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A Better Partnership
March 28, 2014

COA rules that no private cause of action exists to protect confidentiality of statements made during internal law-enforcement investigations

A Michigan statute compels law-enforcement officers to give statements during internal investigations, but prohibits those statements from being used against the officers in a criminal prosecution.  In Myers v. City of Portage, the Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that officers do not have a private right of action to enforce any confidentiality obligations created by the statute.
Two former Portage police officers, Douglas Louis and James Myers, were involved in an internal-affairs investigation, during the course of which they allege that they gave compelled and involuntary statements.  After the investigation, the officers were terminated, and certain statements were made to the media regarding their termination. 
The former officers sued the City of Portage and its director of public safety.  They alleged that the director violated Michigan law by disclosing “involuntary statements” made during the investigation when he discussed the dismissal with the media, that the conduct was not protected by governmental immunity, and that the City breached an agreement made regarding Louis’ resignation.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the City and director.  The court of appeals affirmed.
The court noted that the law allows law-enforcement agencies to compel officers to give statements on the subject of the investigation, but that these statements cannot be used against the officers in later criminal proceedings.  MCL 15.395.  The plaintiffs relied on this non-disclosure requirement as a basis for their suit, arguing they were entitled to damages based on the director’s statements to the press.  The court rejected this argument.  First, it reasoned that plaintiffs failed to provide any specific compelled statements that were improperly disclosed.  Second, it concluded that the plain language of MCL 15.395 does not provide for a private cause of action or damages remedy, and the court was unwilling to infer a cause of action against the governmental defendants.  

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