plaintiff with various criminal acts." (Record document no. 19 at p. 7.) They assert that the conviction "alone establishes the existence of probable cause" and demonstrates that the plaintiff cannot establish lack of probable cause. Id.
In support of their argument, defendants cite federal and state law precedent which held that a finding of probable cause in the underlying proceeding estops the defendant from challenging that finding later in a civil action for malicious prosecution despite subsequent reversal or dismissal of the criminal charges. It is their contention that "Plaintiff's conviction conclusively establishes the existence of probable cause even though it has been reversed on appeal." (Record document no. 19, p. 7).
Defendants cite, as support for that contention: Crescent City Live Stock Co. v. Butchers' Union Slaughter House Co., 120 U.S. 141, 150-51, 30 L. Ed. 614, 7 S. Ct. 472 (1886); Payson, supra, 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6790, slip op. at 12 (District Justice's determination that probable cause existed precluded criminal defendant from challenging his prosecution in a civil rights action); Martinez v. Korvette, 335 F. Supp. 886, 887 (E.D.Pa. 1971); and Lynn v. Smith, 193 F. Supp. 887, 890 (E.D.Pa. 1961). See also: Bussard v. Neil, 616 F. Supp. 854, 857 (M.D.Pa. 1985) (collecting cases). Cf. Williams v. City of New York, 508 F.2d 356 (2d Cir. 1974) (prior conviction constitutes prima facie, but not conclusive, evidence of probable cause).
In Payson, supra, Judge Van Antwerpen of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that "the independent judgment of a neutral magistrate in Payson's preliminary hearing that the Commonwealth had made out a prima facie case" supported a finding as a matter of law that probable cause existed for the filing of the underlying state charges. Citing Coogan v. City of Wixom, 820 F.2d 170, 174 (6th Cir. 1987) for the proposition that "a plaintiff is collaterally estopped from denying that there was probable cause to believe he committed a crime when, after he had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in an earlier state court proceeding, a judge found probable cause to bind him over for trial." Id. at 12.
Looking to Pennsylvania law for principles of collateral estoppel, Judge Van Antwerpen concluded that those principles precluded Payson from challenging the Pennsylvania magistrate's finding of probable cause in a federal civil rights action. "Where a neutral magistrate makes a final and appealable determination of probable cause after a full evidentiary hearing where the accused was represented by counsel and had the opportunity to present evidence, and did in fact present evidence and oral argument, that defendant must be precluded from relitigating the issue in a § 1983 civil rights action." Id. at 12.
Defendants argue that, under this line of authority, plaintiff can prevail on his claim only if he can establish that his conviction was brought about by fraud, perjury or corrupt means. (Record document no. 19, p. 8, citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 667 (1977) ("The conviction of the accused by a magistrate or trial court although reversed by an appellate tribunal, conclusively establishes the existence of probable cause, unless the conviction was obtained by fraud, perjury or corrupt means.").
Citing Crescent City, supra, 120 U.S. 150-51, defendants contend that fraud has not been pled. Although plaintiff alleges that his state court conviction was brought about "via the issuance of false statements under oath, the fabrication of evidence . . . and illegal acts done with deliberate indifference to the rights of the Plaintiff," (Plaintiff's complaint, P 29) and that "defendants employed a confidential informant, one Daryl Philbin, a known criminal and admitted drug trafficor (sic), to fabricate evidence against the Plaintiff, make false statements under oath and otherwise falsely implicate the Plaintiff for the purposes of obtaining a conviction against Plaintiff," (Plaintiff's complaint, P 35A), defendants contend that these allegations are unsubstantiated by any allegations of specific underlying facts, and therefore, fail to satisfy the requirement that allegations of fraud be pled with specificity. (Record document no. 19, p. 10)
Plaintiff responds to these arguments by contending that the Pennsylvania decisions to which defendants look for authority are no longer Pennsylvania law. He contends that a 1986 Pennsylvania Superior Court decision, Cap v. K-Mart, 357 Pa. Super. 9, 515 A.2d 52 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1986), signalled a reversal of prior Pennsylvania case law relied upon by defendants. In Cap v. K-Mart, supra, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled, without analysis or explanation, that an initial finding of probable cause does not preclude a subsequent challenge to the conviction.
Plaintiff also cites, as persuasive authority, federal decisions from other circuits which reject defendants' position. See, e.g., Smith v. Springer, 859 F.2d 31 (7th Cir. 1988); Dukes v. New York, 743 F. Supp. 1037 (S.D.N.Y. 1990); and Unger v. Cohen, 718 F. Supp. 185, 187 (S.D.N.Y. 1989).
Heck v. Humphrey
Both parties' arguments raise the question of what is the proper source of authority for determining civil rights law governing challenges to a state criminal conviction. That was the issue which divided the United States Supreme Court in Heck v. Humphrey, 129 L. Ed. 2d 383, 114 S. Ct. 2364 (1994). The Court's ultimate holding in that case is less important to our discussion than the justices' analysis.
Section 1983 plaintiff Roy Heck was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the Court of Common Pleas of Dearborn County, Indiana. He appealed his conviction. While his state court appeal was pending, he filed a section 1983 action in federal court against the Dearborn County prosecutors and Indiana State Police investigator alleging that they had, inter alia, "'knowingly destroyed' evidence . . . 'exculpatory in nature' and caused 'an illegal and unlawful voice identification procedure' to be used at . . . [his] trial." Id. at 389. Heck sought compensatory and punitive damages for defendants' alleged violation of his federal constitutional rights.
The District Court dismissed Heck's action without prejudice on the ground that he had first to exhaust state remedies, since his claims "directly implicated the legality of [his] confinement." Id. at 390. Heck appealed the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
While his appeal was pending, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Id. at 390, citing Heck v. State, 552 N.E.2d 446, 449 (Ind. 1990). Heck then filed two habeas petitions in the federal courts. The first was dismissed because it contained unexhausted claims. The second was denied. The denial was affirmed by the Seventh Circuit on appeal. Id. at 390.
When Heck's appeal from his section 1983 dismissal reached the Seventh Circuit, it "affirmed the judgment and approved the reasoning of the District Court." Id. at 390. Heck filed a petition for certiorari, which the Supreme Court granted.
In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit. The court was divided, not on the ultimate result--all nine justices agreed that Heck's action should be dismissed pending a reversal of his conviction in state court--but in their analysis.
Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Rehnquist, and Justices Kennedy, Thomas
and Ginsburg joined. The starting point for the majority's analysis was the common law cause of action for malicious prosecution. Justice Scalia, writing for the Court stated:
'We have repeatedly noted that 42 USC § 1983 . . . creates a species of tort liability.' . . . [The rules governing common law tort actions] . . . provide the appropriate starting point for the inquiry under § 1983 . . . Thus, to determine whether there is any bar to the present suit, we look first to the common law of torts. . . .
The common-law cause of action for malicious prosecution provides the closest analogy to claims of the type considered here because, unlike the related cause of action for false arrest or imprisonment, it permits damages for confinement imposed pursuant to legal process.