Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion from Oct. 5

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Handy v. Dobbin, et al.

On Dec. 6, 2018, Wyatt Handy Jr.’s wife went to a Denver Police Department substation and told Officer Shederick Dobbin that she had been a victim of domestic violence. Dobbin interviewed her and made a police report, stating Handy punched and shoved her, broke her phone and eyeglasses and cut up her purse and clothes. Detective Lynnette Nederland later interviewed Handy’s wife and made a similar report, but with the added allegation Handy would not allow her to leave during the incident.

Based on their reports and an arrest warrant affidavit, a magistrate issued a warrant for Handy’s arrest. Officers Bradley Murphy, Annalissa Reynolds and Wendy Anderson arrested him on Dec. 13. He was booked into Denver City Jail on charges of third-degree assault, criminal mischief and false imprisonment. He posted bail two days later.

In March 2019, the prosecutor “add[ed] charges for harassment, telephone-obstruct service, and child abuse.” But before trial, the charges were dismissed. After the dismissal, in October 2020, Handy filed an eight-claim, pro se complaint in federal district court against Dobbin, Murphy, Reynolds, Anderson, Nederland and the City and County of Denver. A magistrate judge granted Handy in forma pauperis status and reviewed the complaint, finding it failed to comply with pleading requirements. The magistrate judge ordered Handy to file an amended complaint.

In response, Handy winnowed the claims and removed the City and County of Denver as a defendant. He alleged Dobbin and Nederland falsified their reports and the affidavit. In particular, Handy alleged his wife didn’t make any of the reported statements, and Dobbin and Nederland lied “for the purpose of misleading the issuing Magistrate and prosecution[ ] to make a probable cause finding and to cause false . . . charges to be filed against [him].” 

Handy also claimed Dobbin and Nederland maliciously prosecuted him in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments.

Before the defendants were served, a magistrate judge recommended the amended complaint be dismissed for failure to state a claim. The magistrate judge explained that Handy’s malicious-prosecution claims failed because he didn’t allege the criminal case was dismissed because of his innocence. Handy objected and sought leave to amend.

The district court reviewed the recommendation de novo and adopted it in full. Handy sought reconsideration, pointing out the U.S. Supreme Court had recently granted certiorari in a case (Thompson v. Clark) to consider whether a Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution plaintiff must allege innocence to show a favorable termination. Handy also renewed his request for leave to amend, asserting he could plead an innocence-based dismissal of the criminal case.

The district court denied relief, reasoning that his reliance on Thompson was premature and misplaced, and in any event, he failed to plead “facts indicative of innocence as the basis for the dismissal of his case.” 

Five months later, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Thompson and held: “[A] Fourth Amendment claim under § 1983 for malicious prosecution does not require the plaintiff to show that the criminal prosecution ended with some affirmative indication of innocence. A plaintiff need only show that the criminal prosecution ended without a conviction.” 

The district court’s dismissal of Handy’s Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim and its denial of reconsideration centered entirely on the favorable termination element, which this court had interpreted as requiring a showing that the plaintiff’s “charges were dismissed in a manner indicative of innocence.” 

But the 10th Circuit reasoned that interpretation is no longer correct based on Thompson. “A plaintiff need only show that the criminal prosecution ended without a conviction.” Handy’s first amended complaint, construed liberally, contained such an allegation the appeals court ruled. Handy’s Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim wasn’t properly dismissed based on the court’s “indicative of innocence” rule.

The 10th Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment as it pertains to Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with Thompson. It affirmed the remainder of the judgment and granted Handy’s motion to proceed IFP on appeal.

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