SCOTUS Opinion: Court Treats Fabrication Of Evidence Claim As Malicious Prosecution For Statute Of Limitations Purposes

In McDonough v. Smith, a commissioner of a county board of elections in New York was indicted by the district attorney for forging absentee ballots. The district attorney used fabricated evidence to secure a grand jury indictment, and used fabricated testimony at trial. After a mistrial, the commissioner was ultimately acquitted on all charges. Just under three years later, the commissioner sued the district attorney under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 for the use of the fabricated evidence. The district court dismissed the claim under the three-year statute of limitations, holding that the limitations period began when the commissioner knew the evidence use against him was false, and he suffered a loss of liberty as a result—well before the acquittal. The Second Circuit affirmed, and the Court, in a 6-3 ruling by Justice Sotomayor, reversed and remanded, holding that the claim was timely because the limitations period did not accrue until the acquittal. The majority treated the commissioner’s action as being similar to that for malicious prosecution, which requires a favorable termination of the underlying case before the cause of action accrues. The majority also noted that to have the claim accrue earlier might result in criminal defendants having to civilly use the person who is prosecuting them while the prosecution is still ongoing—an unfavorable result. Justice Thomas, joined by Justices Kagan and Gorsuch, dissented, arguing that since the commissioner never identified the specific constitutional right at issue, the Court should have dismissed the case as improvidently granted because it lacked any guidance as to how to analyze the limitations issue. A link to the opinion is here.