• Hand in Glove...But Does It Really Fit? Manuel Decision Expands Fourth Amendment Section 1983 Claims While Increasing Exposure and Claims for Municipalities
  • June 1, 2017 | Author: Diana P. Cortes
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Philadelphia Office
  • “Manuel’s [pretrial custodial detention] claim fits the Fourth Amendment, and the Fourth Amendment fits Manuel’s [Civil Rights Section 1983] claim, as hand in glove.” Justice Elena Kagan wrote this in the six-justice majority rationale of Manuel v. City of Joliet, Illinois, 137 S.Ct. 91 (Mar. 21, 2017). The majority found that Elijah Manuel had a pretrial detention claim under the Fourth Amendment. But does this “glove” really fit in Section 1983 litigation? How will this decision impact liability and exposure and the defense against these new claims?

    Elijah Manuel’s Journey to Fourth Amendment Expansion

    On March 18, 2011, during a traffic stop, City of Joliet police seized a vitamin bottle of pills from Manuel, who was the passenger in the car. One police officer field-tested the pills, and the test came back negative. Manuel, however, was arrested because one of the police officers still believed the pills could be Ecstasy based on his experience. An evidence technician conducted another test that confirmed the pills were not Ecstasy. In their reports, the evidence technician and one of the arresting officers stated the pills were Ecstasy, and the criminal complaint stated the pills were Ecstasy. Based on the criminal complaint, a county court judge detained Manuel for unlawfully possessing a controlled substance. Two weeks later, a grand jury indicted Manuel based on the same testimony. On April 1, 2011, another lab test again confirmed that the pills were not Ecstasy. The assistant district attorney dismissed the charges on May 4, 2011, and Manuel was released the next day.

    On April 22, 2013, Manuel filed a Section 1983 lawsuit alleging unlawful arrest and pretrial detention claims under the Fourth Amendment. The City moved to dismiss the complaint because the applicable two-year statute of limitations had lapsed; Manuel had until March 18, 2013, to file such a lawsuit. The district court granted the City’s motion and dismissed all claims with prejudice. Manuel appealed the dismissal of the unlawful detention claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, relying on its precedent.

    The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) granted certiorari to address the split in the Circuits regarding whether the Fourth Amendment covers pretrial detention claims. SCOTUS indicated that the Fourth Amendment governs pretrial detention claims even beyond the start of legal process and that Manuel’s claim met this threshold inquiry under Section 1983, which requires courts to “[i]dentify the specific constitutional right at issue.” Reasoning that the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable seizures, SCOTUS found that Manuel’s 48-day detention lacked probable cause, which was an unreasonable seizure. The Fourth Amendment is specific to the criminal justice system and could be invoked after the legal process had begun. Despite authorizing this claim, SCOTUS did not determine when this claim accrued: March 18, 2011, the arrest date, or May 4, 2011, the date charges were dismissed. It remanded to the Seventh Circuit to decide the accrual date.

    Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented. Justice Alito initially recognized that the Fourth Amendment applied to pretrial detention, but only through the initial arrest. He cautioned that if the majority’s decision meant that the pretrial detention claim “accrue[d] as long as pretrial detention lasts – the Court stretches the concept of a seizure much too far.” The Court found that Manuel’s remedy should be in the due process clause, not the Fourth Amendment, because the courts and the legal process had intervened and continued his detention. Because Manuel filed his lawsuit on April 22, 2013, his only viable claim would be a malicious prosecution claim.

    Manuel Effect: Increase in Claims and Exposure

    Manuel puts into question the accrual date of pretrial detention claims. Commentators predict this accrual issue will return to SCOTUS. Normally, such claims would accrue on the date of the arrest. In Manuel’s case, had the Court applied this accrual date, his lawsuit would have been dismissed. However, the Court remanded this issue back to the Seventh Circuit.

    Plaintiffs’ attorneys can use this uncertainty to assert more pretrial detention claims that normally would have been untimely. In addition, such an expanded pretrial detention claim would now cover damages from the time of the seizure arguably until the date of the plaintiff’s release. Normally, the damages would end at the time of arraignment. Damages under malicious prosecution claims cover relief from the time of arraignment through the date charges against the plaintiff are dropped. Plaintiffs’ attorneys can argue the expanded accrual date of pretrial detention claims now provides damages for each day a plaintiff was incarcerated. It is not uncommon that an individual can be detained for more than a year awaiting trial. Plaintiffs’ attorneys will likely argue for a settlement amount encompassing that pretrial detention period.

    Defenses: Statute of Limitations and a Good Offense

    Because Manuel left the accrual date unresolved, the statute of limitations, if applicable, is still the best first line of defense. If the courts are reluctant to grant a dismissal based on the statute of limitations because of Manuel’s uncertainty, defense attorneys should distinguish their facts from those of Manuel: continued prosecution of an individual despite exculpatory evidence. Municipalities can continue their offense against such lawsuits by increasing their training and monitoring of their police officers. Municipalities should show their adherence to the latest Fourth Amendment’s and criminal law’s nuances. They should continue to work with their solicitors, civil rights defense attorneys, and District Attorneys’ offices for their training.