A state appeals court today rejected the city's bid to quash $15 million in defamation suits that the former director of the Father Belle Community Center filed over remarks allegedly made by former city Human Resources Commissioner William Buyers.
In a unanimous vote, the five-member Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester ruled that State Supreme Court Justice Joseph D. Mintz properly rejected the city's request a year ago to dismiss Vito Caruso's claims of slander.
In an opinion approved by Presiding Justice Michael F. Dillon of the appeals court, the judicial panel said the city has so far "failed to establish" that a Buyers comment to the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency in 1987 was not slander. Buyers allegedly said, "Jack the Ripper was kinder to his victims" than Caruso was.
Caruso, who battled Buyers during funding disputes over the community center, is also suing the city and Buyers because Buyers allegedly called Caruso a "pervert" during a meeting in a judge's chambers in the summer of 1988.
Henry E. Wyman, Caruso's lawyer, said he hoped today's ruling, the latest in a series of procedural defeats for the city, forces the city to agree to a trial on the litigation against the city, the renewal agency and Buyers.
"I presume the city is now through displaying its penchant for dilatory tactics and groundless appeals and we can get on with the trial," Wyman said.
"It could be fun," he said.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Stanley J. Sliwa said the city is considering asking the State Court of Appeals in Albany to review Mintz's ruling.
The city claims Buyers' remarks to the renewal agency were legally protected as comments made in his capacity as a city official discussing a city-related situation.
Caruso, who retired in January, still faces proceedings before the state Division of Human Rights on complaints by three women who claim he sexually harassed them while they worked at the city-funded center.
In its ruling, the appellate court said the city has yet to provide proof that Buyers was legally protected from defamation claims when he allegedly made the "Jack the Ripper" comment.