April 04, 2022

Supreme Court Decides Thompson v. Clark

On April 4, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Thompson v. Clark, No. 20-659, holding that a plaintiff who brings a Fourth Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for malicious prosecution must show that the underlying criminal prosecution ended without a conviction, but need not show that the criminal prosecution ended with some affirmative indication of innocence, such as an acquittal or a dismissal accompanied by a statement from the judge.

In 2014, Petitioner, a resident of New York, was charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. The charges were dismissed before trial without any explanation from the prosecutor or judge. Petitioner then sued the police officers who had arrested and charged him, asserting a Fourth Amendment claim under Section 1983 for malicious prosecution.

The district court dismissed the malicious prosecution claim because Petitioner could not show that the underlying criminal prosecution ended in a way that affirmatively indicated his innocence. The Second Circuit affirmed, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether a plaintiff who brings a Fourth Amendment claim under Section 1983 for malicious prosecution must show that the underlying criminal prosecution ended with some affirmative indication of innocence or only that the prosecution ended without a conviction.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a plaintiff need only show that the underlying criminal prosecution ended without a conviction. The Court reasoned that the most analogous tort to this claim at the time Section 1983 was enacted was the tort of malicious prosecution, and because that tort did not require an affirmative indication of innocence, neither should a Fourth Amendment claim under Section 1983 for malicious prosecution. Consequently, the Court held that a plaintiff who brings a Fourth Amendment claim under Section 1983 for malicious prosecution need only show that the prosecution ended without a conviction to fulfill the requirement of a “favorable termination of the underlying criminal case.” Some affirmative indication of innocence in the underlying prosecution is not required. The Court found that this conclusion is consistent with the values and purposes of the Fourth Amendment. The Court did not address questions that it recognized may be relevant on remand, including whether the Petitioner was seized as a result of the malicious prosecution, whether there was probable cause for his arrest, and whether the Respondents were entitled to qualified immunity.

Justice Kavanaugh authored the opinion for the Court. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch joined.

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