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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Alderman Entitled to Absolute Immunity for Statements at City Council Meeting

A city and a city council member were sued by a resident for defamation, false light, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and various civil rights violations relating to statements made by an alderman at a city council meeting about the plaintiff.  In his statement, the alderman stated that he was disappointed in the activities of a resident (plaintiff) in trying to delay construction activities on land adjacent to hers. Specifically, the alderman called her conduct 'righteous, self serving...and not in character with Lake Forest" and that her activities "cost the new homeowner months of delays and tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills."

Plaintiff alleged that these statements by the alderman were defamatory because they were intentionally designed to denigrate her character and injured her reputation, and were malicious in nature. She also alleged that the City and alderman exposed her to "public ridicule."  She also claimed that the City permitted and encouraged the alderman's statement. She sought $500,000 in compensatory damages, and $2 million in punitive damages. 

The City and named alderman filed a motion to dismiss based on absolute legislative privilege, among other defenses, and the trial court granted the City's motion.  

On appeal, the appellate court first noted that an action can be dismissed where the claim is barred by an affirmative defense, including absolute immunity.  Illinois courts uniformly recognize a privilege for statements made by members of city councils and village boards at their meetings.  That privilege or immunity applies to nearly all common law torts, including defamation and false light as alleged in this case.  The court rejected the plaintiff's request that the court create an exception to the absolute immunity rule, holding that it was irrelevant that the topic about which the alderman spoke was not part of the meeting agenda. The court also found the City immune from liability under the Tort Immunity Act, which expressly protects public entities for libelous or slanderous actions of its employees.  Friedman v. Moore, 2014 IL (2d) 130671-U (unpublished)

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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