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Rehberg v. Paulk

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: November 1, 2011
Case #: 10-778
Court Below: 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (611 F.3d 828)
Full Text Opinion: http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/03-18-Rehberg-opinion-below.pdf

Civil Procedure: Whether a government official is entitled to absolutely immunity from a section 1983 claim for damages when their false testimony to a grand jury caused the prosecution of an innocent individual.

Charles Rehberg, a certified public accountant, discovered evidence of unethical billing practices at a hospital in Georgia. Rehberg sent faxes detailing these activities to several members of the community, the hospital, and his Congressman. The hospital had the Dougherty County District Attorney investigated the faxes as a "favor" to the hospital. Paulk was the investigator for the DA's office. Even though the investigation did not establish probable cause to indict Rehberg, Paulk offered false testimony as a complaining witness resulting in three indictments against Rehberg. All of the indictments were dismissed.

Rehberg filed a complaint alleging three violations of 42 U.S.C Sec. 1983 for malicious prosecution. Paulk moved to dismiss under FRCP 12(b)(6) arguing that he was entitled to absolute immunity for grand jury testimony. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The 11th Circuit reversed.

Rehberg argues that for absolute immunity to apply there must be a common-law counterpart to the privilege relying on Malley v. Briggs. Rehberg also argues that the Supreme Court has specifically stated that complaining witnesses are not absolutely immune. Finally, Rehberg points out that seven of the appeals courts already utilize a qualified immunity principal with respect to a complaining witness's oral testimony.