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Nieves v. Bartlett

Supreme Court of the United States

November 26, 2018, Argued; May 28, 2019, Decided

No. 17-1174.

Case Summary

Overview

HOLDINGS: [1]-Respondent’s claim that two police officers retaliated against him for his protected First Amendment speech by arresting him for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest during a winter sports festival could not survive summary judgment. The only evidence of retaliatory animus identified by the court of appeals was respondent’s affidavit alleging that one of the officers said “bet you wish you would have talked to me now.” But that allegation said nothing about what motivated the second officer, who had no knowledge of respondent’s prior run-in with the first officer; [2]-In any event, respondent’s retaliatory arrest claim against both officers could not succeed because they had probable cause to arrest him. The existence of probable cause to arrest respondent defeated his First Amendment claim as a matter of law.

Outcome

Judgment of court of appeals reversed; case remanded. 8-1 Decision to reverse; 1 concurrence in part and concurrence in the judgment; 1 concurrence in part and dissent in part; 1 concurrence in the judgment in part and dissent in part; 1 dissent.

LexisNexis® Headnotes

 

 

Torts > Intentional Torts > Malicious Prosecution > Civil Rights Actions

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope

HN1  Civil Rights Actions

As a general matter, the First Amendment prohibits government officials from subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions for engaging in protected speech. If an official takes adverse action against someone based on that forbidden motive, and non-retaliatory grounds are in fact insufficient to provoke the adverse consequences, the injured person may generally seek relief by bringing a First Amendment claim. To prevail on such a claim, a plaintiff must establish a causal connection between the government defendant’s retaliatory animus and the plaintiff’s subsequent injury. It is not enough to show that an official acted with a retaliatory motive and that the plaintiff was injured - the motive must cause the injury. Specifically, it must be a “but-for” cause, meaning that the adverse action against the plaintiff would not have been taken absent the retaliatory motive.

 

Torts > Intentional Torts > Malicious Prosecution > Civil Rights Actions

Torts > ... > Malicious Prosecution > Elements > Lack of Probable Cause

HN2  Civil Rights Actions

To account for the problem of causation in retaliatory prosecution claims, Hartman v. Moore adopted the requirement that plaintiffs plead and prove the absence of probable cause for the underlying criminal charge. That showing provides a distinct body of highly valuable circumstantial evidence that is apt to prove or disprove whether retaliatory animus actually caused the injury: Demonstrating that there was no probable cause for the underlying criminal charge will tend to reinforce the retaliation evidence and show that retaliation was the but-for basis for instigating the prosecution, while establishing the existence of probable cause will suggest that prosecution would have occurred even without a retaliatory motive. Requiring plaintiffs to plead and prove the absence of probable cause makes sense because the existence of probable cause will be at issue in practically all retaliatory prosecution cases, has high probative force, and thus can be made mandatory with little or no added cost. Moreover, imposing that burden on plaintiffs is necessary to suspend the presumption of regularity underlying the prosecutor’s charging decision - a presumption the court does not lightly discard.

 

Criminal Law & Procedure > Commencement of Criminal Proceedings > Arrests

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope

Torts > Intentional Torts > Malicious Prosecution > Civil Rights Actions

HN3  Arrests

Like retaliatory prosecution cases, retaliatory arrest cases present a tenuous causal connection between the defendant’s alleged animus and the plaintiff’s injury. The causal inquiry is complex because protected speech is often a wholly legitimate consideration for officers when deciding whether to make an arrest. Officers frequently must make split-second judgments when deciding whether to arrest, and the content and manner of a suspect’s speech may convey vital information - for example, if the suspect is ready to cooperate or rather presents a continuing threat.

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139 S. Ct. 1715 ; 204 L. Ed. 2d 1 ; 2019 U.S. LEXIS 3557 ; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 847

LUIS A. NIEVES, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. RUSSELL P. BARTLETT

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by Bartlett v. Nieves, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 17673 (9th Cir., June 13, 2019)

Prior History:  [1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Bartlett v. Nieves, 712 Fed. Appx. 613, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 20682 (9th Cir. Alaska, Oct. 20, 2017)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.