Priore v. Haig

Decision Date31 March 2020
Docket NumberAC 41748
Citation196 Conn.App. 675,230 A.3d 714
Parties Thomas PRIORE v. Stephanie HAIG
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Eric D. Grayson, Greenwich, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Richard W. Bowerman, New Haven, with whom, on the brief, was Jacob Pylman, New Haven, for the appellee (defendant).

Alvord, Prescott and Pellegrino, Js.

PRESCOTT, J.

This is a defamation action brought by the plaintiff, Thomas Priore, against the defendant, Stephanie Haig, seeking to recover damages for injuries that he claims to have sustained as a result of allegedly defamatory statements made by the defendant during a hearing before the Greenwich Planning and Zoning Commission (commission). The plaintiff appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting the defendant's motion to dismiss on the ground that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the defendant's statements were entitled to absolute litigation immunity.

On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court (1) improperly dismissed the action and denied his motion to reargue because the trial court failed to hold an evidentiary hearing necessary to resolve jurisdictional facts in dispute, and (2) incorrectly determined that the defendant's statements were entitled to absolute litigation immunity because (a) the proceeding of the commission, at which the commission considered the plaintiff's special permit application and the materials submitted in support thereof, was not quasi-judicial in nature, and (b) the statements concerning the plaintiff that the defendant made to the commission were not "pertinent" to the commission's proceeding. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts in the record before the trial court, derived from the complaint, the transcript of the commission's hearing, and the defendant's affidavit, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and procedural history are relevant to our review. The plaintiff is the chairman of a company that is one of the nation's leading credit card payment processors. The industry in which the plaintiff works is "heavily reputation dependent ...." In January, 2015, the plaintiff, through a limited liability company, purchased a property located at 15 Deer Park Meadow Road in Greenwich (property). The property is part of a private subdivision known as the Deer Park Association (association), which consists of fifteen to seventeen lots. When the plaintiff bid on the property, it was understood that he would demolish the dwelling on the property and construct an entirely new home. The plaintiff also agreed that he would have a new sewer line installed on his property. Through an easement that the plaintiff agreed to grant, the sewer line would be accessible to others in the association for access and repairs.

As part of the process for obtaining the commission's approval to construct a new residence and to place a sewer line on his property, the plaintiff was required to and, indeed, did submit an application for a special permit. This application, as well as the final site plan submitted in support thereof, were the subject of discussion and deliberation at the commission's public hearing on January 12, 2016 (hearing). The hearing was slated to be the final hearing concerning the approval of the plaintiff's application. The record does not indicate whether the plaintiff attended the hearing.

Anthony D'Andrea, the plaintiff's engineer, was the first person to address the commission concerning the plaintiff's application. He discussed various aspects of the plan to install the sewer line, including drainage and the way in which the installation of the sewer line might affect some of the existing trees on the property. D'Andrea stated that trees had been "removed during the demolition of the house" and that he believed a planting plan would be submitted "that [would] include at least twenty trees." In sum, D'Andrea stated that the sewer line was being placed in a way that would protect the trees in the area and that the goal was to maximize the number of trees that could be preserved.

After D'Andrea spoke, members of the public were invited to address the commission. The first speaker was the president of the association (president), who alerted the commission to subsequent speakers that would address the commission about trees that were important to members of the association. According to the president, the trees were important because they "provide[d] privacy [and were] part of the character" of the neighborhood.

Following the president's remarks, Michael Finkbeiner, a surveyor and consulting professional forester retained by an association member, addressed the commission. Finkbeiner noted that an "existing conditions plan" was missing from the plaintiff's submission to the commission. Finkbeiner stated that this document had not been included in the submission because it would have disclosed that the plaintiff had clear-cut the property of certain trees. He implored the commission to consider "additional regulations [to protect] sites in advance of special permit applications" to prevent "applicants [from] com[ing] in for a special permit after they have clear-cut the site." Indeed, Finkbeiner stated that, as a result of the plaintiff's representations, the commission may have "been deceived into thinking [that the trees shown in the topographic survey are] existing trees, but they are no more."

