May 15, 2018 Practice Points

Supreme Court Allows Fourth Amendment Malicious-Prosecution Claim

Justice Kagan's majority opinion affirmed that an individual’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure continues beyond legal process.

By Cody Valdez – May 15, 2018

On March 18, 2011, police arrested Elijah Manuel based on fabricated evidence. Manuel v. City of Joliet, Ill., 137 S. Ct. 911, 915 (2017). Fabricated evidence was the only evidence the judge relied on during the probable-cause hearing, resulting in Manuel’s pretrial detention. Manuel’s charges were dismissed May 4, 2011, after valid laboratory results revealed the fabrication. Manuel filed suit April 22, 2013.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari deciding “whether an individual’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure continues beyond legal process so as to allow a malicious prosecution claim based upon the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 924 (J. Alito dissenting).

Justice Kagan’s majority opinion answered affirmatively, over Justice Alito’s dissent. The majority has two parts. First, the majority held, “if the complaint is that a form of legal process resulted in pretrial detention unsupported by probable cause, then the right allegedly infringed lies in the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 919. The majority explained “legal process” covers any proceeding, including grand-jury indictment or preliminary examination, where the proceeding lacks probable cause because it’s tainted by fabricated evidence.

Second, the majority remanded for determination on the accrual date for the two-year statute of limitations after stating the governing rule, and counsels’ arguments.

The majority stated, “the contours and prerequisites of a §1983 claim, including its rule of accrual, courts are to first look to common law torts” leading to the adoption of “wholesale the rules that would apply in a suit involving the most analogous tort.”

Manuel argued that his Fourth Amendment claim accrued when his charges were dismissed (May 4, 2011, less than two years before filing suit), analogizing his claim to malicious prosecution using the “favorable termination” element.

In contrast, the City analogized Manuel’s circumstances to false arrest, accruing when legal process commences, thus, Manuel’s claim accrued at his probable-cause hearing (March 18, 2011, more than two years’ prior).

Justice Alito dissented, “None of the other common-law torts to which Manuel’s claim might be compared—such as false arrest or false imprisonment—has such an accrual date . . . Therefore, if Manuel’s is to go forward, it is essential that his claim be treated like malicious prosecution.” Id. at 924–25.

Justice Alito’s statement combined with counsel’s arguments advance the conclusion that malicious prosecution is cognizable under the Fourth Amendment. Without allowing malicious-prosecution claims, the Fourth Amendment wouldn’t extend beyond the legal process, conflicting with the majority’s only explicit holding. Malicious prosecution is the only tort claim that extends the Fourth Amendment beyond the start of the legal process either argued by counsel, or considered by the justices.

In conclusion, the Fourth Amendment allows for malicious-prosecution claims. The Court ultimately remanded to consider the analogous tort claim to Manuel’s Fourth Amendment claim, not whether the Fourth Amendment allows for malicious prosecution. The Court already answered the latter affirmatively.


Cody Valdez is a law student at Rutgers Law School.


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Cody Valdez – May 15, 2018