When does the statute of limitations for a damages claim arising out of a false arrest or other search and seizure prohibited by the Fourth Amendment begin to run when evidence collected during the illegal arrest or search is used to convict the claimant during a criminal trial and the conviction is later overturned?
Andre Wallace was tried for and convicted of murder based on a confession obtained by Chicago detectives when he was fifteen years old. After several appeals, Wallace’s conviction was annulled by the Illinois Appellate Court, which held that Wallace was arrested without probable cause and that his unlawfully obtained confession could not be used to convict him of murder because it was not “sufficiently attenuated from his unlawful arrest.” Wallace v. City of Chicago, 440 F.3d 421, 422 (7th Cir. 2006). Left with no other substantial evidence to convict Wallace, the prosecution dropped all charges against him. Wallace then sued the City of Chicago as well as Detectives Kristen Kato and Eugene Roy, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for violating his Fourth Amendment rights. The district court granted the detectives and the City of Chicago summary judgment on all of Wallace’s claims for his failure to meet the two-year statute of limitation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision and found that “false arrest claims accrue at the time of the arrest,” rather than at the time the claimant’s conviction is overturned, concluding that Wallace’s claim was barred. Wallace v. City of Chicago, 440 F.3d at 423. The Seventh Circuit majority and dissent indicate the existence of a conflict between circuit courts as to when the statute of limitations begins to run for damages claims resulting from false arrests. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the conflict. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will reflect its view on the correct balance between state interests, such as efficiency in the trial process, and the rights of individual defendants, such as having the opportunity to recover for damages arising from ? 1983 violations. Whether the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of arrest or at the time a conviction is overturned will influence when a claimant will be able to bring ? 1983 claims and may limit the availability of remedies for ? 1983 claims.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
When does a claim for damages arising out of a false arrest or other search or seizure forbidden by the Fourth Amendment accrue when the fruits of the search were introduced in the claimant’s criminal trial and he was convicted?
On January 17, 1994, John Handy was shot and killed in a building located at 825 North Lawndale Avenue in Chicago. Wallace v. City of Chicago, 440 F.3d 421, 423 (7th Cir. 2006). Chicago police detectives Kirsten Kato and Eugene Roy, Respondents, were assigned to investigate Handy’s murder. Id. Two days later, Roy and Kato arrested Andre Wallace, Petitioner, on a street near the scene of the murder and transported Petitioner to the local police station. Id. At the time, the police were not aware that Wallace was only 15 years old because Wallace had informed them that he was 17 years old. Id.
During the night, Kato and Roy took turns interrogating Wallace using the “good cop/bad cop” method, according to Petitioner. Id. Respondents claim that Wallace was free to leave the station at any time during the interrogation. Id. At about 6:00 a.m., after being confronted with supposed statements by other witnesses that linked him to the scene of the crime, on the night of the crime, Wallace agreed to confess. Id. Wallace claims that he was told he could go home after he gave his statement. Id.
Before his trial, Wallace filed numerous motions to suppress his statements on the grounds that Chicago police had arrested him without probable cause and that Kato and Roy had coerced his statements. Id. His motions were denied. Id. On April 19, 1996, Wallace was found guilty of first-degree murder. Id. Wallace appealed the verdict. On September 21, 1998, the Illinois Appellate Court found that Chicago police had arrested Wallace without probable cause and remanded for a hearing to determine whether Wallace’s statements were “sufficiently attenuated from his unlawful arrest” to permit their use against him. Id. On remand, the lower court found the statements sufficiently attenuated from the arrest and affirmed Petitioner’s conviction. Id. at 423-424. Wallace appealed once more, and the Illinois Appellate Court again found for Petitioner, reversing the Circuit Court’s decision and remanding the case for a new trial. Id. at 424. On April 10, 2002, the prosecution, realizing that its best evidence could not be used, decided to proceed no further, dropping the case against Petitioner. Id.
On April 2, 2003, Wallace filed the present suit in district court, asserting that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated and raising state law claims for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. Id. Kato and Roy responded by filing an answer and a motion for summary judgment. Id. Wallace filed his response to the summary judgment motion on October 21, 2003, just one week before the federal Seventh Circuit decided Gauger v. Hendle, which held that, under the unique circumstances of that case, the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the defendant’s conviction was invalidated. Id.; 349, F.3d 354 (7th Cir. 2003).
The District Court, on March 30, 2004, granted summary judgment for Roy and Kato. Id. Wallace filed an amended complaint about a month later, reasserting his Fourth Amendment claims. Id. Roy and Kato answered and filed another summary judgment motion, which included a defense of collateral estoppel. Id. After another round of motions, the Court allowed the defense of collateral estoppel to go forward. Id. In the same order, the Court again granted Roy and Kato’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that Wallace had conceded that his false arrest claim was time-barred under the old rule that such a claim accrued at the time of the arrest. Id.
