SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
530 N.E.2d 468, 124 Ill. 2d 483, 125 Ill. Dec. 310 1988.IL.1548
Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Third District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of La Salle County, the Hon. William P. Denny, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE WARD delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE STAMOS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE WARD
The plaintiff, Gerald Krasinski, filed suit in the circuit court of La Salle County against United Parcel Service, Inc. , and two of its employees, alleging unlawful discharge from employment and malicious defamation. The unlawful discharge count was dismissed in June 1982, and the defendants then moved for summary judgment on the defamation counts, claiming that the statements involved were privileged communications. The trial court denied the defendants' motion, finding that, though the defendants had a qualified privilege in making the statements, an issue of material fact existed as to whether the statements were made with actual malice. The defendants then successfully moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the claim was preempted by Federal law. The appellate court reversed (155 Ill. App. 3d 831), holding that the tort of malicious defamation is an independent State court cause of action not preempted by Federal law. We granted the defendants leave to appeal. 107 Ill. 2d R. 315.
As this appeal is before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss, all well-pleaded facts in the complaint will be regarded as true and all reasonable inferences from them will be considered as correct. (Kirk v. Michael Reese Hospital & Medical Center (1987), 117 Ill. 2d 507, 514, cert. denied (1988), 485 U.S. 905, 99 L. Ed. 2d 236, 108 S. Ct. 1077; Katz v. Belmont National Bank (1986), 112 Ill. 2d 64, 67.) The complaint is in four counts. The first alleges that while the plaintiff was employed as a package driver for UPS, the company, through its agents and employees, maliciously defamed him. The allegations of the complaint are that on October 7, 1981, Frank Wise, a loss-prevention supervisor for UPS, and Bill Fields, a loss-prevention manager for UPS, waited for the plaintiff to return to the UPS office from his route. Wise, in the presence of Fields and another UPS employee, said to the plaintiff:
"I have a signed statement from Gale Koehler that you sold him the saw and that you knew it was hot."
Wise's statement, the complaint sets out, was false and the intention was to charge that the plaintiff had stolen a chain saw from a company shipment. It alleges that Wise made the statement, although he knew he did not have a signed statement from Koehler to the effect that the plaintiff sold him the saw and that the plaintiff knew it was "hot." On the same day, the complaint alleges, Wise, in the presence of the plaintiff's supervisor and Fields, said:
"We're going to have to terminate him [the plaintiff] . . ., because this is a UPS shipment and Jerry stole the saw."
Fields, on the same date, in the presence of the plaintiff's supervisor and Wise, it was claimed, stated:
"He [the plaintiff] will have to be terminated for dishonesty."
All the above statements, it is charged, were made with knowledge that they were false and with reckless disregard of the truth. The plaintiff alleges the statements were made with the intent to destroy his good name and reputation in his employment and "to accuse the plaintiff of a crime to cause him to lose him employment." The statements were made allegedly because UPS and its employees "could not substantiate an earlier wrongdoing that the defendant, through its agents and employees, believed that [Krasinski] had committed and knowing that the plaintiff was an active spokesman of employee rights within the company."
Count I is directed against UPS, count III is against Wise, and count IV is against Fields, and each is based on the above statements. Count II, also directed against UPS, alleges that another defamatory statement was made through its agent and employee, James Dobbins, UPS' division manager, on October 9, 1981, when he sent a notice of termination from UPS employment to the plaintiff, and copies to the plaintiff's union and to other UPS employees. The letter to Krasinski states that he was being terminated because "after completing an investigation on October 7, 1981, it was determined that you were involved in a dishonest act," in violation of the labor agreement between UPS and the plaintiff's ...