United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
K. Majzoub Magistrate Judge.
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [38,
J. MICHELSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Michael Welch served as a police officer in Melvindale,
Michigan, for over 20 years. In 2016 Welch gave sworn
testimony in support of Melvindale Police Chief Chad Hayse
during Hayse's termination hearing. Welch was accused of
lying during his testimony and charged with disciplinary
violations, which resulted in a negotiated settlement of a
30-day suspension without pay. In 2018 Welch gave a
deposition in Hayse's civil lawsuit and was again accused
of lying by the city attorney and the Melvindale Public
Safety Commission (the “Commission”).
brought this lawsuit alleging that his employer-the City of
Melvindale (“the City”)-members of the
Commission, and City Attorney Lawrence Coogan conspired and
retaliated against him for his testimony in support of Hayse.
Welch also claims that he was denied due process leading up
to his 2016 suspension. Welch separately brings state-law
claims of defamation and tortious interference against
Defendants now seek summary judgment on all claims. Welch
opposes the motions and the Court heard oral argument on
November 22, 2019. For the reasons that follow, the Court
grants in part and denies in part the Defendants'
motions. Welch's claim of First Amendment retaliation
relating to his 2016 suspension and his defamation claim will
proceed to trial. Welch's other claims are dismissed.
as here, defendants seek summary judgment, the Court presents
the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
began working at the Melvindale Police Department in 1998.
(ECF No. 24, PageID.1089.) Welch worked his way up through
the ranks and became a lieutenant in 2014. (Id.) The
terms, benefits, and conditions of Welch's employment are
governed by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between
the City and the police union. (ECF No. 42-45, PageID.5544.)
alleges that his troubles at work began around 2015 when he
tried to rein in the behavior of a subordinate, Melvindale
Police Corporal Matthew Furman. (ECF No. 42, PageID.3470.)
After Furman received dozens of citizen complaints alleging
improper enforcement of the traffic code, verbal and physical
abuse, and racial profiling, Welch and Chief Hayse decided
Furman's behavior needed to be addressed. (Id.
at PageID.3470.) In July 2016, Chief Hayse made it known that
he planned to terminate Furman. (Id. at
August 2016, disciplinary proceedings were initiated against
Chief Hayse for a number of issues, including improperly
disciplining Furman, interfering with the city's towing
contract, and publicly making derogatory remarks about city
officials. (ECF No. 38, PageID.1227; ECF No. 38-2,
PageID.1306-1308; 1398-1399; ECF No. 38-3, PageID.1503.)
Welch alleges that the City Council wanted to terminate Hayse
to protect Furman. Welch believes Furman
“single-handedly generated tens-of-thousands of dollars
in revenue for the City” by having large numbers of
cars towed and so the City Council had reason to protect him.
(ECF No. 42, PageID.3468.)
City Council held a termination hearing for Chief Hayse on
August 29 and 30, 2016. (See ECF No. 38-2; ECF No. 38-3.)
Hayse called Welch as a witness in support of his contention
that the City's allegations of misconduct against him
were false and that he had not publicly made derogatory
comments about city officials or the city's contracted
towing company, Goch & Sons Towing. (ECF No. 42,
oath, Welch testified as follows:
Q (By Hayse): Lieutenant, have you ever heard me make
disparaging remarks regarding any public official, appointed
official, or Michael Goch from Goch & Son's Towing?
A (Welch): No. direct. We've had personal conversations
in regards to the way the tow contract had been warranted,
but no personal attacks in front of anybody else in personal
Q: Never heard me come up to the front desk and make any sort
of announcement or disparaging remark about not towing
vehicles because Goch & Son's was our tow provider as
of June of 2015?
A: Absolutely not. In fact, you had offered an incentive to
officers to tow cars.
(ECF No. 42-23, PageID.4663.) On cross-examination, Welch
Q: Okay. And did-in this personal conversation that you say
you had with the chief in regards to Goch & Son's,
did he say any derogatory things about Goch & Son's?
Q: Okay. So what other officers have testified in regards to
negative comments as to Goch & Son's being made by
the chief of police, you're saying you have not heard
those comment[s], correct?
A: No, I have not.
Q: You haven't heard that comment from any other
A: From any other officers-
A: -or from Chief Hayse?
Q: Have any other officers told you that Chief Hayse made
A: No, they have not.
