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Woodard v. Etue

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 15, 2019

SCOTT WOODARD, Plaintiff,
v.
COLONEL KRISTE ETUE, INSPECTOR MICHAEL JOHNSON, Defendants.

          Anthony P. Patti, Magistrate Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS [16]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Scott Woodard is a Michigan State Police Officer (“MSP”) and the Executive Director of the Automobile Theft Authority (“ATPA”). Woodard alleges the Michigan State Police stripped him of his police powers and placed him on suspension after he brought to light alleged misuse of funds. So he brings a First Amendment retaliation claim against Kriste Etue and Michael Johnson, both high-ranking members of the Michigan State Police. (ECF No. 15, PageID.104.) Etue and Johnson move to dismiss. For the reasons that follow, Woodard's claims proceed to discovery.

         I.

         The following narrative is drawn entirely from the First Amended Complaint's non-conclusory allegations, which, at this stage, are taken as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

         A.

         Scott Woodard is a Lieutenant in the Michigan State Police Department. (ECF No.15, PageID.103.) He is also an appointed member of the Automobile Theft Prevention Authority (ATPA). (Id.) The ATPA is a creature of statute with authority to exercise its powers, duties and functions independently of the Michigan State Police (although Woodard's complaint does not tell us what those powers, duties, and functions are). (Id. at PageID.104.) When Woodard was acting in his capacity as an ATPA board member, he was not performing any of his official duties as a police officer. (Id. at PageID.107.)

         The events giving rise to this case began in November 2017. Sometime around then, Woodard was still on the ATPA board and he told two of his fellow board members that he believed Nancy Becker Bennett, a state police department employee, was misusing ATPA funds. (Id. at PageID.104.) Allegedly, the misuse of funds included purchasing computer equipment and reimbursing staff salaries. (Id. at PageID.105.)

         One month later, the ATPA convened a board meeting. (Id. at PageID.105.) Attending the meeting was Michigan State Police Colonel Kriste Etue, who, according to Woodard, was “in charge of the Michigan State Police department.” (Id. at PageID.104.) ATPA board members asked Etue for a “breakdown of expenditures of ATPA funds.” (Id.)

         At the next ATPA board meeting, held in March 2018, Etue explained away the use of funds for computer equipment. (Id.) Etue said the equipment expenditure was related to a “general rise in [another agency's] costs” and not the purchase of equipment. (Id.)

         In response to Etue's explanation, ATPA board members requested more information. They asked Etue to itemize the cost increase she referenced. (Id. at PageID.105.) And they asked Etue to explain the reimbursements for staff salaries, including the salary of Becker Bennett. (Id.)

         Not long after the March 2018 board meeting, Becker Bennett and Inspector Michael Johnson each told Woodard that someone was “leaking information to the Board.” (Id.) Soon after, Woodard was “ostracized by his command.” (Id.)

         Woodard put his concerns in a detailed email. (Id.) Woodard sent the email to the ATPA board and the Michigan State Police command staff (including Johnson). (Id.) In it, he laid out his suspicion that “ATPA funds were being improperly appropriated to the Michigan State Police without ATPA board approval.” (Id.) Woodard's email requested a full investigation by the state police and the Auditor General. (Id. at PageID.106.) In response to the email, the ATPA board called a special meeting between the board of directors and Etue. (Id.)

         Eleven days after Woodard sent the email, Johnson acted. First, Johnson advised Woodard that he was being relieved of his duties as a Michigan State Police Officer. (Id.) The next day, Johnson went to Woodard's house and collected all of Woodard's police gear. (Id.) As a result, Woodard took a medical leave. And a few months later, Woodard was placed on an ...


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