Articles on zoning deals are immune from defamation suit
CONNECTICUT–In early March the state Supreme Court in Hartford held that newspaper editorials and articles accusing a developer of “sleazy” dealings with a zoning commission were not sufficient to support the developer’s libel suit.
The high court affirmed the dismissal of the case by a trial court in Hartford.
Developer Lewis Lizotte sued the Manchester Journal Inquirer in August 1989 after the newspaper printed a series of more than 40 articles and editorials about a zoning approval granted to the developer by the Enfield Planning and Zoning Commission.
In May 1996 trial court judge Joseph Koletsky granted summary judgment in favor of the newspaper, finding that the Journal Inquirer’s reports were either accurate statements of fact or “rhetorical hyperbole” and thus immune from Lizotte’s defamation suit.
The newspaper reports had been critical of the deal between the developer and the commission, observing that the “secret approval of a big condominium project coincides with generous contributions by the developer and his lawyer” to a local Democratic political action committee. The court found that Lizotte could not sue the newspaper for such statements because he did not refute or deny the truthfulness of the allegations.
Editorials described the deal as “illegal, sleazy and possibly corrupt,” a “payoff” and a “racket.” The court found that such “loose, figurative, or hyperbolic language” indicated that the author was expressing an opinion rather than making a false allegation of fact and thus was protected from the developer’s defamation suit. (Lizotte v. Welker; Media Counsel: Rick Robinson, Hartford)