Speaker at Zoning Commission Hearing Enjoys Same Free Speech Protections as if at Trial Before a Court
In Priore v. Haig, AC 41748, the Appellate Court concluded that statements made by one of the plaintiff’s neighbors during a zoning commission hearing on the plaintiff’s application for a special permit to install a sewer line were quasi-judicial in nature, and therefore entitled to absolute litigation immunity.
At the hearing, the neighbor expressed concern that the construction of the sewer line would impact the health of trees she claimed to “co-own” with the plaintiff. She also stated that the plaintiff had a “criminal past[,]” and had “paid over $40 million in fines to the [Securities and Exchange Commission].” These statements were cloaked with the immunity of the absolute litigation privilege, the Appellate Court found, because the zoning commission hearing required the commission to exercise discretion; ascertain, hear, and decide facts; examine witnesses; the commission was empowered to make binding judgments; the commission had the power to affect property rights; and public policy strongly favored permitting concerned citizens the ability to offer information at zoning commission hearings without the risk of being sued for the same. The takeaway is that a speaker at a zoning commission hearing enjoys the same free speech protections as he or she would enjoy at a trial before a court.