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On April 4, 2022, the United States Supreme Court made it easier to bring a § 1983 claim for malicious prosecution by defining “favorable termination” to mean that the plaintiff’s underlying criminal prosecution ended without a conviction. The decision is available here. Prior to this holding in Thompson v. Clark, the various circuits were split over how to apply the “favorable termination” element for malicious prosecution claims. As the Court noted, some circuits had held that favorable termination requires some affirmative indication of innocence, while others, such as the Eleventh Circuit, only require the criminal prosecution to end without a conviction.
In Thompson, petitioner Larry Thompson had been charged with resisting arrest and obstructing a government investigation after he refused police officers entry into his apartment as part of a child abuse investigation. These child abuse allegations were quickly revealed to be false. Even so, Thompson was detained for two days before being released, and the charges were dismissed before trial without any explanation by the prosecutor or judge. Relying on American malicious prosecution tort law from 1871 (the same year § 1983 was enacted), the Supreme Court held that this dismissal was enough to satisfy the favorable termination element for Thompson’s Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim brought under § 1983.
It is important to note that the Court’s holding does not change the other elements of a malicious prosecution claim, including the requirement that a plaintiff show the absence of probable cause. And perhaps most importantly, this holding does not impact a defendant’s entitlement to qualified immunity.