McDonough v. Smith

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: January 11, 2019
  • Case #: 18-485
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 898 F.3d 25 (2d Cir. 2017)

Whether the statute of limitations for a Section 1983 claim based on fabrication of evidence in criminal proceedings begins to run when those proceedings terminate in the defendant's favor or whether it begins to run when the defendant becomes aware of the tainted evidence and its improper use.

Petitioner was prosecuted for ballot forgery by Respondent, a special prosecutor, using fabricated evidence. Petitioner’s first trial resulted in a mistrial and the second trial resulted in an acquittal. Within three years of the acquittal, Petitioner sued Respondent under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that many of his constitutional rights had been violated by the fabrication. The district court dismissed Petitioner’s claim as untimely and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, stating that the statute of limitations begins to run when a defendant “becomes aware of tainted evidence and its improper use.” The Second Circuit's decision creates a split with six other circuits. Five of the circuits have held that the statute of limitations starts to run after the criminal proceeding has ended in the defendant’s favor and the Seventh Circuit held that the “statute of limitations does not begin to run until the [defendant’s] constitutional violation ends.” Petitioner emphasizes the importance of this matter, as “criminal defendants need to know when to file a suit,” public officials need to understand their liability, and courts need a universal rule to determine timeliness. Furthermore, if this decision stands, criminal defendants will likely be deterred from pursuing § 1983 suits in the Second Circuit.

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