Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, in case of Craig Rok, an individual t/d/b/a Craig Auto Service and Towing v. Thomas E. Flaherty, individually and in his capacity as Controller of the City of Pittsburgh; Thomas Fitzgerald, individually and in his capacity as Aide to the Controller of the City of Pittsburgh; and Kevin Forsythe, individually and in his capacity as Aide to the Controller of the City of Pittsburgh, No. GD85-14733.
Karyn Ashley Rok, Rok and Baskin, for appellant.
David M. Neuhart, with him, William J. Clifford, Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., for appellees.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Barry, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr. Concurring and Dissenting Opinion by Judge Macphail.
[ 106 Pa. Commw. Page 572]
Craig Rok, t/d/b/a Craig Auto Service and Towing (Rok), appeals an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court order sustaining preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer of Pittsburgh City Controller Thomas E. Flaherty (Flaherty). The common pleas court dismissed Rok's defamation complaint, concluding that Flaherty enjoyed absolute immunity.*fn1 We reverse and remand.
The City of Pittsburgh advertised for bids on contracts for the procurement of towing services used by the various City departments. The Director of General Services awarded the contract to Rok. Flaherty refused to countersign. The common pleas court granted the City's peremptory judgment motion and ordered Flaherty to countersign (Order No. GD85-12952 dated August 13, 1985).
Flaherty again refused to sign and appealed, citing improper influence by the Mayor in awarding the contract. On September 10, 1985, the common pleas court revoked Flaherty's automatic supersedeas and again ordered that he sign. In Flaherty v. City of Pittsburgh, 100 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 508, 515 A.2d 91 (1986), this Court affirmed, holding that the signing of the contract was a purely ministerial act of the Controller's office which Flaherty had a mandatory duty to perform. Flaherty subsequently complied.
During this political maneuvering, Rok filed a complaint, which is the subject of this appeal, against
[ 106 Pa. Commw. Page 573]
Flaherty for defamation and intentional interference with contractual relations. Flaherty raised the common law defense of absolute immunity.
Our scope of review of a common pleas court order sustaining preliminary objections and dismissing a complaint is limited to a determination of whether the trial court abused its discretion or committed an error of law. Department of Environmental Resources Appeal, 91 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 381, 497 A.2d 284 (1985).
Absolute privilege, as its name implies, is unlimited and exempts a high public official from all civil suits for damages arising out of false defamatory statements and even from statements or actions motivated by malice provided the statements are made or the actions are taken in the course of the scope of his authority or as it is sometimes ...