Fifth Circuit Holds Prosecutorial Immunity Inapplicable to Post-Trial Disclosure of Federal Tax Records
In Lampton v. Diaz, 639 F.3d 223 (5th Cir. 2011), the Fifth Circuit held that prosecutorial immunity from suit did not extend to a prosecutor’s post-trial transfer of a defendant’s private federal tax records to a state ethics commission.
Between 2003 and 2006, Dunnica Lampton (“Lampton”), the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, prosecuted Oliver Diaz (“Diaz”), a Mississippi Supreme Court justice, and Diaz’s wife, Jennifer Diaz, for fraud, bribery, and tax evasion. Diaz was acquitted, but his wife pleaded guilty to tax evasion. Lampton then filed a complaint with the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (the “Commission”) regarding Diaz’s conduct. He included copies of the Diazes’ federal tax records obtained during the criminal investigation. The Commission dismissed the complaint in December 2008.
The Diazes sued Lampton in federal court, alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on deprivation of rights under a number of statutes that prohibit government officials from releasing private tax records obtained in the course of their duties, including 26 U.S.C. §§ 6103, 7213, and 7431. Lampton filed a motion to dismiss the § 1983 claim, arguing that absolute prosecutorial immunity shielded his decision to give the tax records to the Commission. The district court denied the motion, and Lampton appealed.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Lampton’s motion to dismiss, holding that prosecutorial immunity did not apply to Lampton’s conduct. The appellate court reasoned that, as a federal prosecutor, Lampton had no duty to bring complaints before a state ethics commission, and the actions for which Lampton sought immunity were unrelated to his prosecution of the Diazes. Further, Lampton could have reported Diaz’s misconduct without releasing the tax records, so his ethical responsibilities did not compel violation of the federal statute.