30 April 2020

Former Assistant Prosecutor Loses Intentional Tort, Whistleblower Case

In a recent unpublished case, Janetsky v County of Saginaw, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that a former prosecutor’s case against her past employer and superiors could not proceed.  Janetsky had been assigned to charge sex crimes.  While Janetsky was away on her honeymoon, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Boyd reached a plea deal with the defendant in one of Janetsky’s cases.  Upon discovery of the plea deal, Janetsky informed Boyd that she believed the plea deal was illegal.  The plea deal was withdrawn, but Janetsky alleged that Boyd created a hostile work environment thereafter.  While the specific details surrounding the case are not important, Janetsky ultimately resigned from her employment and filed a legal action alleging, among other counts, assault and battery, false arrest/false imprisonment, and violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA).

The court dismissed Janetsky’s claims of assault and battery and false arrest/false imprisonment.  Janetsky alleged that Boyd was not entitled to governmental immunity and, additionally, that the County could be held vicariously liable for Boyd’s actions.  The court disagreed.  As to the County, it reasoned that a governmental entity cannot be held vicariously liable for the intentional torts of its employees, irrespective of whether an employee acted in good faith or within the scope of employment.  As to Boyd, Janetsky alleged that Boyd became angry with her during a work meeting and physically blocked the door; however, the court found that Boyd was entitled to governmental immunity because there was no dispute that such actions were in the course of employment, the meeting was within Boyd’s scope of authority, and Janetsky had not provided evidence showing that Boyd’s actions lacked good faith or contained malice.

The court also dismissed Janetsky’s WPA claim.  WPA claims require that (1) the plaintiff engage in protected activity, (2) the plaintiff be discriminated against, and (3) a causal connection between the protected activity and the discrimination.  But, in order to engage in protected activity, the plaintiff must reasonably believe a violation of the law occurred.  In this case, the court opined that Janetsky could not have reasonably believed the conduct she complained of was illegal.  Consequently, her WPA claim could not proceed.

Lusk Albertson recommends review of the case for a basic review of the law relative to governmental immunity and the WPA.  The case may be accessed here.