CINCINNATI (CN) — The Sixth Circuit ruled Tuesday that conspiracy and due process claims brought by a Tea Party Republican ousted from the Michigan House of Representatives are barred by immunity, “difficult to comprehend,” and were properly dismissed by a federal judge.
Todd Courser, elected to the Michigan House in 2014, resigned from his position in September 2015 after evidence of an extramarital affair with fellow Republican legislator Cindy Gamrat came to light.
Courser was also accused of firing several staffers and releasing a “false flag” email with salacious gay sex allegations in an effort to reduce the blowback caused by his affair with Gamrat.
He was eventually charged with felony counts of misconduct in public office, but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 12 months of probation.
The guilty plea did not end Courser’s saga, however, and he filed a federal suit in 2016 against the Michigan House and several of its members. Courser sought more than $10 million in punitive damages on claims of wiretapping and a conspiracy to remove him from office after he refused to go along with Republican powerbrokers in the legislature.
The suit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist, a George H.W. Bush appointee who called it “absurd on its face.”
Courser appealed to the Sixth Circuit, and a three-judge panel heard video arguments in June.
In its unpublished opinion, the panel chided Courser for spending “more time enumerating claims than developing arguments” and upheld Judge Quist’s decision in its entirety.
The 38-page decision went through each of the claims brought by Courser, but a footnote on the first page was indicative of the appeal’s outcome.
“We note for clarification,” the footnote reads, “that nearly every one of Courser’s claims fails for multiple reasons. The fact that we may only mention one or two reasons does not mean that additional reasons for dismissal would not be warranted.”
U.S. Circuit Judge John Nalbandian, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote that all claims against the Michigan House were properly dismissed under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which bars suits against “arms of the state.”
Nalbandian also upheld the dismissal of claims brought against individual members of the legislature under the doctrine of governmental immunity, which protects officials from actions undertaken in their official capacities.
Courser argued that immunity did not apply to claims that he was deprived of a protected liberty interest during proceedings against him, but the panel was skeptical.
Nalbandian called Courser’s argument “difficult to comprehend” and said he provided “little to no guidance on appeal to clarify his assertions.”
“His brief fails to clarify his purported liberty interest,” the judge wrote. “What’s more, Courser’s complaint only attempts to explain how the House failed to give him due process during the Select Committee hearing and the whole expulsion process. But nowhere does he explain what liberty interest he had that the individual defendants could not deprive him of without process.”
The appeals panel also upheld the dismissal of several counts brought by Courser because they were not mentioned in his appellate briefs and were therefore waived.
Meanwhile, according to the panel, intrusion, tortious interference and infliction of emotional distress claims were all properly dismissed because Courser merely recited elements of the claims in his complaint and failed to provide any factual allegations to support them.
Courser had also alleged in his complaint that two attorneys acting as general counsel of the House of Representatives lied to him when they allegedly told Courser he would only be censured – and not expelled – if he cooperated with its investigation.
This allegation was the basis for Courser’s fraudulent misrepresentation claim, but that count was also properly dismissed by the lower court, according to Nalbandian.
“We agree with the district court’s conclusion that no reasonable person could find Courser’s reliance on [the general counsel’s] assurances to be reasonable,” Nalbandian said. “Even if [the attorneys] were acting as his counsel, it is not reasonable for Courser to think that they could guarantee the House would merely censure him.”
U.S. Circuit Judges Julia Gibbons, a George W. Bush appointee, and Joan Larsen, another Trump appointee, also sat on the panel.