In order to defeat immunity, you have to get into the minds of these brainwashed lawyers. Here’s the perfect article where the authors are drilled into believing they are ‘Above the Law’ – e.g. Attorneys are entitled to Absolute Immunity / Qualified Immunity for any and all their egregious acts.
Truthfully, it’s a hard read when you consider ‘the extensiveness of this legal immunity’. That stated, you have to persevere in order to overcome the obstacles presented and find the cracks in their armor.
LIT can assure you, nothing is absolute in this world, even in the perceived lawyers world where they believe they are invincible. That belief is contrived.
The practice of law is laden with pitfalls that can wake a good litigator up in the middle of the night. Thankfully, there are security blankets that help lawyers sleep soundly.
One of those is the litigation privilege — the venerable doctrine that litigants and their counsel are generally immune from liability for statements made during litigation, even when those statements are defamatory or otherwise damaging.1
Unfortunately, some tossing and turning, and perhaps even an occasional nightmare, remains over what “during litigation” means; specifically, caselaw is not entirely settled about how the privilege applies to presuit notices, letters, and even public records, like claims of lien.
For the litigator threatened with suit or actually sued over one of these ubiquitous documents, the answers to such questions could mean the difference between immunity and liability or, at the very least, a lawsuit’s early dismissal versus protracted litigation.
HOPKINS ERRONEOUS CASE RELIANCE ON SANTIAGO:
“The Burkes alleged that the loan documents reviewed and/or discussed by Attorney Appellees were altered in some manner. The Dallas Court of Appeals dealt with this exact type of issue in Santiago v. Mackie Wolf Zientz & Mann.” pic.twitter.com/FmdunPdr14
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) October 9, 2020
Policy Considerations Behind the Litigation Privilege
As the Restatement (Second) of Torts explains, “absolute privileges are based chiefly upon a recognition of the necessity that certain persons, because of their special position or status, should be as free as possible from fear that their actions in that position might have an adverse effect upon their own personal interests.”2
The nature of the modern practice of law necessitates that attorneys be among those “certain persons” protected by an absolute, or at least, qualified privilege:
“The basis for such…privileges for lawyers is to permit a free adversarial atmosphere to flourish, which atmosphere is so essential to our system of justice. In fulfilling their obligations to their client and to the court, it is essential that lawyers, subject only to control by the trial court and the bar, should be free to act on their own best judgment in prosecuting or defending a lawsuit without fear of later having to defend a civil action for defamation for something said or written during the litigation. A contrary rule might very well deter counsel from saying or writing anything controversial for fear of antagonizing someone involved in the case and thus courting a lawsuit, a result which would seriously hamper the cause of justice.”3
Stated differently, in weighing “competing interests: the right of an individual to enjoy a reputation unimpaired by defamatory [or otherwise wrongful] attacks versus the right of the public interest to a free and full disclosure of facts,”4 the latter outweighs the former.5
Origin and Application of the Litigation Privilege in Florida
