Parrillo, Weiss & Moss v. Cashion, No. 88-0507

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtWHITE
Citation537 N.E.2d 851,130 Ill.Dec. 522,181 Ill.App.3d 920
Decision Date29 March 1989
Docket NumberNo. 88-0507
Parties, 130 Ill.Dec. 522 PARRILLO, WEISS & MOSS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. John Bernard CASHION, Defendant-Appellee.

Page 851

537 N.E.2d 851
181 Ill.App.3d 920, 130 Ill.Dec. 522
PARRILLO, WEISS & MOSS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
John Bernard CASHION, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 88-0507.
Appellate Court of Illinois,
First District, Third Division.
March 29, 1989.

Page 852

[181 Ill.App.3d 922] [130 Ill.Dec. 523] Parrillo, Weiss & Moss, Chicago (John D. Moss, of counsel), for plaintiff-appellant.

John Bernard Cashion, Chicago, for defendant-appellee.

Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

Plaintiff, Parrillo, Weiss & Moss, a law firm, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County dismissing its Complaint at Law with prejudice. We affirm.

The Complaint at Law (hereinafter the "Complaint") is in two counts. In Count I, plaintiff alleged that defendant, John Bernard Cashion, is the President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. On or about February 18, 1987, defendant composed and sent a letter to the Director of the Department of Insurance of the State of Illinois. Plaintiff alleged that this letter contained false and defamatory statements concerning plaintiff. In particular, plaintiff alleged that the letter contained the following statements:

(1) [plaintiff] has a stake in maintaining the volume of suits it defends;

(2) [plaintiff's] manner of defending lawsuits constitutes a [181 Ill.App.3d 923] blatant and ongoing scandal;

(3) as of January 26, 1987 there were 4,166 cases pending in the Law Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County in which the defense attorney listed was Parrillo, Weiss & Moss; and

(4) [plaintiff] is house counsel for Safeway Insurance Company.

Plaintiff alleged that it has been injured in its good name and reputation and sought damages in excess of $15,000.00.

In Count II of the Complaint, plaintiff restated the allegations in Count I. In addition, plaintiff alleged that the defamatory statements were made with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity and with malice. Plaintiff sought punitive damages in the amount of $1,000,000.00.

Prior to discussing the sufficiency of the Complaint, it will be helpful to discuss the principles that apply to a motion to dismiss. Plaintiff's Complaint was dismissed pursuant to a motion filed under Section 2-615 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. (Ill.Rev.Stat.1987, ch. 110, par. 2-615.) Such a motion admits all well-pleaded facts in the complaint, and they must be taken as true. (Payne v. Mill Race Inn (1987), 152 Ill.App.3d 269, 273, 105 Ill.Dec. 324, 504 N.E.2d 193; Perlin v. Board of Education of City of Chicago (1980), 86 Ill.App.3d 108, 111, 41 Ill.Dec. 294, 407 N.E.2d 792.) Conclusions of law or conclusions of fact unsupported by allegations of specific fact are not admitted. (Payne, 152 Ill.App.3d at 273, 105 Ill.Dec. 324, 504 N.E.2d 193; Yardley v. Yardley (1985), 137 Ill.App.3d 747, 751, 92 Ill.Dec. 142, 484 N.E.2d 873.) The complaint should not be dismissed unless the pleadings disclose that no set of facts could be proved that would entitle the plaintiff to relief. (Yardley, 137 Ill.App.3d at 752, 92 Ill.Dec. 142, 484 N.E.2d 873; Richardson v. Dunbar (1981), 95 Ill.App.3d 254, 256, 50 Ill.Dec. 756, 419 N.E.2d 1205.) On review, the allegations of the complaint

Page 853

[130 Ill.Dec. 524] are to be interpreted in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. (Richardson, 95 Ill.App.3d at 256, 50 Ill.Dec. 756, 419 N.E.2d 1205; Perlin, 86 Ill.App.3d at 111, 41 Ill.Dec. 294, 407 N.E.2d 792.) With these principles in mind, we turn to the allegations of the Complaint filed by plaintiff.

