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6th Circuit: County Prosecutor Protected by 11th Amendment

In a decision filed on July 30, 2009, the 6th Circuit affirmed a ruling of a Michigan court granting summary judgment to Arenac County and Arenac County Prosecutor, Curtis G. Broughton. The complaint was brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Robert Ward Cady suing Broughton in his individual and official capacities in relation to a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) Cady signed in April 2005.

On September 4, 2004, Cady was arrested following an altercation between him and four other individuals. As a result of the incident, Cady was charged with two counts of assault and battery. In order to avoid prosecution, Cady signed the DPA. One of the stipulations of the agreement was that Cady agreed not to pursue any civil claims during the ensuing six-month period against any of the four persons with which he had had the altercation. The prosecutor in the case added the stipulation as to "allow a six-month 'cooling-off' period between the parties of the altercation." If Cady violated the DPA, the assault charges were to be reissued against him. Cady later said he signed the DPA with the belief that that particular provision was unconstitutional.

Before the six-month "cooling-off" period expired, Cady filed a civil lawsuit against the other four combatants, violating the DPA. The prosecutor's office then reissued the criminal charges against Cady, although a jury ultimately acquitted him of any wrongdoing.
On March 7, 2007, represented by attorneys Russell C. Babcock and Victor J. Mastromarco, Jr. with The Mastromarco Firm in Saginaw, Cady brought the § 1983 claim. The suit alleged 1st Amendment violations in regard to the provision in the DPA requiring him to waive his right to file a civil action.

Although the district court determined the DPA to be unenforceable due to "prosecutorial overreaching," it nonetheless granted summary judgment based on the absolute prosecutorial immunity doctrine, which protects prosecutors from § 1983 claims.
On appeal, the 6th Circuit agreed that the absolute immunity doctrine protected Broughton in his individual capacity and that summary judgment was properly granted in that regard. However, that doctrine does not extend protection to the prosecutor in his official capacity. According to Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. at 167 (1985), "The only immunities that can be claimed in an official capacity action are forms of sovereign immunity that the entity, qua entity, may possess, such as the 11th Amendment." Suits seeking damages under the auspices of a § 1983 complaint are barred by the 11th Amendment from being brought against a state, its agencies, and its officials in their official capacities (Graham, 473 U.S. at 169). In this case, the Court held that Broughton was acting "as a state agent when prosecuting state criminal charges", and he was, therefore, granted sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment. Since Broughton was acting as a state agent, Arenac County could not be held liable for his actions.

Consequently, On July 30, 2009, the district court's decision granting summary judgment was affirmed. See: Cady v. Arenac County, 574 F.3d 334 (6th Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

Cady v. Arenac County