With the exception of the quasi-judicial unemployment claim process, the litigation privilege is not statutory.6 Instead, Florida’s litigation privilege is based on precedent, with roots in the Florida Supreme Court as early as 1907.7 In the colorful case of Myers v. Hodges, 44 So. 357 (1907), Hodges filed suit against a corporation and made various allegations in his complaint about the corporation’s president, Myers, including that Myers “was and is held as a tricky, dishonorable, unscrupulous and conscienceless man…doing everything in his power to beat [Mr. Hodges] out of the money owing to him, short of swearing to a lie.”8 As one might imagine, Myers took issue with that description of himself and sued Hodges for libel.9 Myers’ claims did not persuade the trial court, and it entered judgment for Hodges.10 Myers appealed, and the Florida Supreme Court, after a detailed survey of caselaw from England and the United States, affirmed the trial court’s holding that a litigation privilege, such as existed in other jurisdictions, should operate in Florida:
[A]ccording to the overwhelming weight of authority, in order that defamatory words, published by parties, counsel, or witnesses in the due course of a judicial procedure, may be absolutely privileged, they must be connected with, or relevant or material to, the cause in hand or subject of inquiry. If they be so published and are so relevant or pertinent to the subject of inquiry, no action will lie therefor, however false or malicious they may in fact be.11
The Myers court further held that even if statements were not “relevant or pertinent to the subject of inquiry,” they would still be afforded a qualified privilege (rather than an absolute privilege), and would only be actionable if they were malicious, as well as irrelevant.12 While a qualified privilege defense often allows the speaker or publisher of a defamatory statement to ultimately avoid a plaintiff’s claims, it normally creates a mixed question of law and fact that must be resolved by the fact finder.13 In other words, protracted litigation often results despite a defense of qualified privilege.14 Furthermore, to be protected, a qualifiedly privileged statement must not be made “to too wide an audience.”15
Conversely, absolutely privileged communications remain immune from legal action despite the scope of their publication.16 Moreover, absolute immunity — especially when asserted against a claim that a written communication was wrongful17 — can be successfully presented in a motion to dismiss.18
Texas State’s 14th COA Rejects The 5th Cir. Erie Guesses on Attorney Immunity. “We are not bound by these two federal court decisions. Nor do we find them persuasive. We find that both the Fifth Circuit panel and the district court misread Cantey Hanger..” https://t.co/PTORhzf3eI pic.twitter.com/Wg4OuoiHZJ
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) October 12, 2020
Development of the Litigation Privilege
The “broad principles of law from Myers outlining the contours of Florida’s absolute privilege have…been reaffirmed by [Florida Supreme Court] on a number of occasions,”19 but Ange v. State, 123 So. 916 (Fla. 1929), stands as the court’s next seminal case.
• Ange v. State — In Ange, the Florida Supreme Court considered statements a sheriff made while applying for a warrant before criminal proceedings were pending.20 The court found the statements absolutely privileged and, in doing so, expanded the definition of “in the course of a judicial procedure,” to include actions “necessarily preliminary thereto”:
The rule of privilege as applied to statements made in the course of judicial proceedings is not restricted to trials of actions, but includes proceedings before a competent court or magistrate in then due course of law or the administration of justice which is to result in any determination or action by such court or officer. This privilege… arises immediately upon the doing of any act required or permitted by law in the due course of the judicial proceedings or as necessarily preliminary thereto.21
The Ange holding is deceptively simple. In practice, even now, nearly 90 years later, courts still grapple with questions about what acts are “necessarily preliminary” to a judicial proceeding. One Florida court has called such acts “steps in the judicial process.”22
Pledger v. Burnup & Sims, Inc. — In 1983, the Fourth District Court of Appeal revisited Ange in Pledger v. Burnup & Sims, Inc., 432 So. 2d 1323 (Fla. 4th DCA 1983).23 Among other things, Pledger answered (and created) some of the questions raised in Ange about what “necessarily preliminary thereto” means.
