New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

METROPILOTS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-030-903, Claim No. 108276, Motion No. M-69033


Synopsis



Case Information

UID:
2005-030-903
Claimant(s):
METROPILOTS ASSOCIATION, LLC AND METROPOLITAN PILOTS ASSOCIATION
Claimant short name:
METROPILOTS
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
108276
Motion number(s):
M-69033
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Claimant's attorney:
Warren S. Goodman, Esq.(no appearance)
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney Generalby Grace A. Brannigan, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 10, 2005
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

The court read and considered the following papers on defendant's motion for summary


judgment: Notice of Motion, Affirmation and Exhibits. Claimants allege that they were defamed by the publication of two articles in the New York Daily News and the New York Post, "which newspaper articles contained slanderous, defamatory and libelous statements and information, which, upon information and belief was provided by the New York State Board of Commissioner of Pilots ["Board"] and its executive secretary Robert Pouch" (Claim, ¶ 3). Defendant moves for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity.

The subject of the two newspaper articles at issue herein was a report issued by Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein entitled "Safe Harbor," which stated that the practice of using unlicensed docking pilots in the Port of New York/New Jersey created a security loophole with implications in the fight against terrorism. Mr. Pouch advises that the Board is a public agency created for the purpose of regulating the selection of pilots for the Port of New York/New Jersey. He further advises that Assemblyman Klein's office requested information from the Board and that he was provided with copies of the Board's annual reports. Information in these reports contributed to the "Safe Harbor" report which Assemblyman Klein released in support of his bill requiring the licensing of pilots.

Defamation is defined as
the making of a false statement which tends to "‘expose the plaintiff to public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace, or induce an evil opinion of him in the minds of right-thinking persons, and to deprive him of their friendly intercourse in society'" Rinaldi v Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 42 NY2d 369, 379, citing Sydney v Macfadden Newspaper Publ. Corp., 242 NY 208, 211-212). Even though a statement is defamatory, there exists a qualified privilege where the communication is made to persons who have some common interest in the subject matter (Liberman v Gelstein, 80 NY2d 429, 437). (Foster v Churchill, 87 NY2d 744).
"[S]tatements to the press made by governmental representatives relating to governmental matters are subject to a qualified privilege" [Firth v State of New York (Ct Cl, Collins, J., unreported decision and order dated May 29, 2003, UID No. 2003-015-322)] and, a fortiori, information provided by a state agency to a state legislator in connection with the official business of both the agency and the legislature are entitled to, at least, a qualified privilege if not an absolute privilege. Statements covered by a qualified privilege cannot be the basis of a claim for defamation in the absence of proof of actual malice or knowledge of the probable falsity of the statements. Here, claimants have defaulted on the motion[1] and have not raised the issue of actual malice. Moreover, the papers before the court do not indicate that any information provided by the Board or Mr. Pouch to Assemblyman Klein was untrue.

Accordingly, the motion is granted and the claim is dismissed.


February 10, 2005
White Plains, New York

HON. THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]The motion was originally returnable on September 15, 2004 and was adjourned at claimants' request to October 20, 2004. Claimants requested, and were granted, a second adjournment, to November 17, 2004, and a third adjournment, to December 1, 2004. On December 1, 2004, the court was advised by claimants' counsel that the Attorney General had consented to a further two-week adjournment. That was the last communication received by the court on this matter.