(ECF No. 42-23, PageID.4664.)
argue that testimony by other witnesses directly contradicted
Welch's testimony. Two officers testified that Hayse had
referred to the mayor using derogatory terms such as
“bitch” and had called both the mayor and the
city attorney corrupt. (ECF No. 38-3, PageID.1508-1510,
1514.) One of the officers further testified that Welch made
similar comments. (Id. at PageID.1515.)
end of the second day of the hearing, one of the council
members noted the discrepancy, stating that “Lieutenant
Welch testified yesterday that he's never heard [Hayse]
say anything derogatory, and I'm thinking that
today's testimony says otherwise.” (ECF No. 42-23,
September 7, 2016 the chairman of the Commission, Jeffrey
Bolton, signed a document entitled “Complaint for
Suspension, Demotion and/or Termination of Michael
Welch.” (ECF No. 38-4, PageID.1548.) In his deposition,
Bolton stated that he did not initiate the idea of
disciplining Welch, but that he could not remember who did.
(ECF No. 42-41, PageID.5377.) Bolton also testified that city
attorney Coogan was the person who drafted the complaint, and
Bolton simply signed it. (ECF No. 42-4, PageID.3697.) The
complaint states the reasons for discipline included
“lying to Mayor and City Council at a public hearing on
or about 8/29/2016.” (ECF No. 38-4, PageID.1548.) Other
reasons included “making unprofessional comments in the
presence of subordinates, ” “violation of
Melvindale Police Department Rules and Regulations, ”
and “Violation of Operating Policy of the Melvindale
Police Department.” (Id.)
testified that when he received the complaint he contacted
his union representatives and then prepared his own written
statement. (ECF No. 38-5, PageID.1596, 1606.) Welch was not
given an opportunity to review his testimony from the Hayse
hearing before his trial board hearing on the complaint in
front of the Commission. (ECF No. 38-5, PageID.1605.)
the hearing, Welch's union representatives suggested he
seek a suspension to save himself from potential termination.
Because Chief Hayse had just been terminated by the
Commission, Welch believed that the Commission also intended
to terminate him. (Id. at PageID.1616-1617.) Welch
believed that the Commission intended to fire him no matter
what he said at his trial board hearing. (ECF No. 42-18,
trial board hearing was scheduled for September 13, 2016.
Defendants Jeffrey Bolton, Kevin McIsaac, Martha McDaniel,
and Patricia Hall were members of the Commission at this
time. There was one additional Commission member who is not a
party to this lawsuit.
representatives and a union attorney were present at the
hearing with Welch. (ECF No. 38-5, PageID.1612.) At the
beginning of the hearing, Canfield, one of the union
representatives, suggested the situation could be resolved
with a suspension. (ECF No. 38-5, PageID.1614.) At this
point, at least two members of the Commission called for
Welch to be terminated. (Id. at PageID.1617.) The
union representatives and members of the Commission
negotiated for about 20 minutes. The Commission offered a
30-day suspension if Welch agreed not to file a union
grievance and to testify truthfully at any upcoming
depositions. (Id. at PageID.1622.) The union
representatives suggested Welch accept the offer, and he did.
(Id.) Welch asserts that he only accepted the
suspension “to not mess up my pension and not be able
to keep a roof over my kids' heads.” (ECF No.
accepting the offer, Welch read a written statement to the
Commission. Welch said that during his testimony in
Hayse's hearing, he “felt like a deer in headlights
and blanked out on most of the questions” (ECF No.
38-6, PageID.1691) and that he could not remember most of the
questions or the answers that he had given. He further
explained that Chief Hayse had said negative things to him
about Mike Goch and the mayor. He said that “Hayse
would vent to me at times.” (Id.) He said
these conversations happened in Hayse's office or at the
front desk where Welch worked. Welch finally stated: “I
had no intent to lie to or to deceive the City Council. Any
misstatements were due to the stress of the situation where I
blanked during questioning.” (Id. at 1692.)
day, Welch asserts that he never lied under oath and that his
written statement to the Commission did not recant or
contradict any of his prior sworn testimony. (ECF No. 42-18,
served his 30-day suspension and returned to work in October
2016. (Id. at PageID.1628.) Welch states that
“in light of the immense pressure and scrutiny on him
because of his support for Hayse” (ECF No. 42,
PageID.3480), he opted for early retirement. (ECF No. 38-5,
PageID.1628-1629.) He submitted his notice of retirement in
December 2017 and went on inactive status on January 18,
2018. (Id.) The official date of his retirement
(after using up all of his accrued leave time) was August 31,
March 2018 Welch was subpoenaed to testify in civil
litigation filed by Hayse against the City. (Id. at
the use of derogatory terms, Welch testified in his
deposition as follows:
Q: Did you ever call the mayor a “bitch, ”
“whore, ” “slut, ” or
“cunt” in the presence of other officers in the
A: No, I did not.
