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Sixth Circuit: Statute of Limitations for § 1983 Claim Accrues When Criminal Proceedings are Terminated

by Christopher Zoukis

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on March 15, 2018, that a claim for prosecutorial misconduct, brought by a wrongfully convicted defendant, does not accrue for statute of limitations purposes when the conviction is vacated, but when the criminal proceedings are terminated.

Douglas Jordan was tried and convicted in Tennessee for the 1998 murder of Jennifer Byerley. His direct appeal was denied by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. When Jordan became aware that certain evidence —specifically a knife found near Byerley’s body that might have implicated someone else in the crime — was withheld by prosecutors, he filed a motion for post-conviction relief. This time, the Tennessee appeals court granted his motion and, in 2011, vacated his conviction. The court did not order his release, however, and the state chose to retry Jordan. He was acquitted in 2015.

Within one year of his acquittal, Jordan filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against a Blount County prosecutor, detective, and the county itself. He claimed prosecutorial misconduct due to a blatant Brady violation. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), requires that prosecutors disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense prior to trial.

The defendants argued, and the district court agreed, that the one-year statute of limitations on Jordan’s claim began to run when his conviction was vacated in 2011. The case was dismissed, Jordan appealed, and the Sixth Circuit reversed.

The question on appeal was “whether, as the district court held, Jordan’s claim accrued when his conviction was vacated, or whether instead it accrued upon his later acquittal.” Because a Brady claim for prosecutorial misconduct cannot accrue until the criminal proceeding itself terminates, the more specific question was “whether Jordan’s ‘criminal proceeding’ terminated in 2011,” when the Tennessee appeals court vacated his conviction.

Given the fact that the state retried him for the crime, the obvious answer to this question is “no.” The Sixth Circuit cited a previous decision supporting this common-sense result. In King v. Harwood, 852 F.3d 568 (6th Cir. 2017), the defendant’s § 1983 claim did not accrue “[w]hen the Kentucky Court of Appeals granted King relief” because the court’s decision “did not result immediately in termination of the criminal proceedings in favor of the accused” (King’s case was remanded and dismissed by a trial court).

Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. See: Jordan v. Blount County, 885 F.3d 413 (6th Cir. 2018). 

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Related legal case

Jordan v. Blount County



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