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Florida Third DCA rules that former mayor of the City of South Miami was entitled to immunity from defamation lawsuit brought by the city’s former chief of police

On November 4, 2020, in Martinez de Castro, et al, v. Stoddard, et al., No. 3D19-2096, the Florida Third DCA affirmed a trial court ruling that the former mayor of the City of South Miami was immune from a defamation lawsuit brought by the city’s former chief of police.  The plaintiff alleged that he had been defamed by the then-mayor in a blog that detailed allegedly unethical conduct by the then-police chief.  The plaintiff argued that the defendant did not enjoy absolute immunity from suit  because at the time the statements were made, the plaintiff was a ceremonial mayor and as such did not have the authority to hire, fire or supervise the chief of police.  The Third DCA noted that the mayor was a voting member of the City Commission and served as its presiding officer, and while  his position was in part ceremonial, it was also true that the City Commission was empowered under the City’s Charter to conduct investigations into the affairs of the City and the actions of any City department, board, officer or agency. The Third DCA cited Cassell v. India, 964 So. 2d 190, 195 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (“[t]he fact that [the defendant’s] statement may be viewed as having an unworthy or non-public purpose does not destroy the privilege”), and Albritton v. Gandy, 531 So. 2d 381, 387 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988) (“in actions against a government official for defamation, public officials are protected by absolute immunity no matter how false or malicious or badly motivated  a statement may be as long as the statements or actions fall within the ‘scope of duty’ of the public official”)

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