In Thompson v. Clark, 20-659 (U.S. Apr. 4, 2022), the plaintiff asserted a Fourth Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for malicious prosecution against police officers who had initiated criminal proceedings against him. The plaintiff was charged and detained in state criminal proceedings, but the charges were dismissed without any explanation. The District Court ruled that the plaintiff’s case had not ended in a way that affirmatively indicated his innocence and granted judgment to the defendant police officers. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit adhered to Second Circuit precedent and affirmed the judgment.
The United States Supreme Court noted that there was a split among the circuits as to how to apply the favorable termination requirement of the Fourth Amendment claim under § 1983 for malicious prosecution. Some Circuits had held that a favorable termination requires some affirmative indication of innocence while the Eleventh Circuit had held that a favorable termination occurs as long as the criminal prosecution ends without a conviction.
The Court explained that to determine the elements of a constitutional claim under § 1983, the 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. In this case, the most analogous tort was that of malicious prosecution. As of 1871, most American courts found the favorable termination requirement for the tort of malicious prosecution was satisfied so long as the prosecution ended without a conviction.
The Court held that because 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, they similarly construed the Fourth Amendment claim under § 1983 for malicious prosecution to not require the plaintiff to show that their prosecution ended with an affirmative indication of innocence. The Court also noted that this construction was consistent with the values and purposes of the Fourth Amendment and made logical sense.
The Court reversed the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and remanded that case for further proceedings.