THOMPSON v. CLARK et al.
Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Second Circuit
No. 20–659. Argued October 12, 2021—Decided April 4, 2022
In January 2014, petitioner Larry Thompson was living with his fiancée (now wife) and their newborn baby in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Thompson’s sister-in-law, who apparently suffered from a mental illness, called 911 to report that Thompson was sexually abusing the baby. When Emergency Medical Technicians arrived, Thompson denied that anyone had called 911. When the EMTs returned with four police officers, Thompson told them that they could not enter without a warrant. The police nonetheless entered and handcuffed Thompson. EMTs took the baby to the hospital where medical professionals examined her and found no signs of abuse. Meanwhile, Thompson was arrested and charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. He was detained for two days before being released. The charges against Thompson were dismissed before trial without any explanation by the prosecutor or judge. After the dismissal, Thompson filed suit under 42 U. S. C. §1983, alleging several constitutional violations, including a Fourth Amendment claim for malicious prosecution. To maintain that Fourth Amendment claim under §1983, a plaintiff such as Thompson must demonstrate, among other things, that he obtained a favorable termination of the underlying criminal prosecution. To meet that requirement, Second Circuit precedent required Thompson to show that his criminal prosecution ended not merely without a conviction, but also with some affirmative indication of his innocence. See Lanning v. Glens Falls, 908 F. 3d 19, 22. The District Court, bound by Lanning, held that Thompson’s criminal case had not ended in a way that affirmatively indicated his innocence because Thompson could not offer any substantial evidence to explain why his case was dismissed. The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Thompson’s claim. This Court granted certiorari to resolve a split among the Courts of Appeals over how to apply the favorable termination requirement of the Fourth Amendment claim under §1983 for malicious prosecution.
Held: To demonstrate a favorable termination of a criminal prosecution for purposes of the Fourth Amendment claim under §1983 for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff need not show that the criminal prosecution ended with some affirmative indication of innocence. A plaintiff need only show that his prosecution ended without a conviction. Thompson has satisfied that requirement here. Pp. 4–12.
(a) To determine the elements of a constitutional claim under §1983, this Court’s practice is to first look to the elements of the most analogous tort as of 1871 when §1983 was enacted, so long as doing so is consistent with “the values and purposes of the constitutional right at issue.” Manuel v. Joliet, 580 U. S. 357, 370. Here, as most of the Courts of Appeals to consider the question have determined, the most analogous tort to this Fourth Amendment claim is malicious prosecution. Pp. 4–7.
(b) In accord with the elements of the malicious prosecution tort, a Fourth Amendment claim under §1983 for malicious prosecution requires the plaintiff to show a favorable termination of the underlying criminal case against him. The parties to this case, as well as the lower courts, disagree about what a favorable termination entails, i.e., is it sufficient to show that Thompson’s prosecution ended without a conviction or must he also show that his prosecution ended with some affirmative indication of innocence? To resolve that disagreement, the Court looks to American malicious prosecution tort law as of 1871. At that time, most American courts agreed that the favorable termination element of a malicious prosecution claim was satisfied so long as the prosecution ended without a conviction. A plaintiff could maintain a malicious prosecution claim when, for example, the prosecutor abandoned the criminal case or the court dismissed the case without providing a reason.
The American tort-law consensus as of 1871 did not require a plaintiff in a malicious prosecution suit to show that his prosecution ended with an affirmative indication of innocence, and this Court similarly construes Thompson’s Fourth Amendment claim under §1983 for malicious prosecution. Doing so is consistent with “the values and purposes” of the Fourth Amendment. Manuel, 580 U. S., at 370. Questions concerning whether a criminal defendant was wrongly charged, or whether an individual may seek redress for a wrongful prosecution, cannot reasonably depend on whether the prosecutor or court happened to explain why charges were dismissed. And requiring a plaintiff to show that his prosecution ended with an affirmative indication of innocence is not necessary to protect officers from unwarranted civil suits, as officers are still protected by the requirement that the plaintiff show the absence of probable cause and by qualified immunity. Pp. 7–11.
794 Fed. Appx. 140, reversed and remanded.
Kavanaugh, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Barrett, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas and Gorsuch, JJ., joined.