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Spak v. Phillips

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 14, 2015

PAUL SPAK, Plaintiff,
v.
SHANE PHILLIPS, Defendant

         Filed October 13, 2015

          For Paul Spak, Plaintiff: John R. Williams, LEAD ATTORNEY, New Haven, CT.

         For Shane Phillips, Defendant: James Newhall Tallberg, LEAD ATTORNEY, Karsten & Tallberg, LLC, West Hartford, CT; Dennis M Durao, Karsten & Tallberg LLC, Rocky Hill, CT.

         RULING GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.

         Connecticut law has long allowed a prosecutor to abandon the prosecution of a criminal defendant by means of entering a nolle prosequi. See, e.g., State v. Stanley, 2 Kirby 25 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1787). Although the entry of a nolle prosequi terminates the prosecution of a defendant, it does not prevent a prosecutor from timely re-filing the same charges against the defendant. See Conn. Practice Book § 39-31. But if the prosecutor does not resurrect the charges, Connecticut law provides that any police, prosecution, and court records shall be erased 13 months after the charges have been nolled. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-142a(c)(1).

         Plaintiff in this case has sued a police officer defendant pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for malicious prosecution relating to charges initiated by the defendant police officer that were eventually nolled by a state prosecutor. The issue now presented is whether the statute of limitations for plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim runs from the date that the charges were terminated by entry of a nolle prosequi or from the date, some 13 months later, that the records relating to the charges were required to be erased. I conclude that the statute of limitations began to run on the date that the charges were nolled, and therefore that summary judgment should enter against plaintiff on the ground that his lawsuit was not timely filed within the limitation period for a malicious prosecution claim.

         Background

         On June 13, 2010, defendant Shane Phillips--a police officer with the Town of Plainville, Connecticut--applied to a Connecticut state court judge for a warrant to arrest plaintiff Paul Spak on charges of alleged tampering with evidence and interfering with a police officer. The basis for or validity of the charges is not relevant to this ruling. After the warrant was approved, Phillips arrested Spak on June 24, 2010, and Spak was promptly released on a bond. Nearly three months later, on September 10, 2010, a state prosecutor entered a nolle prosequi of the charges.

         On October 29, 2013, Spak filed the instant lawsuit against Phillips. Spak alleges a federal constitutional claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Phillips now moves for summary judgment on the ground that Spak failed to sue within the three-year statute of limitations that governs constitutional causes of action under § 1983.

         Discussion

         Summary judgment may be granted only if " the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Here, there are no facts in dispute for purposes of Phillips' claim that Spak's lawsuit was not timely filed. The only dispute involves a pure question of law: does the statute of limitations for a constitutional claim of malicious prosecution begin running on the date that the underlying charges have been terminated by means of a nolle prossequi or does the statute of limitations begin running only 13 months later on the date that Connecticut law requires erasure of records relating to the entry of a nolle prosequi ?

         The tort of malicious prosecution has venerable roots in the common law. See, e.g., Goodspeed v. East Haddam Bank, 22 Conn. 530 (1853). An action for malicious prosecution allows " a man [to] recover damages against another for maliciously and without probable cause instituting a criminal, or, in some cases, a civil prosecution again him upon a false charge." O.W. Holmes, The Common Law 112 (Little, Brown & Co. orig. 1881).

         In Connecticut, a malicious prosecution claim requires a plaintiff to prove " that: (1) the defendant initiated or procured the institution of criminal proceedings against the plaintiff; (2) the criminal proceedings have terminated in favor of the plaintiff; (3) the defendant acted without probable cause; and (4) the defendant acted with malice, primarily for a purpose other than that of bringing an offender to justice." Brooks v. Sweeney, 299 Conn. 196, 210-11, 9 A.3d 347 (2010). A state law claim for malicious prosecution may in turn rise to the level of a federal constitutional claim that is actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 if the defendant is a state actor and if the plaintiff who was subject to malicious prosecution was also subject to an arrest or seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. See, e.g., Manganiello v. City of New York, 612 F.3d 149, 160-61 (2d Cir. 2010); Roberts v. Babkiewicz, 582 F.3d 418, 420 (2d Cir. 2009) ( per curiam ).[1]

         Congress has not prescribed a statute of limitations for constitutional causes of actions under § 1983. In the absence of guidance from Congress, the Second Circuit has instructed that the statute of limitations must be borrowed from analogous state law limitations periods and that the analogous state law limitations period for a § 1983 action in Connecticut is three years. SeeWalker v. Jastremski, 430 F.3d 560, 562 (2d Cir. 2005); see alsoWallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2007) (" the length ...


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