Court Battles

Supreme Court makes it easier to sue police for malicious prosecution

The Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision Monday made it easier for people to sue the police for malicious prosecution.

The ruling revived a lawsuit brought by a Brooklyn man who sued after being arrested and jailed for two days based on officers’ mistaken belief he had sexually abused his newborn daughter. Criminal charges against the man, Larry Thompson, were later dropped without explanation.

The majority opinion overturned the ruling of a lower court that had dismissed Thompson’s malicious prosecution claim on the grounds he had failed to show his prosecution ended in a “favorable termination.” 

But the opinion Monday established that relatively little is required to clear this legal bar, with the majority holding that plaintiffs need only show their criminal prosecution ended without a conviction.

Previously, federal courts in New York and some other parts of the country required plaintiffs to prove that their prosecution ended in acquittal or some other affirmation of innocence for a malicious prosecution lawsuit to survive. 

“The question of whether a criminal defendant was wrongly charged does not logically depend on whether the prosecutor or court explained why the prosecution was dismissed,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the majority. “And the individual’s ability to seek redress for a wrongful prosecution cannot reasonably turn on the fortuity of whether the prosecutor or court happened to explain why the charges were dismissed.”

The majority noted that Monday’s ruling does not remove other barriers to malicious prosecution claims, including various evidentiary hurdles and the doctrine of qualified immunity. 

The court’s three most conservative justices issued a fiery dissent authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.

“What the Court has done is to recognize a novel hybrid claim of uncertain scope that has no basis in the Constitution and is almost certain to lead to confusion,” Alito wrote.

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Samuel Alito Supreme Court

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