“Favorable termination” satisfied when criminal proceeding ends without a conviction


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The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated a New York City man’s lawsuit alleging that police officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The 6-3 ruling in Thompson v. Clark clarified the “favorable termination” rule in civil claims seeking damages for constitutional violations arising in the criminal-justice process.

The rule requires the plaintiff to show “favorable termination,” meaning the criminal proceedings were terminated in favor of the accused (the plaintiff in the subsequent civil lawsuit). In an opinion by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court held that a criminal proceeding terminates in favor of the accused when it ends without a conviction.

Larry Thompson was arrested for resisting arrest and obstructing a governmental investigation, following an altercation with police investigating a domestic-abuse charge. On the prosecution’s motion, the court dismissed the charges “in the interest of justice,” without indicating the reason or anything about Thompson’s innocence. Thompson later sued under Section 1983.

The Supreme Court agreed with Thompson that the favorable-termination rule seeks to avoid parallel civil and criminal proceedings, to avoid inconsistent judgments, and to prevent individuals from using civil litigation to collaterally attack convictions. None of those interests are threatened so long as the criminal proceeding ended without a conviction, including with dismissal of charges for any reason.

“[W]e hold that a Fourth Amendment claim under § 1983 for malicious prosecution does not require the plaintiff to show that the criminal prosecution ended with some affirmative indication of innocence,” Kavanaugh wrote. “A plaintiff need only show that the criminal prosecution ended without a conviction. Thompson has satisfied that requirement here.”

Check back soon for in-depth analysis of the opinion.

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