In Pledger, a corporation’s former president, Thomas Pledger, sued the corporation and its current president because of statements made in draft complaints used during settlement negotiations in a case Pledger was involved in, but not a party to.24
The court noted there “are many examples of publications which are necessarily preliminary to a judicial proceeding” that should receive absolute immunity, including “actions brought under the Florida Tort Claims Act, landlord-tenant actions, certain agricultural claims, various actions brought under the Uniform Commercial Code, insurance claims and other contract actions where the parties have agreed to a notice requirement as a condition precedent to suit.”25
However, the court found that the statements in question were not “necessarily preliminary acts as contemplated by the court in Ange,”26 and that “pre-litigation settlement efforts cannot be considered necessarily preliminary to the institution of judicial proceedings unless required by statute, administrative regulation, or contract.”27
Nonetheless, the Pledger court afforded qualified immunity to the statements in question, stating:
[T]he courts of Florida encourage pre-litigation settlement negotiations. It is in the interest of society to reach equitable and mutually satisfactory resolution of disputes without the necessity of suit….We hold that this policy reason is sufficiently enhanced, and the parties sufficiently protected, by the qualified privilege.28
• Fridovich v. Fridovich — Years later, the Florida Supreme Court again examined Ange in Fridovich v. Fridovich, 598 So. 2d 65 (Fla. 1992), and again afforded qualified privilege rather than absolute privilege to the statements in question.29
Fridovich receded from Ange somewhat in holding “that defamatory statements voluntarily made by private individuals to the police or the state’s attorney prior to the institution of criminal charges are presumptively qualifiedly privileged,” rather than absolutely privileged.30 The court narrowly applied its holding to the specific “egregious facts” presented.31 Subsequent decisions by other courts also recognize the narrow application of the Fridovich “qualified privilege.”32 Moreover, the Fridovich court suggested and other courts have interpreted Fridovich to mean that although qualified privilege applies when statements are given voluntarily, the publisher would enjoy absolute immunity for statements required by law.33
Levin, Middlebrooks, Mabie, Thomas, Mayes & Mitchell, P.A. v. U.S. Fire Insurance Co. — The Florida Supreme Court’s development of the litigation privilege continued with Levin in 1994.34
Although, Florida’s district courts of appeal had previously extended absolute immunity beyond defamatory actions to other causes of action,35 Levin extended it to “any act occurring during the course of a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the act involves a defamatory statement or other tortious behavior…,36 so long as the act has some relation to the proceeding.”37
Levin also provided the following useful rationale for the expansion: “Just as participants in litigation must be free to engage in unhindered communication, so too must those participants be free to use their best judgment in prosecuting or defending a lawsuit without fear of having to defend their actions in a subsequent civil action for misconduct.”38
Echevarria, McCalla, Raymer, Barrett & Frappier v. Cole — In 2002, the Third District Court of Appeal decided in Boca Investors Group, Inc. v. Potash, 835 So. 2d 273 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002) — as Ange did before — that “‘the privilege arises upon the doing of any act necessarily preliminary to judicial proceedings’[and that a]ccordingly, those acts must be afforded absolute immunity.”39
A few years later, the Florida Supreme Court reviewed the First District Court of Appeal decision of Echevarria, McCalla, Raymer, Barrett & Frappier v. Cole , 950 So. 2d 380 (Fla. 2007), on the basis that it conflicted with Boca.
Echevarria involved plaintiff mortgagors who sued the mortgagee’s law firm for statements the firm made in pre-foreclosure reinstatement letters.40
On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the law firm’s absolute immunity for the presuit letters, and continued its expansion of the litigation privilege, stating that absolute immunity should exist not just against libel, defamation, and fraud claims, but “across the board…to common-law causes of action, those initiated pursuant to a statute, or of some other origin…so long as the act has some relation to the proceeding.”41
As Justice Pariente recognized in her concurring opinion, though, the majority opinion did not expressly address “whether the letters were, in fact, sent ‘in the due course of’ or as ‘necessarily preliminary’ to the foreclosure action.”42
However, Justice Wells, who concurred in part and dissented in part, did consider that all-important question and explored the meaning of the “necessarily preliminary” requirement when applied to presuit letters:
Florida courts have previously addressed what statements are ‘necessarily preliminary’ to judicial proceedings . The Fourth District Court of Appeal helpfully explained that publications necessarily preliminary to judicial proceedings include pre-suit communications that are required by statute or by contract as a condition precedent to suit. Pledger v. Burnup & Sims, Inc. , 432 So. 2d 1323, 1326 (Fla. 4th DCA 1983).
The reinstatement letters at issue were not a statutory or contractual prerequisite to foreclosure. As noted in Pledger , Florida law requires a plaintiff to send notice before filing a complaint in certain types of actions. For example, 766.106, Florida Statutes (2006), requires a medical malpractice claimant to notify each prospective defendant by mail prior to filing a complaint. Medical malpractice litigation arguably ‘begins’ when this notification is sent.
Here, no statute or contract provision required Echevarria to send borrowers reinstatement information in order to proceed with foreclosure.