Even if Wallace were allowed to take advantage of the new Gauger rule, the Court held, Wallace would still be time-barred because Wallace should have brought the claim after the Illinois Appellate Court found on September 21, 1998, that Wallace was arrested by Chicago police without probable cause. Id. In both situations, held the district court, Wallace had brought the claim after the two-year statute of limitations that exists in Illinois for these cases. Wallace appealed to the Seventh Circuit.
On appeal, a panel of the Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that Petitioner’s claims regarding his arrest and the subsequent confession were time-barred. Petition for Writ of Certiorari at 4. In arriving at this conclusion, the panel overruled two recent Seventh Circuit decisions, Gauger v. Hendle and Wiley v. City of Chicago, 361 F.3d 994 (7th Cir. 2004), and adopted a bright line rule that claims for false arrest and similar Fourth Amendment violations accrue at the time of arrest. Id. The court reasoned that a clear rule concerning accrual of these types of claims is superior to a rule that determines accrual on a case-by-case basis. Id.
On his petition for certiorari, Wallace disagrees with the Respondents and the Seventh Circuit on several points. Specifically, he counters their opinion on the following matters: the amount of time Wallace was subject to false arrest and unlawful search and seizure, which cases should govern the issue of accrual on ? 1983 ?claims and the interpretation of their holdings, the extent of remedies available under ? 1983 claims, and finally, when and how Fourth Amendment rights claim can be brought before the Court.
Wallace argues that Heck v. Humphrey and Gauger v. Hendle should govern the issue of accrual in this case. His position opposes the Seventh Circuit decision to overturn Gauger in favor of a bright line rule stating that the time of accrual for a ? 1983 claims is at the time of the claimant’s arrest. Wallace v. City of Chicago, 440 F.3d 421 (7th Cir. 2006). In Heck v. Humphrey the Court held that a ? 1983 cause of action seeking “damages for [an] allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment does not accrue until the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Petition for Writ of Certiorari, p. 8-9; Heck v. Humprey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The Seventh Circuit in Gauger v. Hendle held that if the evidence in question is non-essential to the defendant’s conviction then the time of accrual for the claim is at the time of the wrongful arrest or unlawful search and seizure; if, however, the evidence in question is essential to the conviction then the time of accrual is when the conviction is invalidated by the judicial system. Wallace argues that under both of these decisions the time of accrual for his claim is at the time his conviction was overturned. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, p. 8-9
The amount of time under which Wallace was held under false arrest and unlawful search and seizure is an important part of his argument because it determines the extent of remedies available to Wallace if the Court decides his ? 1983 claim is not time barred. Wallace claims that the amount of time he was subject to false arrest and unlawful search and seizure began the moment he was detained, continued during the eight years that he was in prison, and ended when his conviction was overturned and he was released. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, p. 8. Wallace asserts the Supreme Court supports his position in New York v. Harris, 495 U.S. 14, 19 (1990), and that the Seventh Circuit impermissibly extended the Harris holding by deciding that he could only recover for the time between his unlawful arrest and his first court appearance. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, p. 9. Wallace maintains that the Seventh Circuit is wrong, and stands alone among circuit courts, in its position that a claimant’s right to seek remedies for Fourth Amendment violations drop out after his first court appearance. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, 9 and 17. Wallace cites holdings in the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits which support his position that the time of accrual for ? 1983 is at the time that a conviction is annulled. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, p. 15. If the Supreme Court takes Wallace’s position then he will be able to recover for the eight years he was detained. If the Court takes the Seventh Circuit’s position then Wallace will only be able to recover for the two days between the his arrest and his first court appearance.
Wallace posits that instituting the Seventh Circuit’s bright line rule, which selects the time of the unlawful arrest as the time of accrual for ?1983 claims, would result in courts being flooded with ?1983 claims. Petition for Certiorari, p. 9. This result compromises judicial economy and efficiency since ?1983 would be forced to sue at the time of their arrest for the sole purpose of preserving their right to obtain a remedy for any possible Fourth Amendment violations found by a court in the future and in case their possible future conviction is later overturned. Id. Moreover, bringing a ? 1983 claim prematurely can leave a claimant without enough time to prepare evidence and arguments to prove a Fourth Amendment violation before a court. Having the time of accrual set at the time of arrest would prevent individuals in Wallace’s position from raising claims after a post-arrest court decision finding a Fourth Amendment violation and depriving them of remedies for the time they spent in jail for a conviction which was later overturned.
