's proceeding.  The court rejected the claim and determined that the defendant's statements were pertinent on the subject of the plaintiff's credibility, which he put into issue by submitting a special permit application that contained representations on which the commission would rely in its review.  Accordingly, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's judgment.  The plaintiff was granted certification to appeal, and the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the defendant's public statements about the plaintiff at the meeting of the commission were entitled to absolute immunity, thereby depriving the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff's defamation action.