Category: Fourth Amendment

Second Circuit Holds New York Plaintiffs Asserting § 1983 Federal Malicious Prosecution Claim Must Demonstrate Criminal Proceedings Terminated in Manner Affirmatively Indicating Their Innocence

Case Name: Lanning v. City of Glens Falls et al.

Date of Opinion: November 7, 2018

Opinion By: Judge Lohier

Summary:

In 2012, the plaintiff was engaged in a divorce and custody dispute with his estranged wife, who was dating Ryan Ashe, a Glens Falls police officer. Lanning was arrested twice that same year after his estranged wife and Ashe falsely reported that Lanning had threatened them in violation of a previously issued order of protection. The charges stemming from those arrests were subsequently dismissed in 2014 during a jury trial. Three traffic tickets issued to him while his criminal charges were pending in 2013 in a traffic stop performed by Ashe were also dismissed.

Thereafter, the plaintiff, David Lanning Jr., sued the City of Glens Falls and other law enforcement officials for malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment under 42 USC § 1983. In his complaint, Lanning did not specify a reason for the dismissal of the criminal charges. Appellees moved to dismiss and, in his papers opposing the motion to dismiss, Lanning contended that the charges were dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence and lack of jurisdiction. The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed Lanning’s claim of malicious prosecution in connection with his first arrest for failure to rebut the presumption of probable cause established by the indictment and failure to plead Ashe’s personal involvement in the prosecution. The District Court likewise dismissed the plaintiff’s claim of malicious prosecution in connection with his second arrest, finding that criminal proceeding had not terminated in Lanning’s favor, a required element of a § 1983 claim. Lanning appealed.

The Second Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Lanning had failed to adequately allege in his § 1983 claims for malicious prosecution that the criminal proceedings brought against him were terminated in his favor. Lanning had argued that the court should apply the standard adopted by the New York Court of Appeals for favorable termination under the applicable state tort of malicious prosecution that termination of the underlying proceeding “is not inconsistent with” innocence. The Second Circuit disagreed, however, clarifying that federal law defines the elements of a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim and state tort law serves only as a source of persuasive, but not binding, authority in defining the elements. In so ruling, the Second Circuit relied on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Manuel v. City of Joliet that common law principles were meant “to guide rather than to control the definition of § 1983 claims[.]” The Second Circuit held that “prior decisions requiring affirmative indications of innocence to establish ‘favorable termination’” continue to govern § 1983 malicious prosecution claims irrespective of developments in state malicious prosecution law.

The Second Circuit also dismissed Lanning’s additional constitutional claim of selective enforcement in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, holding that he did not provide any evidence that the defendants treated him differently than other individuals against whom reports of criminal activity had been made.

Summary Prepared By: Matla Garcia Chavolla