Can an individual sue a city for malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment as a violation of his constitutionally guaranteed right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure?
This case will address a circuit split between the Seventh Circuit and nine other circuits concerning a individual’s ability to file a malicious prosecution claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an alleged infringement on that individual’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures or an infringement of an individual’s due process rights. On April 10, 2013, Elijah Manuel sued the city of Joliet, Illinois for injuries suffered as a result of a forty-seven day detention following his unlawful arrest on March 18, 2011. Manuel emphasizes that the Seventh Circuit is alone in explicitly barring malicious prosecution claims under the Fourth Amendment and therefore its lower court holding should be overturned. The City of Joliet advocates for continued adherence to the Seventh Circuit’s precedent, which rejects the contention that legal process extends to claims of malicious prosecution, and also contends that Manuel’s claims are time barred by state tort law, which provides adequate remedy for alleged due process violations. Manuel argues that his malicious prosecution claim is a Fourth Amendment claim and falls within the purview of federal and not state law. The case will impact the availability of recovery for post-process detentions as well as the applicability of state restrictions on §1983 claims.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
Does an individual’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure continue beyond legal process so as to allow a malicious prosecution claim based upon the Fourth Amendment?
Petitioner Elijah Manuel was arrested on March 18, 2011 for possession with intent to distribute ecstasy. See Manuel v. City of Joliet, 590 F. App’x 641, 642. Manuel was a passenger in his brother’s car. See id. Police officers stopped the Manuel brothers for failing to signal. See id. One of the officers claimed to have detected the smell of cannabis. See id. The officer opened the passenger door and dragged Manuel out of the car. See id. The officer never found cannabis in the car, and Manuel further asserts that there was a long-standing animosity between the officers and the Manuel brothers. See Brief for Petitioner, Elijah Manuel at 3–4.
The officer found a bottle of pills in Manuel’s pocket when patting him down. See Manuel at 642. Officers who arrived on the scene tested the pills and discovered them to be vitamin supplements as Manuel had claimed they were. See Brief for Petitioner at 4. The officers falsified the test results to show that the pills were ecstasy, and the officers lied about the test results in a grand jury proceeding on March 31. See Manuel at 642.
On April 1, Manuel submitted a complaint with a lab report showing that the pills were not ecstasy. See Manuel at 642. Nonetheless, Manuel was arraigned on April 8 and remained in detention. See id. On May 4, the Assistant State’s Attorney sought the dismissal of the charges and Manuel was released on May 5. See id. During the time that Manuel had remained in police custody, he was forced to miss both work and his college classes, resulting in his having to drop the classes without being refunded. See id.
Manuel first brought claims against the City of Joliet and the police officers on April 10, 2013. See Manuel at 642. Among an array of tort claims, Manuel claimed that the police had violated his civil rights under the Constitution by prosecuting him without probable cause. See id. The district court dismissed the civil rights claims, stating that Illinois state law time-barred the claims. See id. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court decision. See id.
IS A CLAIM OF MALICIOUS PROSECUTION A FOURTH AMENDMENT OR DUE PROCESS CONCERN?
Manuel argues that he can bring a claim for malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment because it involves pretrial detention without probable cause. See Brief for Petitioner, Elijah Manuel at 14–15. Manuel cites Albright v. Oliver to demonstrate that the Fourth Amendment, as opposed to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, is the appropriate mechanism for analyzing a malicious prosecution claim. See id. at 14. Manuel further asserts that the Fourth Amendment continues to apply after the commencement of legal process. See id. at 17. Manuel supports this assertion by analogizing the assessment of probable cause prior to issuing an arrest warrant to the standard for continuing to detain the petitioner. See id. at 19. Because the City of Joliet would not have been able to meet the burden of showing probable cause had they tried to secure a pre-arrest warrant, Manuel argues that his continued detainment would likewise be unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. See id.
Manuel contends that the Seventh Circuit’s holding that the Fourth Amendment ceases to apply to pretrial detention following the start of legal process is erroneous. See Brief for Petitioner at 21. Manuel highlights that this position is unshared by the other circuit courts and that this limitation on the Fourth Amendment’s reach contravenes the Court’s stated preference for pre-arrest evaluations of probable cause. See id. at 9–10, 24–25. According to Manuel, preservation of the Fourth Amendment’s applicability to pretrial detention minimizes the likelihood of abuses of state power. See id. at 25. Furthermore, Manuel argues that though malicious prosecution claims may also be brought under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment is a preferable basis for analysis. See id. at 26. Manuel argues that because Fourth Amendment analysis offers settled criteria, it is superior to the Due Process Clause, which is often a more flexible and unpredictable standard. See id. at 12, 29–30.