* * *
In terms we used in Ange , the reinstatement letters were not statements ‘required or permitted by law in the due course of the judicial proceedings,’ nor were the letters sent because they were legally necessary in order to prosecute foreclosures.43
Thus, in Justice Wells’ view, since the reinstatement letters were not required or ‘necessarily preliminary’ to the judicial proceeding, absolute immunity should not have been available to the law firm.44
Recent Developments in this Evolving Area of Florida Law45
Several years after Echevarria , the U.S. Southern District of Florida also addressed presuit letters in a foreclosure action; that court seemed to disagree with Justice Wells regarding the appropriate privilege to apply to presuit letters.
The court in Robb v. Rahi Real Estate Holdings LLC, et al. , No. 10-CV-81474, 2011 WL 2149941 (S.D. Fla. May 23, 2011), held that presuit collection letters did occur during the course of a judicial proceeding and were absolutely privileged:
To this extent, the remaining claims must be dismissed with prejudice because of Florida’s litigation privilege, Florida recognizes an absolute litigation privilege that “must be afforded to any act occurring during the course of a judicial proceeding . . . so long as the act has some relation to the proceeding.” Levin, [639 So. 2d at 608].
According to the Florida Supreme Court, this “privilege applies across the board to actions in Florida, both to common law causes of action, those initiated pursuant to statute, or of some other origin.” Echevarria , [950 So. 2d at 384].
Plaintiffs’ complaint is based on defendants’ pre-suit letters and subsequently filed foreclosure action. As such, this conduct occurred during the course of a judicial proceeding.
Therefore, the remaining state law claims…are barred by Florida’s absolute litigation privilege insofar as they are based on the presuit letters and the foreclosure action.46
There is little with which to reconcile Robb and Justice Wells’ concurrence in Echevarria. Tellingly, though, the Robb court stated that it “read the complaint as an attempt to assert claims based on defendants suing plaintiffs in the foreclosure action,”47 whereas Justice Wells clearly saw the presuit reinstatement letters and the lawsuit itself as distinct from one another.
It is possible that the Robb court was simply unpersuaded by Justice Wells’ concurring opinion; but it is also possible that the Robb decision signals a potential expansion of the litigation privilege to an even broader field of presuit communications.
Several recent trial court decisions have also held certain presuit communications were required by the relevant judicial proceeding and, thus, entitled to absolute privilege.
For instance, in SP Healthcare Holdings, LLC v. Surgery Center Holdings, LLC , 11005595, 2013 WL 9947967 (Fla. 13th Cir. Ct. 2013), Judge Paul Huey, presiding over the 13th Circuit’s Complex Business Division, ruled that the “pre-suit indemnification notices [in that case]…were acts necessarily preliminary to judicial proceedings — and thus subject to an absolute litigation privilege, i.e., not actionable.”48
Likewise, in Mark C. Capwell, P.A. and Kyung Ryu v. Progressive American Insurance Company , No. 08-5782-COCE-53, 16 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 264b (Fla. Broward Cnty. Ct. 2009), the Broward County Court dismissed two counts in a counterclaim that were “based on written statements the plaintiff, as a lawyer, was alleged to have made in [a] statutory pre-suit demand,” that “served as a condition precedent to [a] PIP lawsuit.” The court held:
[T]he [litigation privilege] doctrine encompasses “any act necessarily preliminary to judicial proceedings.” Burton .
Therefore, the [c]ourt concludes that an attorney is shielded from civil liability for false statements made in a PIP pre-suit demand letter, even if knowingly false ….
Defendant cannot maintain an action for false statements made by an attorney in a pre-suit demand letter.49
In 2014, the Pasco County Circuit Court, “determined that the filing of [multiple] claim[s] of lien was subject to the absolute privilege.”50 More specifically, in AGM Inv’rs, LLC v. Bus. Law Group, P.A. , 219 So. 3d 920 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017), reh’g denied (May 19, 2017), the trial court applied absolute immunity and granted final summary judgment in favor of a defendant law firm on the issue of whether five claims of lien recorded on behalf of its community association client constituted abuse of process, malicious prosecution, slander of title, or injurious falsehood.51
The plaintiff appealed, and the Second District Court of Appeal found that three liens filed before the lawsuit was filed were “quite plainly necessarily preliminary”:52
The first three claims of lien were filed during the course of the [law firm’s] representation of the association in its anticipated lien collection efforts in examples of what we suspect is the more typical circumstance in which a claim of lien is filed and the lien is then litigated.
