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Neron v. Cossette

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New Haven, Meriden

August 12, 2015

John Neron
v.
Jeffry Cossette et al

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT #187 AND #188

Jack W. Fischer, Judge.

FACTS

On May 2, 2012, the plaintiff, John Neron, filed a five-count amended complaint[1] against the defendants, Jeffry Cossette and William Glass, for defamation (count one--Cossette; count two--Glass), and against Cossette for intentional infliction of emotion distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with a business relationship (respectively, count three, count four, and count five). The complaint alleges the following facts. In April 2009, the plaintiff was employed by Bozzuto's, Inc. (Bozzuto's). On or about April 22, 2009, Cossette made several defamatory statements to Glass, the plaintiff's manager at Bozzuto's, including " that the plaintiff had been forced to resign from the Meriden Police Department on the day that he was going to be terminated, that he had been the subject of many internal investigations, direct rules violations and dereliction of duty complaints, and that he had been arrested for domestic violence, " and that the plaintiff " had been the subject of many sexual harassment complaints and that he had been labeled a woman stalker by the Meriden Police Department and that he had threatened a female State's Attorney Administrative Assistant." The plaintiff further alleges that the statements made by Cossette, as stated in the first count, were made falsely, maliciously, and recklessly and with the intent to damage the plaintiff's employment relationship with Bozzuto's. As a result, Glass investigated the plaintiff, and Glass published these statements in the plaintiff's personnel file with Bozzuto's.

In count three, which sounds in intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff additionally alleges that Cossette had knowledge that these extreme and outrageous statements were likely to cause emotional distress. In count four, which sounds in negligent infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff also alleges that Cossette " negligently disregarded the fact that his actions were likely to cause the plaintiff to suffer, and were likely to cause any person of ordinary sensibilities similarly situated to the plaintiff to suffer, emotional distress." The plaintiff does not allege any additional facts in count five, sounding in tortious interference with a business relationship, against Cossette, but states that these facts constitute a claim for tortious interference with a business relationship.

In count two, the defamation count against Glass, the plaintiff further alleges that on or about April 22, 2009, Glass maliciously stated to Thomas Halpin and Al Spriggs that (1) he had information that the plaintiff lied on his employment application regarding his retirement from the Meriden Police Department (MPD), and (2) Lilly Greaney and Malda Vneshta had complained to him that the plaintiff made them uncomfortable and that " he was strange and creepy." The plaintiffs alleges that on or about April 28, 2009, Glass maliciously and falsely published in the plaintiff's personnel file with Bozzuto's: (1) statements made by Cossette, (2) statements made by Greaney and Vneshta that they " felt uncomfortable" in the plaintiff's presence, and he was " bothering them"; and (3) statements by Chrissa Caramia that she " felt weird and freaked out by Neron's presence, as he requested numerous times to get involved in helping work with battered women or at a Meriden Based Woman's shelter and community events, " and that she " felt very uncomfortable being in a room alone with him." Furthermore, the plaintiff alleges that on or about April 28, 2009, Glass falsely and maliciously published his own statement in the plaintiff's personnel file with Bozzuto's that " if Neron was willing to misrepresent the truth about his past . . . he is willing to misrepresent the truth about other incidents occurring within and around Bozzuto's." The plaintiff alleges that as a result of Glass' statements, the plaintiff became the target of an investigation at Bozzuto's.

On February 6, 2013, Glass filed his revised answer to the amended complaint, which includes special defenses of truthfulness, expressions of opinion, qualified privilege, and authorization pursuant to the plaintiff's employment application. On May 24, 2013, Cossette filed his amended answer and special defenses to the amended complaint, and such special defenses include truthfulness, qualified privilege, authorization pursuant to the plaintiff's employment application, and governmental immunity.[2]

On February 26, 2015, Glass filed a motion for summary judgment and a memorandum of law and exhibits in support. On February 27, 2015, Cossette filed a motion for summary judgment and a memorandum of law and exhibits in support. On March 16, 2015, the plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to Glass' motion for summary judgment and exhibits, arguing that genuine issues of material fact exist. On March 17, 2015, the plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to Cossette's motion for summary judgment and exhibits, arguing that genuine issues of material fact exist. Then, on April 8, 2015, Glass filed a reply memorandum and motion for order pursuant to Practice Book § 13-14(b)(4) in light of an alleged abuse of discovery rules.[3] On April 16, 2015, Cossette filed a reply memorandum and exhibits.[4] The matter was heard at the short calendar on April 20, 2015.

DISCUSSION

" Summary judgment is a method of resolving litigation when pleadings, affidavits, and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law . . . The motion for summary judgment is designed to eliminate the delay and expense of litigating an issue when there is no real issue to be tried . . . However, since litigants ordinarily have a constitutional right to have issues of fact decided by a jury . . . the moving party for summary judgment is held to a strict standard . . . of demonstrating his entitlement to summary judgment." (Citation omitted; footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Grenier v. Commissioner of Transportation, 306 Conn. 523, 534-35, 51 A.3d 367 (2012). " In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court's function is not to decide issues of material fact . . . but rather to determine whether any such issues exist." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Connecticut v. Gauss, 302 Conn. 408, 421-22, 28 A.3d 302 (2011), cert. denied, Gauss v. Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Connecticut, 132 S.Ct. 2773, 183 L.Ed.2d 653 (2012). " [T]he 'genuine issue' aspect of summary judgment requires the parties to bring forward before trial evidentiary facts, or substantial evidence outside the pleadings, from which the material facts alleged in the pleadings can warrantably be inferred . . . A material fact has been defined adequately and simply as a fact which will make a difference in the result of the case." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Buell Industries, Inc. v. Greater New York Mutual Ins. Co., 259 Conn. 527, 556, 791 A.2d 489 (2002). The " court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Provencher v. Enfield, 284 Conn. 772, 791, 936 A.2d 625 (2007).

