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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:While on business in Waco with the Fort Worth Flight Standards District Office, two inspectors for the Federal Aviation Administration noticed 5-State Helicopters Inc. performing a helicopter heavy-lift operation. The inspectors decided to inspect the helicopters. As a result of the inspection, the inspectors and other FAA officials were then called in to conduct an investigation into whether 5-State and its owner were in violation of federal air safety laws. While the investigation was pending, 5-State wrote two letters to complain of the investigation and of the inspectors’ actions. The FAA conducted an internal investigation and found no wrongdoing. The inspectors, dissatisfied that the investigation had not, in their estimation, completely exonerated them, filed a libel suit against 5-State. The inspectors also alleged tortious interference with contract, arguing their professional reputations had been damaged and that the accusations and investigation caused them great emotional damage. 5-State moved for a j.n.o.v., on the ground that its statements to the FAA were absolutely privileged. The trial court did not grant that motion, instead granting judgment for the inspectors on the tortious interference with contract claim. HOLDING:Reversed and rendered. The statements were absolutely privileged, the court holds. The absolute privilege applies to communications related to both proposed and existing judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings. A proceeding is quasi-judicial if it is conducted by a governmental executive officer, board or commission that has the authority to hear and decide the matters coming before it or to redress the grievances of which it takes cognizance. Even communications made in contemplation of or preliminary to a quasi-judicial proceeding are privileged if they concern a matter that the quasi-judicial body is authorized to investigate and decide. The court adds that the rationale for this privilege is so that citizens can appeal to governmental agencies without the fear of being called to answer in damages. As a result of the inspection, during which an inspector claimed to act as the FAA administrator, one inspector filed an enforcement investigative report, listing the federal regulation that he believed 5-State had violated. The FAA investigated and found no further action should be taken. Because the FAA had the authority to both initiate the initial investigation and dispose of any violation administratively without legal enforcement action, the FAA’s actions stemming from the first inspection constituted a quasi-judicial proceeding. Further, although 5-State, in their two letters to the FAA, requested a separate investigation into the inspectors’ conduct during the inspection, their statements were also related to the FAA’s investigation regarding their aircraft because they complained of the very inspection that resulted in that proceeding. The fact that the FAA’s investigation did not culminate in a full-blown administrative hearing, or a “formal adjudication” does not alter the FAA’s quasi-judicial nature. “[W]e hold that, because [5-State's] two letters were related to a matter that the FAA was authorized to investigate and determine — whether [5-State's] aircraft were in compliance with federal aviation laws — [5-State's] statements in their letters were related to a quasi-judicial proceeding and were absolutely privileged, regardless of the truth, falsity, or malicious nature of the statements.” OPINION:Cayce, C.J.; Cayce, C.J., Gardner and McCoy, JJ.

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