The association’s recording of a claim of lien is legally necessary to its institution of judicial foreclosure proceedings to enforce that lien. See 718.116(5)(b), (5)(c), (6)(b), Fla. Stat. (2010).
It is, in essence, the first step in invoking the judicial machinery of a lien foreclosure action. Conduct of this type is quite plainly necessarily preliminary to the commencement of a judicial proceeding.53
Despite its conclusion that the three liens filed before the lawsuit were necessarily preliminary (and entitled to absolute immunity), the court ultimately found that summary judgment was improper as to the two claims of lien filed after lien foreclosure proceedings were initiated because “factual disputes prevented [the trial court] from determining…that [the firm’s] conduct was necessarily preliminary” to suit:54
The legal question about the applicability of the privilege…however, depends upon the answers to predicate factual questions concerning what further lien enforcement proceedings were contemplated….
[The law firm] failed to demonstrate why, as a matter of law, those lien filings were necessarily preliminary to any subsequent judicial proceedings to the exclusion of the related factual questions that remain unresolved.
The record as it stands presents genuine, material factual disputes relevant on that issue, and the trial court erred in entering summary judgment.55
One of those factual disputes involved an unsettling issue of first impression — whether the law firm actually intended to file suit when it drafted the subject notices: “[A]lthough no Florida court has addressed the question, it is well-accepted elsewhere that tortious conduct will not be protected…as being preliminary to future litigation unless that future litigation was actually contemplated in good faith and under serious consideration .”56
Another factual dispute, and one that may explain the court’s decision, was whether the law firm had completely withdrawn from representing the association at the time it recorded the fourth and fifth liens.57
A similar decision from Florida’s Southern District also raised attorney intent in order to determine if a presuit communication should be given absolute immunity. In Kelly v. Palmer, Reifler, & Associates, P.A., 681 F. Supp. 2d 1356 (S.D. Fla. 2010), the court analyzed the litigation privilege as it related to demand letters a law firm sent pursuant to various states’ civil theft recovery statutes.58
In weighing whether the law firm was entitled to summary judgment on its absolute privilege defense, the Southern District determined that a jury needed to find that when it sent the letters, the law firm truly intended to eventually file suit.59
However, it is of paramount importance that the court was faced with (and acknowledged) exceptionally unusual circumstances that contributed to its holding:
It is true that 772.11(1) requires written notice prior to initiating a civil theft recovery action, which at first blush suggests absolute immunity because the letters were sent as required by statute.
Yet upon further examination, given the number of letters sent over a multi-year period (literally millions) and the number of lawsuits actually initiated over that same time period (no more than 15 prior to this lawsuit being filed), and given the firm’s retainer agreement that provides (in many instances) for the possibility of litigation services but only pursuant to a separate agreement, we conclude that plaintiffs have sufficiently raised a question of fact as to whether the demand letters were truly intended as a condition precedent to filing suit as required by 772.11(1), i.e ., whether they were necessarily preliminary to judicial proceedings, or, as plaintiffs argue, whether they were sent merely as a ‘scare tactic.’60
The Potential Chilling Effect of Kelly and AGM Investors
The reasoning in Kelly and AGM Investors is understandable in light of their factual underpinnings. However, if these cases come to represent more than a simple coincidence born out of unusual facts, then they could threaten the very concept of “ absolute” immunity for attorneys hauled into court over a document required by law — the immunity would actually be qualified, since its applicability would be subject to a threshold determination on intent.