Plaintiff asserts that the statements published by defendant in the letter to the Department of Insurance impute a dishonest or improper practice to plaintiff in the performance of its duties as a law firm. Consequently, plaintiff maintains that Counts I and II of the Complaint state a cause of action for defamation based on libel per se.

An action for defamation based on libel per se requires that the words used by the defendant are in and of themselves so obviously and naturally harmful to the plaintiff that a showing of special damages is unnecessary. (Owen v. Carr (1986), 113 Ill.2d 273, 277, 100 Ill.Dec. 783, [181 Ill.App.3d 924] 497 N.E.2d 1145; Fried v. Jacobson (1983), 99 Ill.2d 24, 27, 75 Ill.Dec. 398, 457 N.E.2d 392.) Under common law, language which falsely imputes a lack of integrity in the discharge of duties of office or employment, which prejudices a party in his profession, which imputes the commission of a criminal offense, or which imputes infection with a communicable disease of any kind which, if true, would exclude a party from society, is actionable for defamation without proof of special damages. Owen, 113 Ill.2d at 277, 100 Ill.Dec. 783, 497 N.E.2d 1145; Allen v. Ali (1982), 105 Ill.App.3d 887, 889, 61 Ill.Dec. 678, 435 N.E.2d 167; Richardson, 95 Ill.App.3d at 259, 50 Ill.Dec. 756, 419 N.E.2d 1205. 1

The rule of innocent construction is employed to determine whether the language used by a party constitutes libel per se. In Chapski v. Copley Press (1982), 92 Ill.2d 344, 65 Ill.Dec. 884, 442 N.E.2d 195, our supreme court explained the rule:

a written or oral statement is to be considered in context, with the words and the implications therefrom given their natural and obvious meaning; if, as so construed, the statement may reasonably be innocently interpreted or reasonably be interpreted as referring to someone other than the plaintiff it cannot be actionable per se. This preliminary determination is properly a question of law to be resolved by the court in the first instance; whether the publication was in fact understood to be defamatory or to refer to the plaintiff is a question for the jury should the initial determination be resolved in favor of the plaintiff.

Chapski, 92 Ill.2d at 352, 65 Ill.Dec. 884, 442 N.E.2d 195.

Applying the rule of innocent construction to the instant case, we are of the opinion that the statements in the letter to the Department of Insurance are either not defamatory or may reasonably be interpreted as referring to another party. Defendant addressed his letter to the Director of the Department of Insurance and called upon the Department to initiate an investigation of Safeway Insurance Company. In the letter, defendant voiced concern that Safeway Insurance Company was the defendant in 4,166 cases pending before the circuit court. Defendant suggested that Safeway Insurance Company might be insolvent and that it might be using the court system to delay payment of insurance claims. Defendant concluded that Safeway Insurance Company's manner of defending lawsuits constitutes a blatant and ongoing scandal. It is thus clear from a review of the letter that defendant's remark regarding the "blatant and ongoing scandal" [181 Ill.App.3d 925] referred to Safeway Insurance Company and not to plaintiff. 2 The statement that plaintiff

Page 854

[130 Ill.Dec. 525] "has a stake in maintaining the volume of suits it defends" is not defamatory. Surely every law firm has a financial interest in the number of cases that it prosecutes or defends. Likewise, the statements identifying plaintiff as the attorney of record in 4,166 cases pending in the circuit court and as house counsel for Safeway Insurance Company are not defamatory.

Plaintiff maintains that, since a corporation may not practice law, the references in the letter to Safeway Insurance Company's "manner of defending lawsuits" are, in reality, references to plaintiff. Plaintiff ignores the fact that the number of lawsuits involving Safeway Insurance Company (or any other insurance carrier) is a direct result of the insurance company's decision to contest liability or the amount of damage in claims filed against its insureds. Moreover, the policy to vigorously defend lawsuits or to settle lawsuits is one usually made by the client rather than its attorneys. Lastly, plaintiff ignores the fact that it has filed an action for libel per se. In such an action, the defendant's statements must be "obviously and naturally harmful" to the plaintiff. The references in the letter to the Department of Insurance cannot be "obviously and naturally harmful" to plaintiff if they must be "explained" by assertions that corporations cannot practice law and have no control over the "manner of defending lawsuits." (See Richardson, 95 Ill.App.3d at 260, 50 Ill.Dec. 756, 419 N.E.2d 1205.) We conclude that plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action for defamation based on libel per se.

