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Pino-Allen v. Santelises

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

February 21, 2018

Isabel Del Pino-Allen, Appellant,
v.
Juan Santelises, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal No. 16-29615 Jorge E. Cueto, Judge.

          Isabel Del Pino-Allen, in proper person.

          Allen, Norton & Blue and Luke Savage and Jenna N. Kochen, for appellee.

          Before SUAREZ, LAGOA and SALTER, JJ.

          SALTER, J.

         Isabel Del Pino-Allen, a non-lawyer representing herself in this Court and in the circuit court case in which she was the plaintiff, appeals an order dismissing her complaint with prejudice. We reverse and remand the case for further proceedings.

         Ms. Pino-Allen was a professor at Miami Dade College. After issuing a statutory notice[1] regarding a public communication alleged to be false and defamatory, Ms. Pino-Allen sued another Miami Dade College professor and former colleague, defendant/appellee Juan Santelises, for slander. Ms. Pino-Allen alleged that Mr. Santelises made numerous false, malicious, and defamatory claims to the administration of Miami Dade College beginning in early 2015. Her complaint alleged that Mr. Santelises's statements were untrue, that they included allegations of "frequent acts of indecent exposure" in public, and that later those untrue statements became a reason provided by Miami Dade College for firing her in May 2015.

         According to the complaint, Mr. Santelises worked with Ms. Pino-Allen and others on a textbook. He was not her supervisor. Ms. Pino-Allen alleges that Mr. Santelises made the false and defamatory statements regarding her in retaliation for her criticism of mistakes purportedly made by Mr. Santelises in part of the textbook.

         Mr. Santelises filed a motion to dismiss the complaint based on his alleged status as a "public official" entitled to absolute immunity. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss with prejudice, and this appeal followed.

         Analysis

         Our review of the dismissal order is de novo. Kendall S. Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Consol. Ins. Nation, Inc., 219 So.3d 185, 188 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017). In considering the motion to dismiss, the trial court is limited to the four corners of the complaint, must accept all allegations within the complaint as true, and must draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

         Pro se pleadings are to be construed liberally, and pro se litigants should be afforded "procedural latitude, " though still subject to applicable procedural rules. See Hanna-Mack v. Bank of Am., N.A., 218 So.3d 971, 973 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017). Here, though occasionally imprecise, Ms. Pino-Allen's pro se complaint pled the elements of defamation: (1) publication; (2) falsity; (3) negligence (when the plaintiff is a private person); (4) damages; and (5) the defamatory nature of the statement. Jews for Jesus, Inc. v. Rapp, 997 So.2d 1098, 1106 (Fla. 2008).

         Mr. Santelises's claim of absolute immunity is not discernible from the four corners of the complaint and applicable precedent, at this procedural juncture. It has not been established that Mr. Santelises occupies a high-ranking, political position within a governmental entity, or that he was required by administrative rule to evaluate the job performance of Ms. Pino-Allen. See City of Miami v. Wardlow, 403 So.2d 414, 416 (Fla. 1981). Nor do the four corners of the complaint establish that Mr. Santelises's allegedly defamatory statements all were made within ...


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