Are Public Officials In Pennsylvania Protected from Suits ?
In Lindner v. Mollan, 544 Pa. 487, 677 A.2d 1194 (1996), the court reconfirmed that this doctrine remains the law in Pennsylvania.
The court explained that the doctrine of absolute privilege for high public officials 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 official's duties or powers and within the scope of his authority, or as it is sometimes expressed, within his jurisdiction. Lindner, 544 Pa. at 490, 677 A.2d at 1195 (quoting Matson, 88 A.2d at 895 ).
The purpose of absolute immunity is to foreclose the possibility of suit.
This doctrine is designed to protect the official from the suit itself, from the expense, publicity, and danger of defending the good faith of his public actions before a jury.
And yet, beyond this lies a deeper purpose, the protection of society's interest in the unfettered discharge of public business and in full public knowledge of the facts and conduct of such business.
Absolute immunity is thus a means of removing any inhibition which might deprive the public of the best service of its officers and agencies. Montgomery v. City of Philadelphia, 392 Pa. 178, 182, 140 A.2d 100, 102 (1958).
In McCormick v. Specter, 220 Pa. Super. 19, 275 A.2d 688 (Pa. Super. 1971), the superior court emphasized that it was the public's interest, rather than the interest of the official, that supports the establishment of an absolute privilege.
The court stated that "given the great potential for harm, the privilege must be limited to those statements and actions which are in fact 'closely related' to the performance of those official duties." Id. at 689.