38 F.3d 264 (6th Cir. 1994), 93-1104, Cameron v. Seitz

Docket Nº:93-1104, 93-1295.
Citation:38 F.3d 264
Party Name:Cindy L. CAMERON and Lawrence M. Cameron, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. James McCauley SEITZ, Defendant-Appellant, Monroe County Probate Court, Defendant.
Case Date:October 21, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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38 F.3d 264 (6th Cir. 1994)

Cindy L. CAMERON and Lawrence M. Cameron, Plaintiffs-Appellees,


James McCauley SEITZ, Defendant-Appellant,

Monroe County Probate Court, Defendant.

Nos. 93-1104, 93-1295.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

October 21, 1994

Argued April 18, 1994.

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Susan Winshall (argued and briefed), Winshall, Radner & Curhan, Southfield, MI, for plaintiffs-appellees.

Gail P. Massad (argued and brief), Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, Livonia, MI, James L. Dyer, Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, Battle Creek, MI, for defendant-appellant.

Before: BOGGS and SILER, Circuit Judges; and HOLSCHUH, Chief District Judge. [*]

BOGGS, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs Cindy Cameron ("Cindy") and Larry Cameron ("Larry"), wife and husband, sued Cindy's former boss, defendant James McCauley Seitz, a former Monroe County, Michigan, probate judge, alleging violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law. A jury returned verdicts favorable to the Camerons and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. On appeal, Seitz argues that he is entitled to absolute and qualified immunity from the Camerons' claims. We hold that Seitz is entitled to absolute judicial immunity with respect to Larry's claims, and to qualified immunity with respect to Cindy's claims. We therefore reverse the district court's denial of Seitz's motion for dismissal and the award to the Camerons of attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988.



In February 1982, Cindy began working for the probate court as Seitz's secretary/court recorder. Seitz made the decision to hire her and she reported only to him. Cindy was divorced twice during the eight years that she worked for Seitz. Seitz characterized their relationship as employer-employee and as being "good friends," and they shared information about their personal lives on a frequent basis.

Seitz never made overt sexual advances to Cindy but, according to Cindy and close friend and fellow court employee Irene Leonard, his interest in Cindy extended beyond a professional relationship. Cindy alleged that Seitz gave her "inappropriate" gifts, letters, and invitations, but Seitz said that they also regularly exchanged Christmas and birthday gifts. He suggested that Cindy not remarry immediately after a divorce because he was considering divorcing his wife after the next election.

Seitz sent Cindy a letter, dated December 15, 1989, after she expressed her desire to attend the annual court holiday luncheon in December 1989, which Seitz had habitually boycotted, apparently because he regarded

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the court personnel as his enemies. In the letter, which used rather colorful language, he expressed his displeasure at her attendance at the luncheon. He wrote that he demanded "100% loyalty" from her as his "personal employee." He stated that his feelings were "strong and intense" about the loyalty issue, and he cautioned her about the lack of loyalty from the other court personnel. He explained that he "care[d] a lot more about [her] feeli[n]gs and well-being than [she] realize[d]," and reminded her that he "told [her] last week [that he] take[s] care of those who take care of [him] [and] treat[s] the others accordingly."

This letter, say the Camerons, was a "crucial piece of evidence" for their case. Cindy testified that Seitz told her that if she attended the holiday luncheon, her "bags would be on the street." She said that she was very much aware of his "strong and intense feelings" and perceived an implicit threat of termination.

On January 5, 1990, Seitz bought Cindy and her son Joey tickets to Disneyland so they could vacation with him and his family. Together with a New Year's card, Seitz wrote, "Things have not been great at home, and I didn't have much time to plan this. This morning as I was about to give you this, I heard you planning a party or something for the same weekend. I want you to know that whatever you decide to do is O.K." Cindy declined the gift. She said that she almost always returned for cash the personal items that Seitz bought for her.

The surprise party that she was planning was for Larry, whom she had begun dating after her November 1989 divorce. In early 1990, Cindy and Larry were engaged. Larry, another probate court employee, counselled juveniles at the county Youth Center and had made regular appearances in the probate court, many times before Seitz, without incident.

