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Justices to take up “favorable termination” rule

The Supreme Court on Monday added one new case to its argument calendar for the fall, taking up the case of a Brooklyn man who is seeking to sue New York Police Department officers for malicious prosecution after he was jailed for two days on charges that were later dismissed. Monday’s announcement that the justices would hear oral argument in Thompson v. Clark was the only grant of review from the justices’ private conference last week. The court did not act on any of the high-profile cases slated for consideration at that conference, including the challenge to a Mississippi law that would ban virtually all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and the fight over whether former President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked individuals who criticized him on Twitter.

Over 25 years ago, the Supreme Court in Heck v. Humphrey established what is known as the “favorable termination” rule: Before a plaintiff can recover under federal civil rights laws for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, he must first show that the criminal proceedings ended in a favorable termination – for example, it was reversed on appeal, or the plaintiff received federal post-conviction relief that points to his innocence. The justices granted Thompson v. Clark on Monday to decide whether the favorable-termination rule requires a plaintiff to show that the criminal proceedings ended in a way that is “not inconsistent” with his innocence, or whether the plaintiff must instead meet a higher bar and show that the proceeding ended in a way that affirmatively shows his innocence.

The justices agreed to decide this question in the case of Larry Thompson, a New York man who was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration when he declined to allow police to enter his home, late at night and without a warrant, to examine his infant daughter for possible child abuse. Police had responded to a 911 call from the sister of Thompson’s fiancée; EMTs took the baby to the hospital, where they determined that she had diaper rash.

Thompson repeatedly denied that he had done anything wrong and refused offers to settle the case without going to trial. Prosecutors eventually dismissed the charges against him, telling the trial court that the “people are dismissing the case in the interest of justice.”

When Thompson’s malicious prosecution case went to trial, the police officers he had sued argued that for purposes of the favorable-termination rule, the dismissal of his case would have to affirmatively demonstrate that Thompson was innocent – which it had not done. Thompson countered that it was enough that the charges against him were dismissed. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit sided with the police officers, deeming themselves bound by a 2018 ruling by the court of appeals. Thompson came to the Supreme Court in November, asking the justices to weigh in; they agreed on Monday to do so.

The justices denied review in the final challenge by Trump to the procedures used in the 2020 election. In Trump v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, Trump had asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the absentee-ballot process used by Wisconsin election officials violated the U.S. Constitution. The Wisconsin officials named in the lawsuit waived their right to oppose Trump’s appeal, and the court did not call for a response. The justices turned down Trump’s appeal on Monday without comment, and without any justice noting a dissent from that outcome.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Justices to take up “favorable termination” rule, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 8, 2021, 12:38 PM),