Supreme Court Update: Chiaverini vs. City of Napoleon

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Supreme Court Update:  Chiaverini vs. City of Napoleon, Ohio


When private citizens file meritless civil rights claims against police for alleged malicious prosecutions, counties can bear significant financial liability and practice of standard law enforcement may see a chilling effect.


This case focused on the constitutionality of the "any-crime" rule for a malicious prosecution claim, which says that when an individual receives multiple charges, probable cause for any one charge insulates every other charge from a malicious prosecution claim under Section 1983 unless a plaintiff shows that the addition of another, baseless charge caused or lengthened his detention. A jewelry store owner whose malicious prosecution lawsuit against the City of Napoleon, Ohio was dismissed on this basis argued that the "charge-specific rule" should apply, in which a malicious prosecution claim can proceed as to a baseless criminal charge, even if other charges brought alongside the baseless charge are supported by probable cause, regardless of whether that charge actually caused or lengthened a detention.


In a Local Government Legal Center Amicus Brief in support of the respondent, NACo argued that local governments and local law enforcement officers frequently face claims of malicious prosecution—the vast majority of which are meritless but costly to litigate. We urged the Court not to adopt the "charge-specific" rule urged by the petitioners as it would increase liability for counties indemnifying police officers and run the risk of creating a chilling effect on law enforcement and prosecutors.


On June 20, the Court issued a 6-3 ruling that narrowly favored the petitioner, holding that that the existence of probable cause for one charge does not “create a categorical bar” against a malicious prosecution claim relating to other charges and vacating the Sixth Circuit's ruling to the contrary. However, the Court did not reject the respondent's position, echoed by the LGLC amicus brief, that unless the invalid charge caused or lengthened a detention, there is no Fourth Amendment violation. The Sixth Circuit and other courts can still hold that a hold that a Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution fails where there was probable cause for one charge as long as other invalid charges did not cause or lengthen the detention. Learn more here.