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Eleventh Circuit affirms district court's denial of a qualified immunity for police officers in malicious prosecution civil rights case, finds that 'any crime' rule does not apply to malicious prosecution cases

On July 13, 2020, in Williams v. Aguirre, No. 19-11941, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s denial of the defendants’ summary judgment motion in a malicious prosecution civil rights case filed by the plaintiff against two Alabama police officers.  The plaintiff was shot twice by one of the officers during an investigatory stop and was later prosecuted for attempted murder based on sworn statements from the officers that the plaintiff was shot only after he had presented a firearm and pointed it at the officers.  After the plaintiff was released from the hospital, he spent over a year in pretrial detention before being able to post bail. After his release, a local news organization obtained the dashcam video from the encounter which allegedly did not support the officers’ contention that the plaintiff had ever pointed a weapon at them, leading to a dismissal of the criminal charges and the filing of this lawsuit.  The district court denied the officer’s qualified immunity claims, ruling that the video footage did not clearly resolve whether the plaintiff was holding a gun, that probable cause for an uncharged crime (the attempted murder) could not defeat the plaintiff’s federal claim, that the officers’ lacked arguable probable cause for attempted murder under the plaintiff’s version of events, and that the officers’ alleged fabrication preserved the causal chain between their actions and the plaintiff’s seizure. In affirming the district court, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the “any-crime rule”, which insulates officers from false arrest claims so long as probable cause existed to arrest the suspect for some crime, even if it was not the crime the officer thought or said had occurred, see Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1195–96 (11th Cir. 2002), does not apply to malicious prosecution claims under the Fourth Amendment. The Court acknowledged that its sister circuits have split on this issue.  Compare Howse v. Hodous, 953 F.3d 402, 409 & n.3 (6th Cir. 2020) (concluding that the any-crime rule applies to most claims of malicious prosecution), with Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 83–84 (3d Cir. 2007) (holding that the any-crime rule does not apply to claims of malicious prosecution), and Posr v. Doherty, 944 F.2d 91, 100 (2d Cir. 1991) (holding the same); see also Holmes v. Vill. of Hoffman Estates, 511 F.3d 673, 682–83 (7th Cir. 2007) (agreeing with Johnson and Posr when considering a state-law claim of malicious prosecution).

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