Peelen may appeal lawsuit ruling

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen may appeal a recent ruling by the12th Judicial Circuit Court that keeps alive a libel suit filed against her by business owner John F. Agnelli Jr.

Judge Diana Moreland denied Peelen’s motion to dismiss Agnelli’s amended complaint Feb. 7 and gave her 10 days to answer the suit.

The suit alleges statements that Peelen made in a Sept. 30 newsletter were false, published without reasonable care as to the truth or falsity and harmed Agnelli’s construction business.

Peelen is being represented by Jay Daigneault of Frazier, Hubbard, Brandt, Trask and Yacavone, LLP, of Dunedin, under the city’s Florida League of Cities’ insurance.

In the recent motion won by Agnelli, Daigneault argued that as a commissioner, Peelen is shielded by sovereign immunity granted to state and local officials.

The state law protects officials from being held personally liable for damages due to acts or omissions in the scope of employment, unless they’re made maliciously or in bad faith.

Moreland’s decision ruled against that argument, and Peelen said last week her attorneys were “considering if the ruling is appealable.”

Agnelli’s attorney, Peter Mackey, of Mackey Law Group, P.A., Bradenton, is looking at the case differently.

“Mr. Agnelli is going to go forward to trial,” said Mackey. “He’s been slandered in our opinion.”

Mackey added, however, that the case could reach a settlement first.

        The lawsuit was filed Oct. 9, following distribution by Peelen of her newsletter in which she confused the identity of John F. Agnelli Jr. and his son, Frank Agnelli.

        The newsletter pertaining to city issues was distributed from Peelen’s personal email account.

        At the commission meeting the same day John F. Agnelli filed the suit, he criticized Peelen for a careless lack of regard for the truth. Peelen announced she had acknowledged her error to the email recipients and also apologized to Agnelli at the meeting.

        But Agnelli responded that Peelen’s words will remain forever on the Internet.

        Agnelli’s first complaint named Peelen as an individual, but alleged libel against her as a commissioner. In his amended complaint, Agnelli asserted that Peelen defamed him individually.

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