On the other hand, the City of Joliet rejects the assertion that the Fourth Amendment can apply to malicious prosecution claims stemming from pretrial detention. See Brief for Respondent, City of Joliet at 19. The City of Joliet argues that Manuel’s first appearance in court marks the start of prosecution and therefore transitions any claims of malicious prosecution out from under the Fourth Amendment and into Due Process Clause analysis. See id. at 35–36. The City of Joliet supports this claim by emphasizing this position’s consistency with the Sixth Amendment’s guaranteed right to counsel. See id. at 50. As a defendant is afforded counsel and the proceedings become adversarial at this point, the detention is no longer a seizure protected by the Fourth Amendment, but rather a prosecution protected by the Due Process Clause. See id.
The City of Joliet also asserts that Manuel’s claim of malicious prosecution and its common law elements are inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment. See Brief for Respondent at 25–27. The City of Joliet argues that because malicious prosecution requires a subjective inquiry into the intent of the State and its decision to prosecute, the claim is at odds with the Fourth Amendment, to which typically employ an objective reasonableness test. See id. at 26. Additionally, the City of Joliet rejects the notion that the outcome of the proceedings must be in favor of the claimant as an element of malicious prosecution consistent with the Fourth Amendment. See id. at 20–22. The City of Joliet underscores that the Fourth Amendment does not cover prosecutions; and furthermore, that its text is silent on the subject of subsequent conviction following seizure, making malicious prosecution claims based on pretrial detention a claim foreign to the Fourth Amendment. See id. at 24.
TIMELINESS AND THE AVAILABILITY OF STATE REMEDIES
Manuel argues that despite Illinois’s two-year statute of limitations for tort injuries, his claim of malicious prosecution is still timely. See Brief for Petitioner at 9, 24–25. Manuel claims that in this case, the statute of limitations is modified because the common law tort of malicious prosecution incorporates an outcome-dependent element that requires the proceedings to terminate in favor of the claimant before a malicious prosecution claim may be filed. See id. at 12. Because Manuel brought his claim within two years of the charges being dismissed, he argues his claim is within the statute of limitations and is not barred due to timeliness. See id. Manuel argues this interpretation of the statute of limitations is compelled by §1983 as a means of avoiding parallel litigation. Reply Brief for Petitioner, Elijah Manuel at 8–10. Similarly, Manuel also disputes the relevance of Illinois’s state law remedies for malicious prosecution. See Brief for Petitioner at 32. Manuel argues that the existence and availability of state remedies is only relevant to Due Process claims and does not apply to Fourth Amendment claims under §1983. See id. Manuel contends that state remedies for Fourth Amendment violations should operate as supplements rather than substitutes for federal remedies under §1983. See id.
In opposition to this stance, the City of Joliet contends that even if the Court does recognize a malicious prosecution claim under the Fourth Amendment, Manuel’s claim is still barred by the statute of limitations. See Brief for Respondent at 33. The City of Joliet argues that Manuel’s claim could only stand if afforded the benefit of a special rule delaying the start of the statute of limitations. See id. at 17. Because, as mentioned above, the City of Joliet rejects the application of the common law element requiring that proceedings terminate in the claimant’s favor, the City of Joliet maintains that the statute of limitations began at the time of Manuel’s arrest. See id. Therefore, because Manuel waited more than two years following his arrest, the City of Joliet argues his claim is barred for lack of timeliness. See id.
Additionally, the City of Joliet emphasizes the benefits of preferring state law to federal law for malicious prosecution claims. See Brief for Respondent at 53. The City of Joliet asserts that the state tort law, rather than federal constitutional law, should be the basis of Manuel’s claim and therefore justifies the exclusive use of state remedies. See id. The City of Joliet further highlights the advantages of requiring claimants to pursue state remedies by emphasizing that the Constitution operates as a minimal standard for protection of individual rights and many states’ laws may in fact provide heightened protection. See id. at 54. Lastly, the City of Joliet contends that malicious prosecution should be assessed using state law because state remedies are more tailored to address errors in state criminal procedure. See id.
APPLICABILITY OF § 1983
Manuel supports his claim of malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment by emphasizing that this case aligns with the spirit and purpose of §1983. See Brief for Petitioner at 32. Manuel asserts that §1983 is an important mechanism for holding police officers accountable for the consequences of their actions by providing compensation and reparations for victims of constitutional violations. See Reply Brief for Petitioner at 6. Manuel argues that ten other circuits recognize and serve this purpose of §1983 by permitting malicious prosecution claims under the Fourth Amendment. See Brief for Petitioner at 9. According to the petitioner, to deny the petitioner the ability to bring a malicious prosecution claim under the Fourth Amendment would controvert the statute’s purpose and deny the petitioner recourse. See id. at 33. Manuel argues that §1983’s provision of monetary recovery for victims of officers acting outside the bounds of their authority is crucial for deterring state actors from denying individuals their constitutionally guaranteed rights. See id.
