Judge dismisses Cueto's invasion of privacy claims against Post and ICJL

Steve Korris Nov. 13, 2009, 5:47am


BELLEVILLE - Circuit Judge Patrick Hitpas has dismissed Amiel Cueto's claims against the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Illinois Civil Justice League in which he alleged they invaded his privacy by placing him in false light.

Cueto sued them, along with the Chicago Tribune and a political action committee known as "JUSTPAC," in St. Clair County Circuit Court in 2007, claiming that each of the defendants, on separate occasions from 1997 to 2006, had falsely attributed to him an alleged statement boasting about his control over 15 of 17 St. Clair County judges.

The defendants filed motions to dismiss, arguing that the challenged statements were privileged republications of trial testimony.

Cueto claimed the defendants' failure to mention the source of the challenged statements forfeited the privilege that protects news gatherers who quote official proceedings.

In a written order granting the motions filed by the publisher of the Post-Dispatch, the ICJL, and JUSTPAC, Hitpas ruled on Oct. 16 that the story requires no attribution.

"This Court has found no Illinois case authority which requires that the party publishing material attribute to the official proceeding," he wrote.

"In the absence of any authority this court declines to require attribution as a condition of asserting the privilege," he wrote.

Hitpas also dismissed Cueto's claims against the Post-Dispatch as untimely, observing that his cause of action accrued in 1996.

Hitpas didn't dismiss the Tribune, because its part of the proceedings was stayed after its owners filed a bankruptcy petition.

Though Hitpas shut the door on privacy claims, he left open a door for Cueto to rewrite count five of his complaint alleging conspiracy between the newspapers.

"Count V of plaintiff's second amended complaint is so lacking in ultimate facts that this court is reluctant to dismiss on the basis of privilege or statute of limitations at this time," he wrote.

He struck Count V but gave Cueto leave to replead within 21 days.

Cueto had objected to Hitpas presiding over the case.

Before addressing the merits of the motions to dismiss, Hitpas overruled those objections.

"This court considered the agreement between Plaintiff and Defendants' counsel made in open court on September 4, 2009, to be a binding agreement that this court proceed to rule on the pending Motions to Dismiss," he wrote.

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