United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Steven Whalen Magistrate Judge
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR
RECONSIDERATION, VACATING IN PART OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING
IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT,
GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT,
DISMISSING AMENDED COMPLAINT, AND DISMISSING MOTIONS IN
LIMINE AS MOOT
M. LAWSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
last opinion and order, the Court dismissed much of plaintiff
James Lee Saltmarshall's amended complaint, in which he
alleged that he was wrongfully accused of sexually assaulting
and murdering his infant daughter. See Saltmarshall v.
Prime Healthcare Servs., ___F.Supp.3d___, 2019 WL
3213717 (E.D. Mich. July 11, 2019). The only surviving count
was for defamation against a physician and his hospital.
Those defendants have moved for reconsideration, contending
that the doctor's false statements did not actually
identify Saltmarshall as the murderer, and the doctor's
statement, which was made to a police officer, was absolutely
privileged under Michigan common law. The second argument,
supported by caselaw that the defendants neglected to bring
to the Court's attention in their earlier motion briefs,
has merit. Therefore, the Court will grant reconsideration,
grant summary judgment on the remaining claim, and dismiss
facts of the case were discussed at length in the Court's
opinion on the defendants' motion for summary judgment.
See Saltmarshall, 2019 WL 3213717, at *1-11. The
plaintiff was accused of sexually assaulting and murdering
his infant daughter, Janiyah, based on, at least in part,
statements made by defendant Dr. Scott Langenberg to Lt.
Jeffrey Twardzik, a police officer for the City of Inkster.
Janiyah had been transferred to Children's Hospital of
Michigan in Detroit, where she was found to be in grave
condition. Dr. Helene Tigchelaar examined her in the
emergency room, placed her in critical care, and described
her condition as an “apparent non-survivable
Langenberg, who was present when resuscitation efforts
initially were performed, was the doctor at Children's
Hospital responsible for Janiyah's care while on the
surgical service. Langenberg, who had met Lt. Twardzik at the
hospital, later sent him a text message, which contained the
false information upon which the defamation claim is based:
Baby has skull fractures, brain swelling on CT (likely will
meet brain death criteria). Lung bruising, anterior anal
laceration. We have some other studies pending.
This is non-accidental trauma. The perpetrator murdered this
Nice meeting you. Scott Scott Langenberg, M.D. Children's
Hospital of Michigan
PageID.3741, 4158. Langenberg followed that message with
another one the next morning asking if Janiyah's mom and
dad were in custody.
defendants argued that Saltmarshall's state-law claims
were barred by the immunity conferred by Michigan's Child
Protection Law (CPL), which requires “a physician . . .
who has reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or child
neglect [to] make an immediate report . . . of the suspected
child abuse or child neglect.” Mich. Comp. Laws §
722.623(1)(a). The CPL states that “[a] person acting
in good faith who makes a report, cooperates in an
investigation, or assists in any other requirement of this
act is immune from civil or criminal liability that might
otherwise be incurred by that action.” Mich. Comp. Laws
§ 722.625. The Court denied summary judgment to Dr.
Langenberg (and therefore to Children's Hospital as well)
because the evidence was sufficient to question his good
faith when he made an accusation of murder:
A jury could conclude that he took an active role in
encouraging prosecution, despite his lack of accurate
evidence, medical or otherwise. He offered an opinion to the
police that the child suffered “non-accidental trauma,
” falsely asserted that the infant had skull fractures
when he had not even seen any imaging studies, and declared
that the plaintiff “murdered this child, ” when
she had not even been pronounced dead. He later acknowledged
that no fractures were confirmed, based on a final x-ray
reading, but he never informed Lt. Twardzik of that correct
information. And when asked at his deposition why he thought
Janiyah was murdered, Dr. Langenberg testified that he used
the word in a “medical” sense, when there in fact
is not any “medical sense” of that legal and
colloquially inflammatory term. Finally, he took it upon
himself the following morning to send another text to Lt.
Twardzik, this time asking if Janiyah's mom and dad were
in custody. There is enough evidence in the record at this
stage of the proceedings to rebut the presumption that
defendant Landenberg was acting in good faith when he
interacted with the police in this case.
Saltmarshall, 2019 WL 3213717, at *21.
Court denied summary judgment on the claim of defamation
per se because there were fact issues on all the