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Mclaughlin v. Tilendis

SEPTEMBER 24, 1969.

JAMES MCLAUGHLIN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ALBERT TILENDIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE. JOHN STEELE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ALBERT TILENDIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ALBERT HALLETT, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.

Rehearing denied October 24, 1969.

Plaintiffs, John Steele and James McLaughlin, are schoolteachers, and each brought a separate two-count complaint for slander and malicious interference with contract against defendant, Albert Tilendis, Superintendent of Schools of School District No. 149. On defendant's motion the trial court dismissed the actions stating defendant enjoyed an absolute privilege in his official capacity. Plaintiffs' actions have been consolidated on appeal.

The issue in both actions is whether communications made by a school superintendent to a board of education regarding the qualifications of teachers are absolutely privileged.

Plaintiff McLaughlin alleged he was a holder of a regular teaching certificate, and pursuant to an agreement with the Board of Education, did teach as a regular teacher for the entire 1964-65 school year and continued to teach pursuant to a subsequent agreement for the 1965-66 school year.

Plaintiff Steele alleged a similar agreement and that he was a holder of a regular teaching certificate, except that he started teaching in September 1965, a year later than plaintiff McLaughlin. Plaintiffs were probationary and not tenure teachers.

Both complaints alleged: plaintiffs enjoyed reputations as persons of honesty, integrity and teachers of ability; defendant had the duty to make recommendations and accurately represent to the Board of Education the effectiveness and capabilities of its teachers; defendant did not observe plaintiffs' teaching but observation was conducted on a regular basis by superiors; plaintiffs discharged their duties with efficiency and integrity and received the approval and commendations of the supervisors assigned to observe plaintiffs; both plaintiffs engaged in the organization of a local union of school teachers; defendant opposed the formation of said union, and seeking to prevent and discourage this union activity, embarked upon a course of action designed to defame and discredit plaintiffs, not because of any deficiency in their teaching, but solely because of plaintiffs' union organizing activity. As to plaintiff McLaughlin, it was further alleged that defendant maliciously and knowing them to be false and without basis, made the following accusations against plaintiff to the Board of Education: that plaintiff's teaching was poor, that plaintiff had done poorly in certain courses at Chicago Teacher's College during the fall of 1964, that plaintiff left his room unattended and that in general lacked ability as a teacher. As to plaintiff Steele, the allegations were the same, except for the matters pertaining to Chicago Teacher's College.

Plaintiffs alleged that the defendant's false statements, relied upon by the Board of Education to refuse plaintiffs' continued employment as teachers, caused plaintiffs to be injured, their professional reputation damaged, their employment resume marred, their reputations in the school district community blemished; their rights, guaranteed under Illinois Teacher Tenure Law, have been disregarded and their abilities to participate in the affairs of their local union have been limited. Plaintiffs each asked damages in the amount of $250,000.

The second count of their complaints realleged the foregoing but added that defendant intentionally made the false representations to the Board of Education so that the Board would refuse to continue to employ plaintiffs; that defendant manipulated the Business Meeting Agenda of the Board for March 23, 1966, and defendant made the foregoing representations in order to have the Board adopt a resolution wherein the minutes of the meeting reflected that the Board adopt defendant's recommendations not to retain plaintiffs for the ensuing school year. Plaintiffs also allege damages of $250,000 under this count.

OPINION

Defendant contends the remarks are absolutely privileged to further the public good and insure that the operation of government will not be impeded by irate employees and vexatious litigation. Defendant argues that the remarks complained of were allegedly made at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Education and one of the items on the Board's agenda was defendant's recommendations as to the employment of teachers for the next school year; and that the alleged remarks concerned the qualifications and teaching abilities of plaintiffs, and thus, defendant's remarks related directly to the statutory action required of the defendant *fn1 and the Board. *fn2 Defendant further contends that the remarks were not made to, or heard by anyone other than the Board, and Ill Rev Stats, c 102 § 42 (1967), authorizes closed sessions of the School Board, "to consider information regarding appointment, employment or dismissal of an employee."

Plaintiffs contend that the Illinois Constitution, the Illinois Tort Immunity Act and Illinois case law support the proposition that public officers and employees are liable for intentional torts, including defamation.

In Cook v. East Shore Newspapers, Inc., 327 Ill. App. 559, 64 N.E.2d 751 (1945) the court said at pages 577-78:

"Privileged communications are divided into two general classes: (1) those absolutely privileged, and (2) those only conditionally privileged. An absolutely privileged communication is one in respect of which by reason of the occasion on which or the matter in reference to which it is made no remedy can be had in a civil action. This class is narrow and is practically limited to legislative and judicial proceedings and other acts of State, including communications made in the discharge of a duty under express authority of law, or to heads of the executive departments of the State, and matters involving military affairs. A publication which is conditionally or qualifiedly privileged is one made in good faith on any subject matter in which the person publishing has an interest, or in reference to which he has a duty if made to a person having a corresponding interest or duty, even though it contains matter which without this privilege would be actionable. The essential elements of the conditionally privileged ...


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