Thomp$on v. Clark – Maliciou$ Pro$ecution
The Evil / Incompetent Prosecutor performing meritle$$ ca$e$ against his fiduciary duty
§ 42 U.S.C. 1983 for malicious prosecution
Thompson v. Clark
United States Supreme Court
April 4, 2022
JSH Attorneys: Justin Ackerman and Ashley Caballero-Daltrey
U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Favorable Termination of Charges For 4th & 14th Amendment Malicious Prosecution Claim Need Not Show Affirmative Indication of Innocence
In a ruling today, the United States Supreme Court held that a Fourth Amendment claim under § 1983 for malicious prosecution does not require that the plaintiff show that the criminal prosecution ended with some affirmative indication of innocence. The Court resolved a circuit split on the issue with its holding.
In this case, Larry Thompson was charged and detained for two days and later released from jail after being charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. The charges against Thompson were dismissed before trial without explanation by the prosecution or trial court judge. Thompson then brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for damages against the police officers, including a Fourth Amendment claim for malicious prosecution. Under Second Circuit precedent, he was required to show some affirmative indication of his innocence. Because he could not, the district court dismissed his case and the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal on the same basis.
The U.S. Supreme Court granted review in order to resolve a circuit split on the requirements of “favorable termination” for a Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim. It explained that in order to determine the elements of this claim, it had to first look at the elements of the most analogous tort as of 1871 when § 1983 was enacted, as long as doing so was consistent with the values and purposes of the constitutional right at issue. The Court reviewed the practice of American courts in 1871 to determine the elements of malicious prosecution. After a lengthy historical analysis, it concluded that courts in 1871 largely agreed that a “favorable termination” meant the prosecution ended without a conviction, but did not require anything more.
Applying this standard, the Court found that the plaintiff satisfied the requirement that his criminal prosecution – which the prosecution had moved to dismiss – ended without a conviction. As a result, the Court reversed the judgment of the Second Circuit and trial court’s determination that he could not bring a malicious prosecution claim. However, it left open a number of questions for remand, including: whether the plaintiff was ever seized as a result of the alleged malicious prosecution, whether he was charged without probable cause, and whether the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity.
Prior to this decision, federal courts in Arizona generally followed Arizona state law on malicious prosecution, which usually required a plaintiff to show some affirmative indication of innocence (not just a voluntary dismissal by a prosecutor). Going forward, federal courts will have to follow Thompson and will only require a plaintiff show that their prosecution ended without a conviction. It also left open a number of other viable defenses to a 1983 malicious prosecution claim, such as probable cause and qualified immunity.
Facts of the case
Camille Watson was staying with her sister and her sister’s husband, Larry Thompson, when she dialed 911 after seeing a diaper rash on the couple’s infant daughter and mistaking the rash for signs of abuse. In response, two Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) arrived at Thompson’s apartment building to investigate. The EMTs saw nothing amiss, and, unaware of Camille’s 911 call, Thompson told the EMTs that no one in his home had called 911. He asked the EMTs to leave, and they did.
Four police officers followed up to investigate the alleged child abuse and insisted on seeing Thompson’s daughter. Thompson asked to speak to the officers’ sergeant, and after being denied that request, asked whether the officers had a warrant (which they did not). Nevertheless, they physically tried to enter Thompson’s home, and when Thompson attempted to block the doorway, the officers tackled and handcuffed him. He was arrested and taken to jail, where he spent two days. He was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration, and about three months later, the prosecution dropped the charges against him, stating that “People are dismissing the case in the interest of justice.”
Thompson filed a Section 1983 malicious prosecution claim against the police officers involved. A federal district court granted judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendants on Thompson’s malicious prosecution claim due to his failure to establish favorable termination of his criminal case, which is required under binding Second Circuit precedent. The appellate court affirmed.
To succeed on a claim of malicious prosecution under Section 1983, a plaintiff must show:
- (1) the suit or proceeding was instituted without probable cause,
- (2) the motive in instituting the suit was malicious—that is, for a purpose other than bringing the defendant to justice, and
- (3) the prosecution terminated in the acquittal or discharge of the accused. The purposes of this third element—favorable termination of the underlying criminal case—are:
- (a) to avoid parallel civil and criminal litigation,
- (b) to prevent inconsistent civil and criminal judgments, and
- (c) to prevent civil suits from being improperly used as collateral attacks on criminal proceedings.
Most American courts have considered a favorable termination to mean simply a prosecution that ends without conviction and cannot be revived. Thus, if the prosecutor abandons the case or the court dismisses the case without stating a reason, these satisfy the third element of a malicious prosecution claim. Acquittal of the defendant is not required. Respondents’ claims to the contrary are not persuasive.
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Ashley Caballero-Daltrey is a member of the firm’s Appellate Department where she represents clients in federal and state appellate matters and dispositive motions. Before joining JSH, Ashley worked as a law clerk for Vice Chief Justice Ann Scott Timmer of the Arizona Supreme Court. She has extensive experience researching and drafting memos across several different areas of law, as well as completing dozens of research projects and memos in torts, civil procedure, government claims, contracts, and land use.
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