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Seventh Circuit: Claim for Unlawful Pretrial Detention Accrues on Date of Release

by Douglas Ankney

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has held that the accrual date for claims for arrest and detention without probable cause is the date the detention ends.

Maurice Lewis was confined in the Cook County Jail for over two years awaiting trial on charges of unlawfully possessing a firearm. The charge was based on false police reports that alleged Lewis stated he lived at the residence where the firearm was recovered and based on false police testimony at the probable cause hearing. The charge was dropped on September 29, 2015. Lewis filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on July 26, 2016, alleging his detention violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment and his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed on the ground that the claims were time-barred under the two-year statute of limitations applicable in Illinois. Lewis appealed. 

The Court began by observing that twelve days after the district court’s dismissal, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Manuel v. City of Joliet (“Manuel I”), 137 S. Ct. 911 (2017). Manuel I made it clear that detention without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment both before and after legal process begins. Manuel I also made clear that the Fourth Amendment, not the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, governs a claim for wrongful pretrial detention.

The Court went on to say that before Manuel I, the law of the circuit was that “once detention by reason of arrest turns into detention by way of arraignment—once police action gives way to legal process—the Fourth Amendment falls out of the picture and the detainee’s claim that the detention is improper becomes a claim of malicious prosecution violative of due process.” But Manuel I superseded the circuit precedent, ruling that an unlawful detention without probable cause remains unlawful without probable cause even after a hearing where false evidence is used to persuade a judge that probable cause exists. However, Manuel I left open the question as to when the cause of action for unlawful detention accrues. The Seventh Circuit answered this question in the remand of Manuel I, or Manuel v. City of Joliet (“Manuel II”), 903 F.3d 667 (7th Cir. 2018).

Manuel II held that a Fourth Amendment claim for wrongful pretrial detention accrues when the detention ceases because the violation is ongoing and can accrue only when the ongoing violation ceases. Also, “a claim cannot accrue until a would-be plaintiff is entitled to sue, yet the existence of detention forbids a suit for damages contesting that detention’s validity.” The “favorable termination” rule would prohibit a suit until the charges were dismissed. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1973). 

The Court noted that Lewis filed his suit less than one year after he was released. While 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not contain a statute of limitations, courts are instructed to apply the general statute of limitations in the state where the suit is filed, which is two years in Illinois. Thus, his Fourth Amendment claim was timely, but Manuel I foreclosed his due process claim. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the dismissal of the due process claim but reversed the dismissal of the Fourth Amendment claim and remanded. See: Lewis v. City of Chicago, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 2157 (7th Cir. 2019). 

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