Therefore, rather than getting out of such a lawsuit during early motion practice, well-meaning counsel (and their clients) could find themselves embroiled in full-borne litigation merely because a party pled that the subject document was drafted or recorded before litigation was “actually contemplated” or “under serious consideration.”61
Worse, since requisite presuit communications are ubiquitous, elevating the issue of intent to a “predicate factual question”62 in this manner could effectively repudiate the prudent public policy aims behind Florida’s litigation privilege.
Those “weighty reasons”63 include that “judicial proceedings . . . be free from the fear of later civil liability64 as to anything said or written during litigation so as not to chill the actions of the participants in the immediate claim.”65
As the Florida Supreme Court has acknowledged, such a “chilling effect… would seriously hamper the adversary system if absolute immunity were not provided.”66
These concerns would be particularly salient if Kelly and AGM Investors begin a trend, since seeking an answer to the newly promulgated predicate question requires delving into what will generally be privileged information.
Until jurisprudence on this issue is further developed, whenever possible,67 presuit communications required by law should plainly state on their face that they were sent pursuant to statute, regulation, or contract, and contain a clear warning that litigation is imminent.68
“The Burkes take extreme issue with what they believe to be “fraudulent conduct” on the part of the Attorney Appellees when Attorney Appellees discussed the Burkes’ loan origination file, in open court, when questioned about the origination file by the then magistrate judge…” pic.twitter.com/8LTjEevka9
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) October 11, 2020
In Florida, “[t]he law has long looked with disfavor on…slander actions against lawyers uttered in the due course of judicial procedure except in the most extreme cases.”69
Because of that disfavor and the sound public policy behind it, Florida courts have extended absolute immunity beyond defamation claims to almost all causes of action for communications related to judicial proceedings.70
For the litigation privilege to endure and remain “extraordinarily broad,”71 these public policy objectives must be fostered. Therefore, absolute immunity should be made readily available for all but the most “egregious”72 presuit communications.73
JEFFREY P. LIESER is the managing partner of Lieser Skaff Alexander (LSA) in Tampa. LSA is a seven-attorney law firm that concentrates on business and real estate litigation. In addition to his work as a litigator, he serves as a circuit civil mediator and an Army Reserve judge advocate.
LAURA R. MAULDIN is an associate at LSA. Her practice includes employment law and complex commercial litigation. After receiving her law degree from the University of Virginia, Mauldin clerked for Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington of the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida.
Salvatore FARIELLO, Appellant,
Craig J. GAVIN, Michele Rose, et al., Appellees.
Jennifer Cates Lester of Dell, Graham, P.A., Gainesville, for Appellees.
Appellant, Salvatore Fariello, appeals the dismissal with prejudice of his amended complaint seeking damages for defamation against the appellees, Craig Gavin, Michele Rose, Percy J. Moore, Ron Kurtz, Mark Canova, and Crystal Hills Mini Farms Unit 1 and 2 Association, Inc. (the “Association”). The basis for the dismissal was, first, the absolute privilege accorded comments made during the course of judicial proceedings, and second, a conditional or qualified privilege. We affirm the dismissals with prejudice in favor of Michele Rose, Percy J. Moore, Ron Kurtz, and Mark Canova without further comment. Because it is too early in the proceedings to discern whether Craig Gavin or the Association are able to benefit from the litigation privilege, however, we reverse the dismissal with respect to these two defendant/appellees, and remand for further proceedings.
This is not the first time this court has visited with Mr. Fariello and his neighbors at Crystal Hills Mini Farms. See Fariello v. Butts, 871 So.2d 245 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004). Briefly, the current dispute arises out of a claim by Mr. Fariello that Mr. Gavin, the president of the Association, slandered him on two occasions, and that he did so while acting as an agent for the Association. He alleges initially that Mr. Gavin made slanderous comments to Mr. Fariello’s neighbor, Thomas Turitto, to the effect that Mr. Fariello committed the crime of perjury in connection with certain of his professional qualifications. Three days later Mr. Gavin is alleged to have repeated the assertion of perjury at an open meeting of the Association. After suit was brought, Mr. Gavin and the Association moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice asserting absolute and qualified immunity as the bases for the dismissal. The trial court granted the motions on the theory that it was appropriate to question the credibility of Mr. Fariello publicly because the two men were adversaries in the prior lawsuit. More specifically, the trial court held that:
Comment on a parties’ [sic] credibility is always relevant, and was undeniably relevant to the Plaintiff’s (Mr. Fariello’s) other suit against Gavin and Crystal Hills. It is therefore absolutely privileged and this suit should be dismissed. Furthermore, the falsity or maliciousness of the slander alleged by the Plaintiff is irrelevant. Statements made regarding ongoing judicial proceedings, as was the Plaintiff’s first suit against Gavin and Crystal Hills, are privileged no matter how false or malicious those statements may be.
