School board member's slander claim survives motion to dismiss
Julia Harvey sued fellow Oak Park School Board member Alicia Jones, after Jones embarked on a campaign of criticism relating to Harvey's alleged mis-use of her position. Among other claims, Jones alleged Harvey had improperly secured special hiring privileges for her husband, obtained special education privileges for her daughter and engaged in other illegal, unethical or unprofessional conduct. Jones made these claims in Board Meetings, on a Detroit Free Press website and in a recall petition. She defended the claim by alleging immunity based upon her school board responsibilities and privileges, and sought summary disposition of Harvey's defamation suit.
The trial court dismissed the claims arising out of Jones' comments at Board meetings and on the web site, but refused to dismiss claims related to the recall petition. The Court of Appeals upheld this decision, relying upon the Governmental Tort Liability Act, MCL 691.1401, which grants immunity to the highest executive official at all levels of government, when acting within his or her authority. The court noted that Jones was not acting within her executive capacity when she authored the recall petition language, and therefore she could not be immune from potential liability for those statements--whether or not they were similar to statements made in her official government role. She will have to defend the truth of those statements on their merits.