Friday, May 30, 2014

Not every wrong gets you a remedy

This guy spent three years in custody following his arrest on drug charges. Morales was eventually set free after the charges were dropped. Plaintiff, a former confidential source for drug investigations, sues a DEA special agent, claiming that the agent's false testimony in the grand jury deprived him of a right to a fair trial. There is no such claim.

The case is Morales v. City of New York, decided on May 16. Many injustices do not yield any relief for the victim. This case is decided at the motion to dismiss stage under Rule 12, so we only know what happened from the Complaint, which alleges that Morales got the royal shaft. I am sure that once the charges against Morales were dropped that he went to a lawyer's office hoping to file a lawsuit. What we learn from decisions like this is that things are not so simple.

In 2012, the Supreme Court held in Rehberg v. Paulk that a grand jury witness is entitled to absolute immunity in a Section 1983 action based on the grand jury testimony. The Rehberg court said that "without absolute immunity for witnesses, ... the truth-seeking process at trial would be impaired. Witnesses 'might be reluctant to come forward to testify,' and even if a witness took the stand, the witness 'might be inclined to shade his testimony in favor of the potential plaintiff' for 'fear of subsequent liability.'”

In Section 1983 cases, you sue people who work for state and local government. The federal counterpart is a Bivens action, named after a Supreme Court case from 1971. The Second Circuit (Kearse, Lohier and Carney) now applies Rehberg to Bivens cases. The Court reasons:

First, the rationale supporting immunity for grand jury witnesses in § 1983 actions applies with equal force to Bivens suits. Each of the policy justifications that Rehberg cited in support of granting absolute immunity to grand jury witnesses exists in the context of a Bivens action. And second, extending Rehberg’s shelter to Bivens liability reflects the “general trend in the appellate courts” of incorporating § 1983 law into Bivens suits.
Morales also cannot sue for abuse of process or malicious prosecution. Morales does not allege that anyone had an ulterior motive for pursuing his arrest beyond prosecution itself. Nor did he allege actual malice necessary to pursue to malicious prosecution claim. 

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