By Lisa Soronen
In Thompson v. Clark, Larry Thompson asserts that before suing police officers for “unreasonable seizure pursuant to legal process,” a plaintiff must await favorable termination of the criminal proceeding against him or her.
Thompson frames the issue in this case around how “favorable determination” is defined and asks the court to decide whether such favorable termination requires the plaintiff to show that the criminal proceeding has “formally ended in a manner not inconsistent with innocence,” or instead “ended in a manner that affirmatively indicates innocence.”
Thompson’s sister-in-law, Camille, who was living with him, reported to 911 that Thompson was sexually abusing his week-old daughter. Thompson wouldn’t let police into his apartment because they didn’t have a warrant, blocked their path to entry and allegedly shoved an officer.
Camille’s report turned out to be false; she suffered from a mental illness that the officers “sensed” when they were in the apartment.
Although police arrested Thompson and he was charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, the prosecutor dropped the charges against him “in the interests of justice.”
Thompson brought a number of civil claims against Clark, including one for “unreasonable seizure pursuant to legal process,” which he called a claim for “malicious prosecution.”
The 2nd Circuit held that Thompson couldn’t bring that claim because he failed to establish that the prosecution against him terminated favorably.
In a 2018 case, Lanning v. City of Glens Falls, the 2nd Circuit held that such a claim requires “affirmative indications of innocence to establish favorable termination.” In this case, Thompson’s innocence wasn’t established because the only reason the prosecutor gave for dismissing charges against him was “in the interests of justice.”
Thompson argues in favor of the 11th Circuit rule that favorable termination occurs when criminal proceedings end in a manner “not inconsistent with . . . innocence.”
The 2nd Circuit allowed several of Thompson’s additional claims including his claim of denial of a right to a fair trial to go to a jury excluding the so-called “malicious prosecution” claim. Thompson lost all claims before the jury.
The State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief argues that the “most analogous common-law tort” to claims for “unreasonable seizure pursuant to legal process” is false imprisonment, not malicious prosecution. Favorable termination is irrelevant in a false imprisonment claim.
Claims for “unreasonable seizure pursuant to legal process” accrue, for statute-of-limitations purposes, when the seizure pursuant to legal process ends.
The SLLC argues that Thompson should nevertheless lose his claim for “unreasonable seizure pursuant to legal process” for two reasons. First, he was not “seized for any period after legal process [was] issued.”
Instead, following his arrest he was held for two days until arraignment, then released on his own recognizance, and not taken into custody again before his charges were dismissed. Second, a jury ruled against Thompson’s denial of a fair trial claim indicating it either didn’t believe the officers lied about Thompson shoving an officer or “that such evidence was fabricated but would not likely have influenced a criminal jury’s decision.”
Myriam Zreczny Kasper and Julian N. Henriques Jr. of the City of Chicago wrote the SLLC amicus brief which the following organizations joined: the City of Chicago, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, International City/County Management Association and International Municipal Lawyers Association.
Lisa Soronen is executive director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to the NCSL Blog on judicial issues.