The City of Joliet counters this argument by asserting that the way Manuel has framed his claim of malicious prosecution removes the tort from the purview of §1983. See Brief for Respondent at 2–4. The City of Joliet argues that not every tort committed by the government is covered by §1983 as a constitutional violation. See id. Further, the City asserts that although malicious prosecution has a long history at common law, this is not determinative of whether a constitutional claim has been made. See id. at 4–5. Furthermore, the City of Joliet argues that allowing Manuel’s claim to move forward as a §1983 claim would in fact controvert the purpose of the statute. See id. at 24. Though allowing Manuel to bring a malicious prosecution claim under the Fourth Amendment could potentially allow Manuel to prevail, the City of Joliet asserts that this interpretation serves as a bar to other defendants convicted of the charges brought against them. See id. at 18, 24. By introducing the requirement that the proceeding terminate in favor of the claimant, the City of Joliet argues that Manuel’s proposed elements of malicious prosecution unfairly narrow the circumstances a claimant can bring a charge of malicious prosecution in a manner inconsistent with §1983. See id. at 24. The City of Joliet asserts that the ultimate outcome of the proceedings against a potential victim of malicious prosecution may not be related to the constitutionality of the prosecution, which is the main focus of §1983. See id.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
Illinois state law currently begins the statute of limitations time period for malicious prosecution claims on that date when the plaintiff appears in court. See Brief of Amici Curiae the National Association of Counties et al., in Support of Respondent at 4. Professor Albert W. Alschuler from the University of Chicago School of Law, in support of Manuel, argues that this poses a functional problem because torts like malicious prosecution are logically and legally impossible to prove until the accused has been vindicated. See Brief of Amicus Curiae Albert W. Alschuler, in Support of Petitioner at 17. According to the Innocence Network, an individual who was prosecuted without probable cause is prevented from recovering compensation from the state if the ultimate determination of his innocence takes longer than the state’s statute of limitations for malicious prosecution claims. See Brief of Amicus Curiae the Innocence Network, in Support of at 15. The National Police Accountability Project claims that state law protections often prove to be inadequate due to the incentives to curtail plaintiff recovery at the local and state legislative levels. See Brief of Amicus Curiae the National Police Accountability Project, in Support of Petitioner at 7.
The National District Attorney’s Association (“NDAA”), in support of the City of Joliet, counters that Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claims would make the government defense very difficult. See Brief of Amicus Curiae the National District Attorney's Association ("NDAA"), in Support of Respondent at 20. The NDAA points out that proof for these claims often comes down to personal testimony presented to a jury and argues that while plaintiffs are generally able to vividly recount the day of their arrest, police officers are more likely to have a difficult time recalling the specifics of routine arrests. See id. Illinois and other states contend that Manuel’s request for a delayed statute of limitations actually undermines the states’ interest in promptly dealing with police officer misconduct. See Brief of Amici Curiae Illinois et al., in Support of Respondent at 22.
CURTAILING POLICE MISCONDUCT
The Innocence Network argues that limiting §1983 actions to Due Process Claims fails to adequately discourage police misconduct. See generally Brief of the Innocence Network. The Network suggests that tainted determinations of probable cause unfairly coerce those accused of a crime into pleading guilty in exchange for lesser charges or reduced sentences even when they are innocent and that these innocent individuals are therefore significantly disadvantaged in seeking remedies for their detentions. See id. at 14.
However, DRI—The Voice of the Defense Bar argues that § 1983 claims premised on a Fourth Amendment violation can subject police officers and local governments to liability for post-arrest actions that do not strictly qualify as “searches” or “seizures.” See Brief of DRI - The Voice of the Defense Bar, in Support of Respondent at 2. Further, amici contend that any claim under the Fourth Amendment that requires malice as an element would create an unpredictable atmosphere for police and local governments when it comes to training and predicting liability, as it would be a departure from settled precedent. See id.
UNIFORMITY AMONG THE CIRCUITS
The Innocence Network points out that nine circuit courts have independently found that §1983 recovery is available for malicious prosecution claims. See Brief of the Innocence Network at 7. The United States, arguing in support of Manuel, suggests that the Court could take this opportunity to set a uniform approach for the standard of proof and level of specificity, as well as questions of immunity for state actors, which arise out of §1983 claims. See Brief of Amicus Curiae the United States, in Support of Petitioner at 22.
Illinois and the other states writing as amici in support of the City of Joliet reject the premise that a uniform national approach is necessary. See Brief of Illinois at 6. Illinois argues that, instead, the Due Process Clause is the proper source for the claim because of the proximity of local governments to localized criminal procedure. See id.
- David Savage, U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Joliet Police Case, Chicago Tribune (January 15, 2016).
- Bob Okon, U.S. Supreme Court Takes Case Accusing Joliet Police of Malicious Prosecution, The Herald News (January 20, 2016).
- Carmen Germaine, Justices to Hear 4th Amendment Malicious Prosecution Case, Law 360 (January 19, 2016).