No. 1535 April Term, 1978, No. 1536 April Term, 1978, Appeals from the Orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, at Nos. G.D. 78-9109 and G.D. 78-9110.
Garland H. McAdoo, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Joseph F. Grochmal, Pittsburgh, for John P. Lynch, appellee.
John J. McLean, Jr., Pittsburgh, for Carol Brown, appellee.
Cercone, President Judge, and Montgomery and Lipez, JJ.
[ 275 Pa. Super. Page 334]
The instant appeals arise from Orders of the lower court sustaining the Appellees' preliminary objections in the nature of demurrers. Originally, two actions were filed before the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Both cases have an identical procedural history and have been consolidated for purposes of appeal.
In the first case, the Appellant Richard E. Barber, an individual, initiated an action against John P. Lynch, Appellee, the Controller of Allegheny County, and against Carol Brown, who at the time of the initiation of suit, was Deputy
[ 275 Pa. Super. Page 335]
Controller of Allegheny County. In the second case, the Appellant Urban Talent Development Corporation, a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation, brought suit against the same two officials. The Complaints in each case were substantially identical. Although somewhat lengthy, the gist of the Complaints was that the Appellees made defamatory statements about the Appellants, which were reported in two newspaper articles in Pittsburgh. The Complaints alleged that such defamatory statements were false and made with actual malice or a reckless disregard for the truth.
The Appellees filed preliminary objections, demurring to the Complaints. In such preliminary objections, Appellees maintained that because of their public offices, they enjoyed an immunity from tort liability in suits such as those initiated by Appellants. The Appellees also concurrently claimed what must be termed a qualified immunity or privilege in connection with the allegedly defamatory statements.*fn1 The Appellees also argued that the statements in issue were not defamatory.
After Appellees had filed their preliminary objections, both Appellants in turn filed preliminary objections contending that the defenses of immunity and privilege could not be raised by preliminary objections in the nature of demurrers by each Appellant. The lower court granted the Appellees' preliminary objections solely upon its finding that the Appellees enjoyed absolute immunity from suit in the instant actions by virtue of their respective positions as "high ...