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Cohen v. King

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 2, 2019


          Argued November 27, 2018

         Procedural History

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

          Debra Cohen, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

          Philip Miller, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, former attorney general, for the appellee (defendant).

          Lavine, Keller and Beach, Js.


          PER CURIAM.

         The self-represented plaintiff, Debra Cohen, appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting a motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, Patricia A. King. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in concluding that the doctrine of litigation privilege barred her action sounding in defamation and fraud. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our decision. The defendant was the chief disciplinary counsel for the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. The plaintiff was terminated from her position as a staff attorney for the Office of the Probate Court Administrator following a disciplinary proceeding conducted pursuant to the Connecticut Judicial Branch Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual Policy 612, titled ‘‘Corrective Discipline.'' While the proceeding was pending, the Probate Court Administrator notified the defendant of the matter.

         The defendant then assigned an assistant chief disciplinary counsel to investigate the matter. Thereafter, the defendant initiated grievance proceedings against the plaintiff. A reviewing committee issued a reprimand to the plaintiff. The Statewide Grievance Committee (committee) and the Superior Court affirmed the reprimand.[1]

         During the pendency of the grievance proceeding, the plaintiff filed her own grievance complaint against the defendant. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant's decision to file a grievance ‘‘violated several sections of the Practice Book, the duties and responsibilities of her office, and the public's trust . . . .'' In response, the defendant contended that the plaintiff's grievance complaint was without merit. The grievance panel found no probable cause and dismissed the complaint against the defendant.

         The plaintiff then instituted the present civil action against the defendant. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant ‘‘published false and defamatory statements and remarks about the plaintiff in her (defendant's) answer to [the plaintiff's] Grievance Complaint [against the defendant] . . . .''[2] The defendant moved to dismiss the action on the ground of litigation privilege. The court concluded that the litigation privilege barred the action and granted the motion to dismiss. This appeal followed.

         The issue presented is whether the court erred in concluding that the litigation privilege extends absolute immunity to statements made to the attorney disciplinary authority by an attorney who is the subject of a grievance complaint. In deciding a motion to dismiss, a ‘‘court must take the facts to be those alleged in the complaint, including those facts necessarily implied from the allegations, construing them in a manner most favorable to the pleader . . . . The motion to dismiss . . . admits all facts which are well pleaded, invokes the existing record and must be decided upon that alone.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Gold v. Rowland, 296 Conn. 186, 200-201, 994 A.2d 106 (2010). ‘‘Additionally, whether attorneys are protected by absolute immunity for their conduct during judicial proceedings is a question of law over which our review is plenary.'' Simms v. Seaman, 308 Conn. 523, 530, 69 A.3d 880 (2013).

         Connecticut has long recognized the litigation privilege. See id., 535-39. ‘‘[T]he purpose of affording absolute immunity to those who provide information in connection with judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings is that in certain situations the public interest in having people speak freely outweighs the risk that individuals will occasionally abuse the privilege by making false and malicious statements. . . . Put simply, [litigation privilege] furthers the public policy of encouraging participation and candor in judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings. This objective would be thwarted if those persons whom the common-law doctrine [of litigation privilege] was intended to protect nevertheless faced the threat of suit. In this regard, the purpose of the absolute immunity afforded participants in judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings is the same as the purpose of the sovereign immunity enjoyed by the ...

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