Q: Did of you ever hear Chad Hayse call the mayor a
“bitch, ” “whore, ” “slut,
” [or] “cunt” in the presence of other
officers in the department?
A: No, not in the presence-he had never said anything about
anyone else disparaging in front of the other officers.
(ECF No. 42-18, PageID.4498.)
the deposition, city attorney Coogan met with Lieutenants
Daniel Jones and Robert Kennaley on an unrelated matter.
During the meeting, Coogan told Jones and Kennaley that he
wanted to give them a “heads up” that Welch had
“lied again and the [Commission] is going to
investigate.” (ECF No. 42-3, PageID.3580.)
April 10, 2018, the Commission met. Coogan raised with the
Commission the allegation that Welch had made a statement in
his deposition that was “inconsistent with his
testimony at a prior hearing.” (ECF No. 42-35,
PageID.5117.) Coogan provided the deposition transcript to
the Commission. (Id.) McDaniel and Bolton, two
members of the Commission, testified that when Coogan told
them Welch had lied in his deposition they had wanted to
discipline Welch. (ECF No. 42-26, PageID.4743; ECF No. 42-41,
May 8, 2018, public meeting, the Commission adopted a
resolution “to set a trial board date and draft a
complaint against Lt. Michael Welch regarding his
truthfulness and v[e]racity during his testimony in front of
the Public Safety Commission in closed session and compare it
to his testimony during his recent deposition.” (ECF
No. 42-39, PageID.5280.) Bolton and McDaniel testified in
this case that they were uncertain whether Welch lied in his
deposition. (ECF No. 42-41, PageID.5392; ECF No. 42-26,
PageID.4741.) Hall stated that after reading the deposition
transcript she did not believe Welch had lied. (ECF No.
42-28, PageID.4857.) Hall is the only Commission member that
voted against the May 8th resolution. (ECF No. 42-39,
2018, in response to a motion for a preliminary injunction by
Welch, the Defendants entered into a stipulated order
agreeing not to issue disciplinary complaints, charges, or
further notices of trial board hearings against Welch. (ECF
No. 17.) And at its June 12, 2018 meeting, the Commission
withdrew its May 8th resolution regarding disciplinary action
against Welch. (ECF No. 42, PageID.3487.) Welch retired in
August 2018 with full benefits. (ECF No. 38-5,
the close of discovery in this case, Defendants City of
Melvindale, Melvindale Public Safety Commission, Bolton,
McIsaac, McDaniel, and Hall, and Defendant Coogan each filed
a motion for summary judgment asking the Court to dismiss all
counts against them.
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. “A fact is material only if its
resolution will affect the outcome of the lawsuit.”
Hedrick v. Western Reserve Care Sys., 355 F.3d 444,
451-52 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). And “a dispute
about a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that
a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving
party.” Scott v. First S. Nat'l Bank, 936
F.3d 509, 516 (6th Cir. 2019) (internal citations omitted).
brings a number of claims against the City of Melvindale; the
Melvindale Public Safety Commission; and Bolton, McIsaac,
McDaniel, Hall, and Coogan in their official and personal
capacities. The Court will first address Defendants'
summary judgment arguments related to party liability in
Section III, then the federal-law claims in Section IV, and
finally the state-law claims brought solely against Defendant
Coogan in Section V.
raise three arguments about the proper parties to this suit
and the liability of those parties. Defendants first argue
that the Commission is not a proper party capable of being
sued. Defendants next argue that the claims against
individuals in their official capacities are duplicative of
claims against the City. Finally, the City argues that it
should not be held liable for the actions of its employees
under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436
U.S. 658 (1978). The Court will take each argument in turn.
names as a defendant the Melvindale Public Safety Commission,
“a political advisory body of the City of
Melvindale.” (ECF No. 24, PageID.1087.) In the
summary-judgment briefing, the parties disagreed over whether
the Commission is a legal entity capable of being sued.
During oral argument, the parties stipulated to a voluntary
dismissal without prejudice of the claims against the
Commission. So the Commission is no longer a party to this
Bolton, McIsaac, McDaniel, and Hall argue that the claims
against them in their official capacities should be dismissed
as duplicative of Welch's ...