Even assuming, however, that the statements in the letter are defamatory, we are of the opinion that plaintiff cannot maintain a cause of action for libel per se because the statements are absolutely privileged.

It is the established law of Illinois that statements made during quasi-judicial proceedings are absolutely privileged (Kalish v. Illinois Education Association (1987), 157 Ill.App.3d 969, 971, 110 Ill.Dec. 72, 510 [181 Ill.App.3d 926] N.E.2d 1103; Thomas v. Petrulis (1984), 125 Ill.App.3d 415, 417, 80 Ill.Dec. 713, 465 N.E.2d 1059; Richardson, 95 Ill.App.3d at 256, 50 Ill.Dec. 756, 419 N.E.2d 1205), and such protection encompasses testimony given before...

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33 practice notes
  • Quake Const., Inc. v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 88-0043
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • March 29, 1989
    ...the parties cannot agree" on a contract, the letter of intent will cease to function as a precursor to the final executed [181 Ill.App.3d 920] contract. See Feldman v. Allegheny International, I would conclude that the letter of intent here is not a contract, but instead is some lesser......
  • Quake Const., Inc. v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 68585
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • December 3, 1990
    ...concluded, but rather "some lesser undertaking by the parties and a precursor to a valid and enforceable agreement." 181 Ill.App.3d at 920, 130 Ill.Dec. 534, 537 N.E.2d 863 (McNamara, J., We agree with the appellate court majority's analysis and its conclusion that the letter was ......
  • Kopchar v. City of Chicago, No. 1-08-1835.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • November 6, 2009
    ...committee of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission for admission to the bar); Parrillo, Weiss & Moss v. Cashion, 181 Ill.App.3d 920, 130 Ill.Dec. 522, 537 N.E.2d 851 (1989) (attorney's statements in letter to the Director of Department of Insurance of the State of Illino......
  • Mauvais-Jarvis v. Wong, Docket Nos. 1–12–0070
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • March 28, 2013
    ...and generally limited to legislative, judicial and some quasi-judicial proceedings.”); see also Parrillo, Weiss & Moss v. Cashion, 181 Ill.App.3d 920, 928, 130 Ill.Dec. 522, 537 N.E.2d 851 (1989); see also Weber v. Cueto, 209 Ill.App.3d 936, 942, 154 Ill.Dec. 513, 568 N.E.2d 513 (1991) ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
33 cases
  • Quake Const., Inc. v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 88-0043
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • March 29, 1989
    ...point, "if the parties cannot agree" on a contract, the letter of intent will cease to function as a precursor to the final executed [181 Ill.App.3d 920] contract. See Feldman v. Allegheny International, I would conclude that the letter of intent here is not a contract, but instead is some ......
  • Quake Const., Inc. v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 68585
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • December 3, 1990
    ...Justice McNamara concluded, but rather "some lesser undertaking by the parties and a precursor to a valid and enforceable agreement." 181 Ill.App.3d at 920, 130 Ill.Dec. 534, 537 N.E.2d 863 (McNamara, J., We agree with the appellate court majority's analysis and its conclusion that the lett......
  • Kopchar v. City of Chicago, No. 1-08-1835.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • November 6, 2009
    ...committee of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission for admission to the bar); Parrillo, Weiss & Moss v. Cashion, 181 Ill.App.3d 920, 130 Ill.Dec. 522, 537 N.E.2d 851 (1989) (attorney's statements in letter to the Director of Department of Insurance of the State of Illinois d......
  • Mauvais-Jarvis v. Wong, Docket Nos. 1–12–0070
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • March 28, 2013
    ...and generally limited to legislative, judicial and some quasi-judicial proceedings.”); see also Parrillo, Weiss & Moss v. Cashion, 181 Ill.App.3d 920, 928, 130 Ill.Dec. 522, 537 N.E.2d 851 (1989); see also Weber v. Cueto, 209 Ill.App.3d 936, 942, 154 Ill.Dec. 513, 568 N.E.2d 513 (1991) (“Th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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