Stockdale v. Helper, No. 20-5269 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Williamson County District Attorney Helper told other officials that she distrusted Fairview Police officers Stockdale and Dunning and that she would not “take their cases.” Helper wrote to the city manager (Collins): “per our discussion, this Office has concerns about reports initiated/investigated solely by” Dunning or Stockdale and that defense counsel would be entitled to a copy of an earlier investigation report concerning the officers. Helper stated, “[w]ithout independent corroboration from another law enforcement officer and/or independent witness, the[ir] testimony . . . may be impeached.” Collins disputed Helper’s assessment but Helper refused to back down. Collins fired the officers, explaining the email provided the “sole reason.”
Stockdale and Dunning sued. They settled their claims against the city, leaving a First Amendment claim and state law claims against Helper. The district court denied Helper’s claim of absolute immunity and her claim for qualified immunity from the federal First Amendment retaliation claim. It also denied her summary judgment with respect to state law claims for official oppression and tortious interference with a business relationship. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Because Helper’s actions were not closely tied to the judicial process, absolute immunity does not apply; because her conduct did not violate any clearly established law, qualified immunity protects her.