Conford, Foley and Leonard. The opinion of the court was delivered by Conford, S.j.a.d.
Plaintiffs appeal by leave of court from an order entered by Judge Salvest striking a part of the fourth count of their amended complaint asserting causes of action for wrongful interference with economic advantage and for slander and libel.
Plaintiffs are developers and builders in the Freehold area. The original complaint is based upon an alleged campaign by defendant of public vilification of plaintiffs as builders with the intent and purpose of injuring their business. The fourth count of the amended complaint is primarily founded upon certain occurrences at a regular public meeting of the mayor and township committee of the Township of Freehold (governing body) on March 28, 1966, at which there came up for consideration the question of approval or disapproval of a special use permit and variance in favor of plaintiffs for the construction of garden-type apartments which had been recommended by the board of adjustment. N.J.S.A. 40:55-39(d).
The amended complaint goes on to allege:
"8. At the conclusion of the discussion of the aforesaid application by members of the Township Committee, and immediately following the calling for a vote upon the matter by the Mayor, the defendant did maliciously and wrongfully disrupt the meeting, over the ruling of the Mayor that the defendant was out of order, and presented all public officials there present with photostatic copies of a letter.
9. Simultaneous with his presentation of this letter to members of the Township Committee, the defendant made certain public statements which, either expressly or by implication, characterized the plaintiff, J.D. Holding Corp., as having acted improperly in connection with its application aforesaid.
10. At the request of the Freehold Township Committee the defendant permitted said letter to be read in full, which letter either expressly or by implication falsely characterized the plaintiffs, J.D. Holding Corp. and James D'Agostino, individually, as having acted wrongfully and improperly in connection with the application aforesaid."
In succeeding paragraphs the amended complaint asserts that defendant's actions were a part of an intentional and deliberate scheme to harass plaintiffs' efforts to construct the project and that the statements were false and defamatory and caused plaintiffs to lose the financial benefit of the proposed garden apartments. Compensatory and punitive damages were demanded.
The order here appealed resulted from a motion by defendant to dismiss the amended complaint on the ground that it failed to "state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted." At the hearing of the motion and on this appeal the argument has been confined to the question whether defendant was immune from liability for defamation for his statements and actions at the meeting because the occasion constituted a quasi -judicial proceeding cloaking parties therein with absolute privilege, within the principles restated in Rainier's Dairies v. Raritan Valley Farms, Inc., 19 N.J. 552 (1955). Since, in addition, the finding of such immunity was the sole ground for Judge Salvest's action, we will confine our appraisal of the complaint to that asserted deficiency. The
need for at least further particularization therein of the assertedly defamatory words is, however, obvious.
The argument of the motion was not attended with any affidavits on either side. So far as appears, even the text of the letter in question was not before the court, although we have permitted defendant to include it in his appendix to afford us some elementary understanding of plaintiffs' grievance. The letter, as illumined by plaintiffs' description of the accompanying remarks at the oral argument, is supposedly supportive of the contention that defendant had charged plaintiffs at the ...