Say what you want in court or before the General Assembly, because those statements enjoy “absolute immunity.” If you give an untruthful statement under oath, of course, you could be punished for a crime, but you cannot be sued in civil court for damages. You are immune from suit. The same rule has traditionally applied to proceedings in “quasi-judicial” settings, as well. Examples have typically included state and local agencies. The intent of this long-standing legal principle was to encourage members of the public to come forward and make their feelings known.
Because of a recent ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court, however, members of the public must become more careful. Now, you can be sued over defamatory comments made at a local land-use hearing. The Court reasoned that local land-use bodies don’t have the authority to punish untruthfulness or otherwise to ensure the reliability of the information they receive. Thus, the Supreme Court allowed an applicant before a Planning & Zoning Commission to proceed with a defamation action against a vocal opponent who made nasty comments about him during the public hearing.
Local land-use hearings often generate spirited comments. Applicants and opponents, alike, often exchange barbed remarks. Now, they should be more cautious about what they say. The freedom to participate in a public hearing no longer carries immunity from suit. In other words, watch what you say!
If you have questions about this new ruling or defamation suits, please call us at 203-744-1929. We are available to help!