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June 20, 2024

Supreme Court, by 6-3 vote, clarifies (a bit) the rules for § 1983 malicious-prosecution claims

The Supreme Court this morning handed down a short opinion in Chiaverini v. City of Napoleon, No. 23-50 (S. Ct. June 20, 2024) (available here). Justice Kagan authored the opinion for the Court, which starts this way:

This case involves what is often called a Fourth Amendment malicious-prosecution claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983.  To succeed on such a claim, a plaintiff must show that a government official charged him without probable cause, leading to an unreasonable seizure of his person.  See Thompson v. Clark, 596 U.S. 36, 43, and n. 2 (2022).  The question presented here arises when the official brings multiple charges, only one of which lacks probable cause. Do the valid charges insulate the official from a Fourth Amendment malicious-prosecution claim relating to the invalid charge? The answer is no: The valid charges do not create a categorical bar. We leave for another day the follow-on question of how to determine in those circumstances whether the baseless charge caused the requisite seizure.

Justice Thomas authored a short dissent that was joined by Justice Alito and starts this way:

Jascha Chiaverini sued several city officials for damages under 42 U.S.C. §1983. He alleged that they violated his Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting him to a malicious prosecution. I continue to adhere to my belief that a “malicious prosecution claim cannot be based on the Fourth Amendment.”  Manuel v. Joliet, 580 U.S. 357, 378 (2017) (ALITO, J., joined by THOMAS, J., dissenting).  Accordingly, I would affirm the dismissal of Chiaverini’s claim.

Justice Gorsuch authored an even shorter dissent that starts this way:

Section 1983 performs vital work by permitting individuals to vindicate their constitutional rights in federal court. But it does not authorize this Court to expound new rights of its own creation.  As this Court has put it, §1983 does not turn the Constitution into a “‘“font of tort law.”’” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 284 (1994) (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment) (quoting Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 544 (1981)).

June 20, 2024 at 10:19 AM | Permalink

Comments

A somewhat common sense opinion that defers the real issue in the case for another day because the real issue was not the question presented.

My memory is that most of the comments from when the argument occurred was that, of course, there would be times when probable cause on one count would not be enough to defeat the claim of unlawful detention, but exactly how to analyze the relative impact of "invalid" charge was something on which people did not agree. It would have been nice to have a solid answer, but I guess we need to wait for 2025 or later to get that answer.

Posted by: tmm | Jun 20, 2024 5:25:02 PM

"No" is clearly the right answer here. I wish the Court had gone further, but, well . . . the legal system tends to be slow, so here we are.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Jun 21, 2024 10:47:50 AM

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