On February 7, 1990, Seitz learned of the engagement. On that same day, Seitz wrote Cindy that her engagement made him "really goddamn sick and disappointed--more than you can possibly know." Irene Leonard called Cindy that evening and passed along a message from Seitz: "Irene, I know you're very good friends with Cindy and I want you to call her and tell her not to come in tomorrow because if I see her, I could hurt her." Leonard said that Seitz was "so distraught, so upset, very emotional" and that she believed his threat. Cindy then called the court director, who confirmed that she was not to come into work the next day. Despite a second message to take another personal leave day, Cindy reported to work on February 9. Another note and a recorded message from Seitz were waiting for her.

The note stated: "I want to talk with you, but I'm too upset right now--I'm really upset and I don't want anything bad to happen...." On the tape, Seitz described "how crushed and hurt and devastated" he was when he heard about the engagement. He expressed an "unqualified caring" for Cindy, and stated that he was "embarrassed" and "shattered" to have learned the news from somebody other than Cindy herself. He said that he "threw up" when he heard the news. He explained that she had violated his "trust and confidence" and that he would have fired her "if he had been only [her] boss." He said that he was not "mad" at her, only "disappointed" in her "grabbing the first white thing that [came] along [who didn't] knock [her] around," when he had taken her from "a barefoot little hill ape running around" to "a sophisticated lady [with] a well-respected, well-paying position."

In a subsequent note, Seitz explained that the tape was "between us, and us only." Two more short notes followed. In one, Seitz stated that he "need[ed] some time to get over the shock and work thru [his] feelings, because more than anything else [he did not] want to do or say anything to hurt [her] any more." In the other, which was attached to a newspaper article about Seitz's uncle and purportedly demonstrated the importance of a close personal relationship between a secretary and an employer, Seitz stated that he was "glad" she had returned and was angry at how he had been told of the engagement. He claimed that his reaction was "intense" because of the timing of her engagement and that he "wouldn't ever interfere in her life."

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Seitz argues that he was "supportive" of Larry's and Cindy's dating relationship and that he had no objection to Larry personally or to the relationship. Seitz says that on the day that her previous divorce became final, Cindy told him to put her in a trunk and drive her away if she ever decided to marry again. He says that he told her that her relationship with Larry would be good for her because Larry was a "good guy." Seitz claims that his "personal correspondence" to Cindy was prompted by the timing of her decision, not the person whom she selected to marry, and by the fact that he heard about it second-hand, and not from Cindy herself.

Cindy testified that she felt fear after listening to the tape and that she decided to quit her job "to get away from him." She said that she made her decision when she heard on the tape that Seitz threw up and cried, deeming that the "scariest" part of the tape. Cindy continued working the week of February 12, trying to have little contact with Seitz. She found two more letters on February 16 from Seitz, detailing his personal feelings about her and her decision to get married. She resigned, writing him:

In light of recent circumstances, namely my engagement, and your bizarre reaction to my impending marriage, I find that you have placed me in a very stressful situation. You indicated on the tape that you gave me that you couldn't stand to look at me and would be happy if you never had to see me again. Why my engagement would create such a reaction from you remains a mystery to me....

You have created an inordinate and unnecessary amount of stress in my life, and I believe it would be in my best interests both medically (a medical situation you are aware of) and emotionally to terminate my employment with the Monroe County Probate Court....

I would like to indicate that I take exception to the statement on your tape that you took me from being a "pregnant hill ape" and made me the "sophisticated lady" that I am today. I am and never have been a hill ape, and the lady that I am today was created by me, and certainly not by yourself.

Cindy testified that she never complained about Seitz's vulgarity, paranoia, and vindictiveness until then. She took a job at the county mental health department, at a pay cut of $8,000 per year. Seitz, however, contacted her new boss and attempted to coerce her to return. Seitz went to the county prosecutor and suggested that he arrest Cindy for wire-tapping, without disclosing that he himself had installed the listening device on her home phone at her direction.

Upon hearing that Irene Leonard was matron of honor at Cindy's and Larry's March 17 wedding, relations between Leonard (the adoption clerk) and Seitz "soured." Seitz...

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