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Ravalese v. Lertora

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 18, 2018


          Argued September 12, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, defamation, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the court, Elgo, J., granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Keith Yagaloff, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Michael R. McPherson, for the appellee (defendant).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Alvord and Lavery, Js.


          LAVERY, J.

         The plaintiff, David Ravalese, appeals from the summary judgment rendered by the trial court in favor of the defendant, Joanne M. Lertora, on his complaint sounding in defamation. On appeal, the plaintiff sets forth two main claims: (1) the court improperly held that a report authored by the defendant was made for the purpose of litigation and, therefore, that the plaintiff's action for defamation was barred by the doctrine of absolute immunity; and (2) the court improperly held that the statute of limitations barred the action.[1]We affirm the judgment of the court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our decision. In 2000, the court dissolved the marriage of the plaintiff and Kimberly Ravalese, whom we refer to jointly as the Ravaleses. Following the dissolution of their marriage, the Ravaleses were involved in protracted and contentious postjudgment custody and visitation proceedings. In February, 2004, the court appointed a guardian ad litem for their minor child. Between 2004 and 2012, the Ravaleses were involved in numerous court proceedings, including, inter alia, various motions for contempt that had been filed by the plaintiff, a court-ordered appointment of a new guardian ad litem for the minor child, and a court-ordered study for parental alienation. The defendant is a psychologist, who provided individual psychotherapy to the minor child on or about September, 2004 through December, 2010.

         During the course of these proceedings, in early 2010, Kimberly Ravalese's attorney, Fatima Lobo, forwarded to Kimberly Ravalese an e-mail, requesting that she ask the defendant to draft a report summarizing the defendant's insights regarding the appropriate custody and visitation arrangements for the child. Kimberly Ravalese then gave the defendant a hard copy of this e-mail and asked the defendant to compose the requested report.

         In response, the defendant composed a report summarizing her assessment. Both the plaintiff and Kimberly Ravalese signed an agreement authorizing the defendant to make the report available to their respective attorneys and to the child's guardian ad litem, Emily Moskowitz. The defendant attests that she provided a copy of her report only to Lobo and to Kimberly Ravalese.[2]

         In the report, the defendant discussed, among other things, the child's reports of the plaintiff's engaging in abusive behavior, the defendant's opinion that the plaintiff's behavior warranted a personality disorder diagnosis, and the defendant's recommendations regarding visitation between the plaintiff and his minor child. Lobo attempted to introduce the report into evidence at a July 8, 2010 postdissolution court hearing, but was unsuccessful because the child's guardian ad litem, Moskowitz, asserted the psychologist-patient privilege, and the court, thereafter, declined to admit the report.[3] In August, 2011, Kimberly Ravalese filed a grievance against Moskowitz with the Statewide Grievance Committee (grievance committee). The plaintiff alleges in his operative complaint that during the grievance proceedings, Kimberly Ravalese provided the defendant's report to the grievance committee.

         The plaintiff filed a complaint, dated May 28, 2013, in the Superior Court against the defendant, sounding in defamation and several other theories of liability.[4]The plaintiff alleged in relevant part that the defendant, in the report she had authored, unfairly characterized him as a child abuser and a sociopath. In the operative complaint, the plaintiff describes two separate instances that he alleges constitute defamation: (1) when the defendant provided the report to Kimberly Ravalese in June, 2010; and (2) when Kimberly Ravalese allegedly submitted the report to ‘‘the grievance committee, and to attorneys representing the parties in that matter, to various individuals involved in the hearing, including mental health professionals.''

         In response to the plaintiff's operative complaint, the defendant pleaded several special defenses, namely, that the statements in the report are truthful, that they are statements of opinion, that they are absolutely privileged because they were published in connection with judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings, that they were published in good faith, with the health and welfare of a child in mind, and, therefore, that they are protected by a qualified privilege, that the plaintiff's defamation count is barred ...

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