In furthering his argument, that he should be able to recover the eight years he was detained, Wallace states that the Seventh Circuit’s decision conflicts with the decision in Albright v. Oliver. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, p. 18. According to Wallace the Albright court held that “post-arrest restraints should be viewed as Fourth Amendment violations.” Id. Wallace also highlights a part of the Albright opinion which states that “the time to file a ? 1983 claim is not at the start but at the end of the episode in suit, i.e. upon dismissal of the criminal charges.” Id. at 22. Justices Ginsburg, Blackmun and Steven agreed in the Albright opinion that the seizure of a defendant continued until his discharge. Id. at 20. In order for the Court to be consistent, Wallace urges that the Court should find against the Seventh Circuit position that seizure ends after a Gerstein hearing or arraignment. Id. Again, Wallace highlights that the Seventh Circuit stands alone among the Circuits in its position. Id.
Finally, Wallace introduces common law principles that support that it is almost “universally” held that the time of accrual for a false imprisonment claim is at the end of the claimant’s imprisonment.
The City of Chicago, Kristen Kato and Eugene Roy make several arguments in support of the Seventh Circuit’s position that a ? 1983 claim accrues at the time of a claimant’s arrest. Although Respondents agree that Heck should be controlling of the issue before the Court in this case they disagree with the petitioner on the interpretation of the Heck v. Humphrey holding. Respondents also disagree with Wallace on time period of detainment for which the petitioner is permitted remedies, at what time a ? 1983 claim can be permissibly brought before a court, and whether the issues of accrual and damages can be separated from ? 1983 claims.
Respondents assert that Heck "teaches that if the unlawful arrest claim would necessarily imply the invalidity of a conviction, then the Section 1983 claim does not accrue until the conviction has been set aside and there is no longer any possibility of a judgment in the pending criminal prosecution." Reply Brief on Certiorari, p. 1. Respondents argue that the issues of confession, damages and accrual time are inseparable according to Heck and thus they disagree with Wallace's treating the issues of confession and damages as separate from the accrual question. Respondents further argue that under Heck's fact specific analysis, Wallace's unlawful detainment and confession "impugned the validity of any further criminal proceedings." Reply Brief on Certiorari, p. 2. ?Therefore, Wallace is not allowed to collaterally attack his prior conviction and thus limited in his ability to recover under ? 1983.
Respondents base their opposition to Wallace’s claims about the extent of recovery available to him on Seventh Circuit decisions and common law principles. Respondents highlight that the “Seventh Circuit holds that as a matter of law a wrongful arrest may only cause the harm of unlawful detention from arrest until arraignment, and that the unlawful arrest could not, under any circumstances, impugn the validity of a criminal conviction of prosecution.” Id. The Heck decision combined with the Seventh circuit holding support the position that Wallace’s ? 1983 claim did not accrue at the time his conviction was overturned because under Heck, for the accrual time to be at the moment the conviction is set aside the unlawful arrest must imply the later conviction is invalid. Therefore, the time of accrual in Heck does not apply and thus the time of accrual should be at the time of the arrest as per the Seventh’s Circuit decision in Wallace v. City of Chicago. Finally, Respondents argue that common law limitations for damages sought for confinement pursuant to the legal process support the Seventh Circuit’s position that ? 1983 damages are limited to the time period between the unlawful arrest and the claimant’s arraignment. Id. at 3-4.
Respondents urge the Court to adopt the Seventh Circuit’s position as well as their interpretation of the Heck decision in deciding the question of accrual for ? 1983 claims.
Issues the Court will need to consider before making a decision
In deciding what the accrual time is for ? 1983 claims, the Supreme Court will have to take several factors into consideration. There are several legal principles and considerations the Court will likely weigh in deciding the accrual issue in this case. First, is the principle that civil actions should not be permitted to collaterally attack a criminal conviction. Posner speaks about his concern over this principle in his dissent to the Wallace Seventh Circuit panel decision. Second, making the accrual time of ? 1983 claims at the time of the arrest would create a potential for inconsistent holdings in Civil and Criminal courts. Third, upholding the Seventh circuit position might also raise problems for court dockets if defendants flood courts with false arrest claims simply because they feel they need to do so to preserve their rights to sue for damages in the future. Fourth, the Court must balance the interests of judicial economy and efficiency while upholding a defendant’s right to pursue legal remedies and have reasonable opportunities to receive damages for any harm suffered as a result of Fourth Amendment violations.