After Finkbeiner spoke, the defendant addressed the commission. The defendant stated that she was concerned that the plaintiff's proposed sewer line would impact the health of the trees that she claimed to "co-own" with the plaintiff. She also stated that the plaintiff had been "very disrespectful of the neighbors" in the way in which he managed alterations to his property. She also said that the plaintiff has "a criminal past."1 Indeed, she stated that the plaintiff had "a serious criminal past" and that he had "paid over $40,000,000 in fines to the [Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ]." These remarks prompted a commission staff member to interject that these comments were "not of relevance to the planning and zoning commission." The defendant also added that she was "very concerned going forward that there is real good oversight from Greenwich on how [the plaintiff] deals with this property because he has not been trustworthy in the first dealings with us and there are many more dealings to go." She then added, "as a citizen and as a next-door neighbor I want to have a nice development with [the plaintiff], but [he hasn't] really been ... playing ball nicely."

D'Andrea subsequently returned to the microphone to address the issue of the trees. He admitted that a drawing of the property submitted by the plaintiff misrepresented the current presence or absence of trees on the property. He claimed, however, that the trees that the plaintiff had since removed were present on the property at the time the plaintiff submitted the application. Moreover, he stated that, although the plaintiff had been removing trees, the plaintiff did not consult with him about doing so.

Indeed, one member of the commission stated that the drawing that the plaintiff had submitted was "incomplete" because it did not depict certain trees. The chairman of the commission asked D'Andrea to work to reconcile the drawing in light of the information that Finkbeiner had submitted to the commission, to which D'Andrea agreed. D'Andrea also agreed that he was only a "representative" of the plaintiff, and could not control the plaintiff's decision to cut trees.

The hearing adjourned with the commission tabling the decision on whether to approve the application until the plaintiff or his representatives provided it with the clarifications and information that it had requested. At a later time, the commission ultimately approved the plaintiff's application "with very little change or requirements from the town ...."

The plaintiff commenced this action on October 12, 2016. In his five count second revised complaint sounding in libel per se, libel per quod, slander per se, slander per quod, and defamation, the plaintiff alleged that he had suffered "reputational damage ... in his standing in the community and in his profession" because the defendant falsely accused him of criminal misconduct and of being untrustworthy. The defendant filed an answer and six special defenses. In her third special defense, the defendant claimed that she was immune from suit for defamation, libel, and slander because she made these statements in the course of a quasi-judicial proceeding. The plaintiff responded by moving to strike this defense as well as the defendant's first and second special defenses.

The defendant filed an objection to the plaintiff's motion to strike and, in the same pleading, moved to dismiss the plaintiff's action, claiming, inter alia, that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff's action because the statements that she made during the commission's hearing were entitled to absolute litigation immunity. The defendant attached to her motion to dismiss the transcript of the hearing of the commission at which she made the alleged defamatory remarks about the plaintiff and a sworn affidavit of the defendant's attorney averring that the transcript was a true and accurate copy.

In response, the plaintiff filed an objection to the defendant's motion to dismiss. The sole exhibit that the plaintiff attached to his objection was the same transcript of the commission hearing that the defendant had attached to her motion to dismiss. Importantly, in neither his objection to the defendant's motion to dismiss nor at oral argument on the motion did the plaintiff assert that the court was required to conduct an evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed jurisdictional facts.

On January 23, 2018, the trial court granted the defendant's motion to...

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13 cases
  • Khan v. Yale University
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • March 4, 2022
    ... ... See, e.g. , Priore v. Haig , 196 Conn. App. 675, 705, 230 A.3d 714 (identifying planning and zoning commission hearing as quasi-judicial), cert. granted 335 Conn ... ...
  • Khan v. Yale Univ.
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    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • January 7, 2021
    ... ... at 571, 606 A.2d 693 (teacher decertification proceedings before State Board of Education); Priore v. Haig , 196 Conn. App. 675, 705, 230 A.3d 714 (App. Ct. 2020), cert. granted , 335 Conn. 955, 239 A.3d 317 (2020) (hearing conducted by ... ...
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