" The courts are in entire agreement that the moving party for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue as to all the material facts, which, under applicable principles of substantive law, entitle him to a judgment as a matter of law . . . To satisfy his burden the movant must make a showing that it is quite clear what the truth is, and that excludes any real doubt as to the existence of any genuine issue of material fact . . . When documents submitted in support of a motion for summary judgment fail to establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party has no obligation to submit documents establishing the existence of such an issue . . . Once the moving party has met its burden, however, the opposing party must present evidence that demonstrates the existence of some disputed factual issue . . . It is not enough, however, for the opposing party merely to assert the existence of such a disputed issue. Mere assertions of fact . . . are insufficient to establish the existence of a material fact and, therefore, cannot refute evidence properly presented to the court under Practice Book § [17-45]." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Ramirez v. Health Net of the Northeast, Inc., 285 Conn. 1, 10-11, 938 A.2d 576 (2008).

In the present action, the plaintiff has alleged defamation counts against both defendants, and as these counts are interconnected, this court will address both defamation counts at the same time. Glass argues that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to count two of the amended complaint because there is no genuine issue of any material fact. Glass asserts that the statements the plaintiff claims are defamatory were either substantially true or were his own opinions. Glass also argues that he is entitled to a qualified privilege because Glass, as a Bozzuto's manager, had the right to (1) conduct an investigation of the plaintiff as a Bozzuto's employee, (2) speak with the plaintiff's former employers, such as Cossette, chief of police for the MPD, and (3) discuss the investigation with certain Bozzuto's management employees, such as Halpin and Spriggs. Moreover, the plaintiff authorized Bozzuto's to conduct an investigation and/or speak to former employers by the plaintiff's execution of a Bozzuto's employment application (application). In support of his motion, Glass submits a memorandum of law, a statement of undisputed facts, a reply memorandum and motion for order, and the following evidence: (1) copies of the application, documents, emails, and notes from Bozzuto's personnel file on the plaintiff, (2) copies of portions of the certified deposition transcript of Glass, the plaintiff, Spriggs, and Bonnie Sirois, a Bozzuto's employee; (3) copies of various newspaper articles about the plaintiff, (4) the plaintiff's arrest warrant applications; (5) copies of documents from the plaintiff's employment with the MPD; (6) copies of federal court pleadings and a Connecticut employment security appeals division decision; and (7) a copy of Juliana Esposito's, a Bozzuto's employee, signed and sworn affidavit.[5]

Similar to Glass, Cossette argues that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to count one of the amended complaint because there is no genuine issue of any material fact. Cossette asserts that the statements the plaintiff claims are defamatory are substantially true. In addition, Cossette contends that he is entitled to a qualified privilege as the plaintiff's former employer to speak in his official capacity with Bozzuto's and responds to questions raised as part of an investigation, particularly an investigation that was authorized by the plaintiff pursuant to his execution of the application. Cossette also argues that because the plaintiff was a public official/figure, he cannot bring an action for defamation, that Cossette is entitled to a qualified privilege for the discharge of his official duties, and that the plaintiff waived any liability against Cossette by virtue of his execution of the application. In support of his motion, Cossette submits a memorandum of law, a reply memorandum, and the following evidence: (1) copies of the application, documents, and notes from Bozzuto's employee file on the plaintiff, (2) copies of portions of the certified deposition transcript of Glass, the plaintiff, and Spriggs; (3) copies of various newspaper articles and an article on the plaintiff's counsel's website about the plaintiff; (4) the plaintiff's arrest warrant applications; (5) copies of documents from the plaintiff's employment with the MPD; (6) a copy of a Connecticut employment security appeals division decision; and (7) a copy of Cossette's signed and sworn affidavit.[6]

The plaintiff counters in both his memorandums of law in opposition that there are genuine issues of material fact because the evidence demonstrates that the statements made by Glass and Cossette and published by Glass were proffered with malice, the defendants abused their qualified privileges, and the determination of truthfulness or qualified privilege are questions of fact for a fact finder. Furthermore, the plaintiff asserts that Cossette was not discharging his official duties at the time of these alleged defamatory acts took place, and the waiver language provided in the application was unenforceable. In support of his memorandums in opposition, the plaintiff submits the following evidence: (1) copies of the deposition transcripts of Sirois, Spriggs, Glass; (2) a copy of Sirois' resume; (3) copies of documents, emails, pictures, and notes from Bozzuto's employee file on the plaintiff, and (4) a copy of the plaintiff's counsel's signed and sworn affidavit, attaching emails between the plaintiff's counsel and Spriggs and a copy of Spriggs' " LinkedIn" page.[7]

I. DEFAMATION

" A defamatory statement is defined as a communication that tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him . . ." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Nodoushani v. Southern Connecticut State University, 152 Conn.App. 84, 95 n.6, 95 A.3d 1248 (2014). " Defamation is comprised of the torts of libel and slander. Defamation is that which tends to injure reputation in the popular sense; to diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or confidence in which the plaintiff is held, or to excite adverse, derogatory, or unpleasant feelings or opinions against him." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) DeVito v. Schwartz, 66 Conn.App. 228, 234, 784 A.2d 376 (2001). " To establish a prima facie case of defamation, the plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) the defendant published a defamatory statement; (2) the defamatory statement identified the plaintiff to a third person; (3) the defamatory statement was published to a ...


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