Although cases dealing with statutes of limitation are often overlooked due to their technical and precise arguments, the outcome of such cases can make a significant difference in areas of the law that the general public does care about. See “Are Statutes of Limitations Too Limiting?" by Jason Horn (August 2006). This is one such case, whose outcome will have a serious effect on the ability of litigants to bring suits alleging Fourth Amendment violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which permits civil actions and remedies for deprivation of Constitutional rights.
Petitioner, Andre Wallace, argues that the two-year statute of limitations, mandated by Illinois law, did not accrue at the time of his arrest, but rather accrued when his conviction was finally nullified on April 10, 2002, and the state dropped his case. Wallace’s case is complicated by the fact that he was 15 years old at the time of his arrest. Under Illinois law, the two-year period was tolled until two years after Wallace turned 18 years old on November 7, 1999. However, even with the aid of that statute, Wallace’s filing of his claim on April 2, 2003, came well after the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Thus, Wallace urges that the Court follow the rule established in Gauger v. Hendle, where accrual depends on the how central the evidence was to the conviction: if the evidence in question was non-essential to the defendant’s conviction, then the Fourth Amendment claim arises at the time of the wrong (i.e. the false arrest or the unlawful search); on the other hand, if the evidence was critical to the conviction, then the Fourth Amendment claim accrues only after the underlying conviction has been set aside.
Respondents, Kato and Roy, argue that Wallace is barred from continuing to pursue this case concerning Fourth Amendment violations because he filed his claim after the two-year statute of limitations in Illinois. Respondents’ argument includes the period during which Wallace was a minor and the statute was tolled. According to Kato and Roy, the Court should move away from a rule that uses a case-by-case approach to determine accrual of Fourth Amendment claims; instead, argue Respondents, the Court should adopt a bright line rule that places the accrual of such claims at the time of the wrong (here, the unlawful arrest).
The decision in this case has broad implications on the development and the outcome of actions that allege Fourth Amendment violations. A decision in favor of Wallace will give plaintiffs that are considering bringing such civil actions, alleging violations of Fourth Amendment Constitutional rights, a larger window during which they may assert a claim. Although in some cases plaintiffs may benefit from a decision in favor of Wallace, it is possible that, on some occasions, defendants will receive the benefit.
A decision for Wallace will favor defendants in certain situations because a rule that determines accrual on a case-by-case basis will leave plenty of discretion to the plaintiff’s attorney. The attorney will always have to determine whether the questionable evidence is “essential” to his or her client’s possible conviction. This preliminary determination will govern whether the attorney has to file a claim of false arrest (for example) immediately, or whether the attorney will be able to file when the case against his or her client is dropped. This discretion means that occasionally the plaintiff’s attorney may make the wrong decision, thus jeopardizing his or her client’s claim of Fourth Amendment violations.
On the other hand, a decision for Kato and Roy, Respondents, will signify that the Court, in the name of creating uniformity across the board with a bright line rule of accrual, is prepared to make it difficult for possible plaintiffs to file claims. A holding that accrual always occurs at the time of the wrong means that plaintiffs and attorneys involved in any possible litigation regarding Constitutional rights will have to file a claim for false arrest or a similar Fourth Amendment violation immediately, at the time of the arrest, if they wish to preserve a valid claim. The need for immediate action makes it more likely that the deadline will sometimes come and go without action on the part of the plaintiffs.
Of course, it is possible that a bright line rule would make it easier for individuals and attorneys to remember the need for immediate filing of such a claim. Such a rule simplifies the process and gives individuals and attorneys less discretion in this area of the law, which may significantly minimize the possibility of an oversight in the filing of the Fourth Amendment claim. However, any party that fails to immediately file such a claim upon arrest will find it difficult to later bring such a claim, given the usual length of litigation.
With their decisions in Heck and Wallace, the Seventh Circuit has made it nearly impossible for defendants to recover for ? 1983 claims. Under Heck, defendants may only bring ? 1983 claims after their convictions have been nullified while Wallace holds that ? 1983 claims must be brought within two years of the false arrest. Since court proceeding take several years the combination of the two decisions makes it almost impossible for defendant’s to be able to meet the two-year statute of limitations for ? 1983 claims.
Due to the arguments made by Ginsburg, Blackmun and Stevens in the Albright decision, the strong support amongst circuit courts is for the time of accrual taking place at the time a conviction is annulled. Thus, in the interest of judicial consistency and giving defendants a reasonable and just opportunity to bring forth their claims, and the premature claims concerns raised by Judge Posner in his dissent to the Seventh Circuit panel decision in the Wallace case, the Supreme Court is likely to rule in favor of the statute of limitations on Fourth Amendment claims beginning to run when the claimant’s criminal conviction is overturned.
Written by: Heidy Abreu & Miguel Loza