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Silano v. Cooney

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 16, 2019


          Argued January April 3, 2019

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, defamation, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk and transferred to the judicial district of Fairfield, where the matter was tried to the court, Hon. Michael Hartmere, judge trial referee; judgment for the defendants, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Virginia Silano, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

          Brock T. Dubin, for the appellees (defendants).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Sheldon and Moll, Js.


          DIPENTIMA, C. J.

         The plaintiff, Virginia Silano, appeals from the trial court's judgment in favor of the defendant George Cooney[1] on her claims of slander and libel per se. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that the court erred (1) in finding that the defendant's statements to the Trumbull Police Department were not defamatory and (2) in concluding that the defendant did not abuse his qualified privilege in making such statements to the police.[2] We are not persuaded and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as found by the trial court, and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. In 2009, the plaintiff and the defendant were members of the Pinewood Lake Association (association) and residents of Trumbull. At that time, the defendant, a retired New York City police officer, owned and operated abusiness, Hemlock Manor, LLC (Hemlock), which conducted ‘‘audits'' and investigations on behalf of Pepsi Cola Bottling Company of New York (Pepsi Bottling). The audits were conducted pursuant to a contract that Hemlock had with a business known as Winthrop Douglas, Inc. (Winthrop), which, in turn, had a contract with Pepsi Bottling.

         When conducting a typical audit for Pepsi Bottling, the defendant would purchase Pepsi product sat various locations throughout New York in order to recover certain ‘‘codes'' from these items, which he would later provide to Winthrop. The defendant also would purchase Pepsi products at his own expense in an attempt to procure contracts with other Pepsi distributors. Significantly, as a result of these endeavors, the defendant accumulated large quantities of soda. He often donated the soda to various charitable organizations throughout New York, but he also stored a substantial portion in his home garage.

         In 2009, the defendant, while serving as president of the board of governors of the association, proposed that if the association acquired a vending machine, he would stock it with soda at no cost. The board of governors approved the proposal, and the association eventually acquired a vending machine. The association had the vending machine installed near the community beach on Pinewood Lake and sold the soda for fifty cents each, which was ‘‘pure profit'' for the association. According to the association's financial statements, the income from the soda was $1093.54 in 2009 and was $1955.83 in 2010.[3]

         At some point in 2010, however, the plaintiff became concerned about the amount of litter the vending machine was causing around her home and the quality of the soda being sold. She complained to the defendant about the discarded soda cans and the fact that they could not be returned for a bottle deposit refund in Connecticut because they had been purchased in New York. Despite her complaint, the association continued to operate the vending machine and the defendant continued to stock it. In 2011, the plaintiff began making phone calls to Pepsi Bottling, complaining that the defendant was redistributing expired Pepsi products that were not redeemable in Connecticut. When making her complaints to Pepsi Bottling, the plaintiff provided her name and telephone number as return contact information.

         On June 2, 2011, the president of Winthrop, Marc Aliberti, notified the defendant that the plaintiff was making complaints to Pepsi Bottling about him. Specifically, Aliberti told the defendant that the plaintiff was providing Pepsi Bottling with negative character references and making false allegations, including telling the company that the defendant was selling ‘‘expired'' and ‘‘dirty'' soda in Connecticut and acting in a negative manner while doing so. After he was provided with this information, the defendant prepared a statement to the Trumbull Police Department in order to make a record of the situation. Detective Kevin Hammel told the defendant that, while the matter appeared to becivilinnature, if the plaintiff's behavior continued, the defendant could file an additional complaint.

         On July 28, 2011, Aliberti again called the defendant to tell him that the plaintiff had made additional false statements about the defendant to Pepsi Bottling. The defendant was informed that the plaintiff had accused him of selling Pepsi products to ‘‘every store in Trum-bull'' and that he was selling the products in an ‘‘otherwise negative manner.'' In a sworn statement, dated August 5, 2011, the defendant relayed this information to the Trumbull Police Department. The defendant indicated that the plaintiff's false allegations to Pepsi Bottling have ‘‘caused a threat of cancellation of [his] employment services with the Pepsi organization'' and ...

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