Section 1983 Malicious Prosecution: Some Recent Decisions (I)
I blogged on Sept. 11, 2009, about so-called section 1983 “malicious prosecution” claims. What follows, in two parts, are several recent decisions dealing with such claims, decisions that I ran across in preparing the 2011 Update to my treatise, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 (4th ed.)(CIVLIBLIT on Westlaw).
A caveat: this area is very dynamic, so there may be even newer decisions out there.
In Manganiello v. City of New York, 612 F.3d 149 (2d Cir. 2010), the Second Circuit upheld a jury’s verdict and judgment (including $1.426 million in compensatory damages) against the defendant former detective charged with § 1983 Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution of the plaintiff who was prosecuted for murder but acquitted. The defendant argued that he should have been granted judgment as a matter of law because probable cause existed, or should be presumed to have existed by virtue of a grand jury indictment of the plaintiff for murder. Rejecting the argument, the Second Circuit observed that the presumption of probable cause from a grand jury indictment could be rebutted by evidence that the indictment was procured by fraud, perjury or the suppression of evidence by the police officer. In this case there was ample evidence to support the jury’s findings that the defendant engaged in at least one of these kinds of misconduct: the defendant refrained from making inquiries into other possible suspects, ignored evidence that the plaintiff was not guilty, declined to inform the prosecutor of possibly exculpatory evidence, secured an inculpatory statement from a witness by promising not to disclose that witness’s known criminal activities and included in some of his own reports statements adverse to the plaintiff that were contradicted by persons with first-hand knowledge of the facts. Furthermore, it was clear that the defendant caused the initiation or continuation of the criminal proceedings against the plaintiff. Finally, there was sufficient evidence of malice in the sense that the defendant acted with “something other than a desire to see the ends of justice served.” 612 F.3d at 164.
In Sykes v. Anderson, 625 F.3d 294, 308-09 (6th Cir. 2010), the Sixth Circuit listed four requirements for a § 1983 Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim: (1) initiation of a criminal prosecution against the plaintiff that was made, influenced or participated in by the defendant; (2) a lack of probable cause; (3) the plaintiff must have consequently suffered a deprivation of liberty apart from the initial seizure; and (4) the criminal proceeding must have been resolved in favor of the plaintiff. The court in Sykes went on to agree specifically with the Fourth Circuit in Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, 85 F.3d 178 (4th Cir. 1996) that malice was not required: “The circuits that require malice [the Second, Third, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits] have imported elements from the common law without reflecting on their consistency with the overriding constitutional nature of § 1983 claims.” 449 F.3d at 309 (emphasis in original). The Sixth Circuit then commented soundly (and wryly) that calling such claims “malicious prosecution” was unfortunate and confusing but that it was “stuck with that label.” 449 F.3d at 310. Finally, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the § 1983 malicious Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution judgment against the defendants because all of these requirements were met, although it remanded for the purpose of having the district court explain why it had denied the defendant’s motion for remittitur.
The Eleventh Circuit applied the Fourth Amendment and common law torts elements of malicious prosecution in favor of the plaintiff who alleged that a police officer fabricated a bribery charge against him, lacked probable cause to do so and had a malicious intent. According to the Eleventh Circuit, the district court did not err in denying summary judgment to the defendant. Grider v. City of Auburn, 618 F.3d 1240 (11th Cir. 2010).
Next: Decisions of the Seventh Circuit and the Supreme Court of Utah.