Brief filed: 11/15/2018
McDonough v. Smith
United States Supreme Court; Case No. 18-485
Decision below 898 F.3d 259 (2nd Cir. Aug. 3, 2018)
Whether the statute of limitations for a Section 1983 claim based on fabrication of evidence in criminal proceedings begins to run when those proceedings terminate in the defendant's favor (as the majority of circuits has held) or whether it begins to run when the defendant becomes aware of the tainted evidence and its improper use (as the Second Circuit held below)
The decision below held that an individual must bring a claim for the unlawful fabrication of evidence under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 within three years of when that person “learned of the fabrication of the evidence and its use against him in criminal proceedings,” and “was deprived of a liberty interest by,” for example, an arrest or trial. McDonough v. Smith, 898 F.3d 259, 267 (2d Cir. 2018). For nearly all innocent defendants with valid claims, their claims would accrue immediately upon commencement of the proceedings—when they first learn the facts alleged at arraignment, they discern that some fact is fabricated, and bail is set. Consequently, to avoid the time bar, many criminal defendants will be forced to mount § 1983 suits either during a pending criminal trial or while still pursuing its appeal. That result directly conflicts with this Court’s decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), which held that one of the elements an individual must plead and prove to win an evidence-fabrication claim is termination of the criminal proceeding in the accused’s favor. The decision below literally begins to run the statute of limitations on claims that courts are required, under Heck, to dismiss. It also conflicts with this Court’s broader pronouncements about the appropriate relationship between federal civil and state criminal litigation. This Court has consistently held that federal civil litigation must come after the conclusion of state criminal proceedings, both to respect the prerogative of states to adjudicate alleged violations of state law and to bolster the strong judicial policy against inconsistent adjudications in parallel proceedings. The decision below directly conflicts with this Court’s precedents governing the relationship between civil and criminal cases. The decision below is divorced from the realities of criminal litigation. Filing a § 1983 suit during a criminal trial prejudices a defendant’s criminal defense and a defendant’s § 1983 claim. The question presented is exceptionally important as evidence fabrication is a systemic problem, the decision below will functionally bar many meritorious evidence-fabrication claims, and, in many cases, an evidence-fabrication claims under § 1983 is the only effective form of redress.
R. Stanton Jones, Andrew T. Tutt, Samuel F. Callahan, and Graham W. White, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, Washington, DC