CA7: Ptf’s $1 verdict for illegal search after successful suppression affirmed; what is proximate cause?

Plaintiff’s 1983 claim for illegal search which resulted in suppression in state court resulted in a $1 verdict. A fascinating opinion on proximate cause of damages and a Fourth and Fifth Amendment violation which is worth the read for future cases, but the court ultimately concludes that the $1 verdict would be affirmed. Martin v. Marinez, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 23972 (7th Cir. Aug. 12, 2019):

Using the available common-law torts as a starting point, Martin’s damages claim immediately runs into trouble. His complaint asserts claims for “false arrest” as well as “unlawful search” arising from the defendants’ violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” U.S. Const. Amend. IV. But a claim for false arrest cannot succeed because it is undisputed that officers discovered an illegal handgun and cocaine in Martin’s vehicle, which gave them probable cause for his arrest, notwithstanding the previous unlawful stop. See Holmes v. Village of Hoffman Estates, 511 F.3d 673, 679 (7th Cir. 2007) (“A police officer has probable cause to arrest an individual when the facts and circumstances that are known to him reasonably support a belief that the individual has committed, is committing, or is about to … commit a crime.”). Given this, Martin’s claim runs headlong into the rule that if an “officer had probable cause to believe that the person he arrested was involved in criminal activity, then a Fourth Amendment claim for false arrest is foreclosed.” Id. at 679-80; Morfin v. City of East Chicago, 349 F.3d 989, 997 (7th Cir. 2003) (collecting cases); see also Maniscalco v. Simon, 712 F.3d 1139, 1143 (7th Cir. 2013) (“Probable cause is an absolute bar to a claim of false arrest asserted under the Fourth Amendment and section 1983.”) (quoting Stokes v. Bd. of Educ., 599 F.3d 617, 622 (7th Cir. 2010)). Moreover, the fact that the evidence was the fruit of an illegal detention does not make it any less relevant to establishing probable cause for the arrest because the exclusionary rule does not apply in a civil suit under § 1983 against police officers. See Vaughn v. Chapman, No. 16-1065, 2016 WL 5944726, *3 (7th Cir. 2016) (unpublished order); see also Lingo v. City of Salem, 832 F.3d 953, 958-59 (9th Cir. 2016); Black v. Wigington, 811 F.3d 1259, 1267-68 (11th Cir. 2016); Townes v. City of New York, 176 F.3d 138, 145 (2d Cir. 1999); Wren v. Towe, 130 F.3d 1154, 1158 (5th Cir. 1997). And although Martin’s complaint is limited to claims for false arrest and unlawful search, it bears noting that the existence of probable cause for the arrest would also bar recovery on a theory of malicious prosecution. See Stewart v. Sonneborn, 98 U.S. 187, 194 (1878) (“The existence of a want of probable cause is, as we have seen, essential to every suit for a malicious prosecution.”); Thompson v. City of Chicago, 722 F.3d 963, 969 (7th Cir. 2013) (noting that malicious prosecution claim under Illinois law requires proof that underlying criminal proceeding concluded in manner indicating innocence).

Ignoring the insurmountable hurdles to his claim presented by possible tort law analogs, Martin insists that he is entitled to damages for his incarceration solely on a theory of proximate cause—under the general rule of Carey that a damages award under § 1983 should compensate for what Martin characterizes as any injuries arising as a result of a constitutional deprivation. Although the district court considered Martin’s claim that his entitlement to damages for post-arrest incarceration should be resolved using a proximate cause analysis, after reviewing the cases Martin cited, the court deemed such an approach unnecessary in light of its conclusion that the existence of probable cause after the initial detention foreclosed any further damages.

. . .

In short, the damages arising from Martin’s incarceration are simply too attenuated from and unrelated to the Fourth Amendment violation he has proven: a brief detention unsupported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion. His damages award was thus properly limited to the harm arising from his unconstitutional detention before his lawful arrest. The decision regarding those damages was left to the jury, which determined one dollar was the proper amount.

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