We review the order dismissing the complaint using a de novo standard of review. Sobi v. Fairfield Resorts, Inc., 846 So.2d 1204 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003).
This court has recognized that statements made “in connection with” or “in the course of” an existing judicial proceeding are protected by absolute immunity, even if they are not necessarily made in court or under oath. See Stucchio v. Tincher, 726 1245*1245 So.2d 372 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999). The limits of that concept, however, have not been fully explored. We suppose that it is possible that the litigation immunity invoked by Mr. Gavin and the Association is applicable to the present controversy. See, e.g., Daniels v. Patterson, 751 So.2d 678 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000). The difficulty is, however, that we cannot tell based only on the complaint whether it will have any viability in this context.
There is a well-recognized immunity afforded to statements or actions taken during a judicial proceeding.
By virtue of this immunity, defamatory statements made in the course of judicial proceedings by parties, witnesses and counsel are absolutely privileged, no matter how false or malicious those statements might be, provided the statements are relevant to the subject of inquiry. See Levin, Middlebrooks, Mabie, Thomas, Mayes & Mitchell, P.A. v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 639 So.2d 606, 607 (Fla.1994); Ponzoli & Wassenberg, P.A. v. Zuckerman, 545 So.2d 309 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989); Wright v. Yurko, 446 So.2d 1162, 1164 (Fla. 5th DCA 1984).
Torts such as perjury, libel, slander, and other actions based on statements made in connection with a judicial proceeding are not actionable. See Levin.
The question, of course, is how the defense of immunity may be raised and tested.
Generally, immunity is an affirmative defense that should be pled by the party asserting it, and which may thereafter be considered after the facts are fleshed out by summary judgment or trial.
There may, however, be exceptional cases in which the facts giving application to the defense are clearly apparent on the face of the complaint, in which case the defense may be raised by motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Kirvin v. Clark, 396 So.2d 1203 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981).
The defense is analogous to a statute of limitations defense. A limitations defense is generally raised affirmatively in an answer or other responsive pleading, but may be asserted in a motion to dismiss if its applicability is demonstrated on the face of the complaint or exhibits. See Koehler v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., 706 So.2d 1370 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998); S.A.P. v. Dept. of Health & Reh. Servs., 704 So.2d 583, 584 (Fla. 1st DCA 1997).
In applying these principles to the present controversy, we begin, as we must, by examining only the complaint, and we take as true all well-pleaded facts contained in it. See Kirvin.
We conclude that if the alleged defamatory language in the present case is subject to the litigation privilege, the application of that privilege is not disclosed by the allegations within the confines of Mr. Fariello’s complaint. Immunity, therefore, may not be raised in this case by a motion to dismiss.
As a back-up position, the trial court also concluded that if absolute immunity did not apply, then Mr. Gavin and the Association were at least conditionally immune.
Once again, however, the affirmative defense of qualified immunity presents a fact intensive issue that should ordinarily not be resolved by a motion to dismiss.
Mr. Fariello’s complaint does not reflect on its face whether the defense applies or not.
Accordingly, we affirm the dismissal with prejudice with respect to all appellees, except Mr. Gavin and the Association. We reverse the order dismissing the complaint 1246*1246 with prejudice in favor of Mr. Gavin and the Association, and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.
THOMPSON and TORPY, JJ., concur.
 We take no position at this time regarding whether the litigation privilege applies to either or both alleged defamatory events.