Nahmod Law

Manuel v. City of Joliet and Accrual: The Plaintiff Wins in the Seventh Circuit

Background

I posted several times previously on Manuel v. City of Joliet, 137 S. Ct. 911 (2017), an important section 1983 malicious prosecution case that came out of Seventh Circuit and made it to the Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded. My most recent post on Manuel, which can serve as background, is here:

https://nahmodlaw.com/2017/05/15/manuel-v-city-of-joliet-the-court-rules-section-1983-malicious-prosecution-claims-can-be-based-on-the-fourth-amendment-but-otherwise-punts/

Recall that after the plaintiff in Manuel was arrested on March 18, 2011, and charged with possessing unlawful drugs, he was held in jail pending trial  pursuant to a judge’s decision. Forty-seven days later, all charges were dismissed against him because the drugs he was carrying were apparently legal, and he was released the next day. On April 22, 2013, the plaintiff sued for damages under section 1983 and the Fourth Amendment, alleging that his detention without probable cause was unconstitutional. Reversing the Seventh Circuit and remanding, the Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to seek damages under the Fourth Amendment but remanded to determine whether his complaint was timely under the applicable two-year Illinois statute of limitations.

On Remand to the Seventh Circuit

In Manuel v. City of Joliet, 2018 WL 4292913 (7th Cir. 2018), the particular issue before the Seventh Circuit, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision and remand, was when his section 1983 Fourth Amendment cause of action accrued? Was it March 18, when the plaintiff was arrested and ordered by the judge to remain in custody, in which case the suit would not be timely? Was it May 4, 2011, when the prosecutor dismissed the charge, in which case his suit would be timely? Or was it on May 5, 2011, when the plaintiff was released, in which case his suit would also be timely? The Seventh Circuit ruled that the plaintiff’s section 1983 Fourth Amendment cause of action accrued on May 5, 2011, when he was released; thus, his suit was timely.

The Defense Argument Based on Wallace v. Kato Rejected

In an opinion by Judge Easterbrook, the Seventh Circuit rejected the defense argument that the cause of action accrued when the plaintiff was brought before the judge and held pursuant to legal process, per Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007). First, here, unlike in Wallace, the plaintiff challenged his custody, and not just his arrest. Second, and more important, the Seventh Circuit asserted: “[T]he line that the Justices drew in Wallace–in which a claim accrues no later than the moment a person is bound over by a magistrate or arraigned on charges … and [that] all Fourth Amendment claims are to be treated alike–did not survive Manuel.” The Seventh Circuit reasoned that because the Court held in Manuel that wrongful pretrial custody violates the Fourth Amendment even when it follows the start of legal process in a criminal case, “[w] hen a wrong is ongoing rather than discrete, the period of limitations does not commence until the wrong ends.”

The Plaintiff’s Argument Based on the Tort of Malicious Prosecution Also Rejected

The Seventh Circuit also rejected the plaintiff’s analogy to the tort of malicious prosecution, under which favorable termination–here, May 4, 2011, when the prosecutor dismissed the charge–would be determinative. Characterizing the plaintiff’s claim as a Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim was “wrong” after Manuel. The Seventh Circuit explained:

The problem is the wrongful custody. … But there is a constitutional right not to be held in custody without probable cause. Because the wrong is the detention rather than the existence of criminal charges, the period of limitations also should depend on the dates of the detention.

Finally, the Seventh Circuit observed that its conclusion was supported by the accrual principle that the “existence of detention forbids a suit for damages contesting that detention’s validity.” It commented that in light of Supreme Court precedent, section 1983 “cannot be used to contest ongoing custody that has been properly authorized.”

Comment

Once the Seventh Circuit determined that Wallace v. Kato was inapplicable in light of the Court’s decision in Manuel, an accrual decision favoring the plaintiff readily followed, even though not based on the plaintiff’s malicious prosecution analogy. Indeed, the Seventh Circuit expressly, and correctly, declared that malicious prosecution doctrine was irrelevant to what was a straightforward section 1983 Fourth Amendment claim challenging illegal custody.

In so stating, the Seventh Circuit was not only consistent with its own prior case law but also with my long-standing position (discussed in earlier posts and in my section 1983 treatise) that malicious prosecution doctrine should play no direct role in the elements of section 1983 claims. In this view, what is crucial is the particular constitutional claim, here the Fourth Amendment. Indeed, the  Seventh Circuit went on to observe that malice was irrelevant to a claim like Manuel‘s: “[T]his is a plain-vanilla Fourth Amendment claim, and under that provision is objective.”

Thus, it bears repeating the Seventh Circuit’s accrual decision was based on the particular Fourth Amendment claim directed against plaintiff’s custody.

Quere: Is the Seventh Circuit’s decision certworthy in light of the Seventh Circuit’s take on the adverse, if not overruling, effect of Manuel on Wallace?

See generally, on section 1983 malicious prosecution, my treatise: CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 ch. 3 (2018)(West & Westlaw).

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Written by snahmod

November 5, 2018 at 10:03 am

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