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HAEFNER v. COUNTY OF LANCASTER
August 11, 1981
Richard D. HAEFNER,
The COUNTY OF LANCASTER, PA. et al.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN
The policies supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
include compensating individuals deprived of federal rights by action taken under color of state law.
Claims for injury must be presented in a timely fashion.
Congress did not establish a federal statute of limitations for actions brought in federal court under Section 1983, and, therefore, the state statute of limitations for the cause of action most nearly analogous thereto must be "borrowed".
In the case at bar, plaintiff alleges unlawful arrest, physical and mental abuse during police custody and prosecution of criminal charges against him without probable cause, claims which most nearly resemble state tort actions for assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
Pennsylvania law requires institution of suit for such claims within two years of accrual.
Federal law determines when a federal claim "accrues"
and identifies the date as that point in time when the injured party knows or has reason to know of the injury forming the basis of the action.
In the case at bar, plaintiff knew of the injury inflicted by the alleged assault and battery and false arrest and imprisonment when those events occurred in August 1975 and arguably continuing through February 1976. His failure to press these claims within two years bars prosecution irrespective of their merit.
Plaintiff's claim for malicious prosecution must also be dismissed. To recover therefor, plaintiff must establish that the prior state prosecution terminated in his favor.
That is, plaintiff must show that the prior action disposed of the charges in a manner inconsistent with guilt.
An indecisive disposition, such as a hung jury, will not suffice, for a prosecution based on probable cause does not deprive a defendant of civil rights within the meaning of Section 1983. No federal claim can exist without proof that the prior state criminal prosecution ended in a manner inconsistent with guilt.
In the case at bar, the state court declared a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict. Ultimately, on appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the trial court's premature discharge of the jury prevented defendant's retrial in light of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The prior state action, therefore, did not terminate in a manner inconsistent with defendant's guilt.
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