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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Township Officials Not Entitled to Anti-SLAPP Act Immunity

Three City officials sued a Township Assessor and Supervisor, and the Township itself, claiming the defendants had defamed them and cast them in a "false light" when the Township Supervisor sent a letter to newspapers, local officials, and others alleging that the City officials engaged in criminal acts in connection with property exemptions. One of the letters from the Supervisor stated that he had "discovered how several current and former public servants used their inside status to scratch their own backs and lower their own property taxes - causing homeowners of Burbank to pay more property taxes."

The defendants argued  they were immune from liability under the state Citizen Participation Act (an anti-SLAPP statute - Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), and asked the court to grant summary judgment to defendants. Specifically, defendants argued that the Act protected the Supervisor's actions because the letter was an act of participation in government. The circuit court denied the motion, finding that there was still a question of fact whether the statements in the letter were true or false and that defendants failed to show the lawsuit was meritless.

Defendants appealed, and the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the circuit court ruling against the defendants in Kainrath v. Gride, 2018 IL App (1st) 112270. Although, the appellate court agreed that the Supervisor's act of sending the letter was a protected act of citizen participation that would qualify defendants for protection under the Act, because defendants failed to show that plaintiffs' defamation and false light claims lacked merit they were not entitled to protection under the state's anti-SLAPP statute.


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