Yanes v. Maricopa County (CA1 11/8/12)

The court holds that a violation of substantive due process dues not support a §1983 claim. Or maybe it does.

Yanes was punched by a jail guard. The guard said that Yanes attacked him and so the county charged Yanes with aggravated assault. But the county dismissed that and Yanes then sued for various torts and a §1983 claim. He won at trial. The county appealed; this opinion covers the 1983 claim, a memo handles the rest.

§1983 creates a mechanism of recovery for an actionable constitutional violation. The question was what violation supported the claim. Yanes argued substantive due process: falsely accusing him of assault violated his right to be free from prosecution without probable cause. Based on the 1993 (the opinion says 1994 but who’s counting?) U.S. Supreme Court Albright case, the Court of Appeals holds that although violation of procedural due process at trial can support a §1983 claim, violation of substantive due process can’t.

Except that under “different factual situations” it might. What factual situations? Quoting from Albright:  “There may indeed be exceptional cases where some quantum of harm occurs in the interim period after groundless criminal charges are filed but before any Fourth Amendment seizure.” But that’s not what happened here.

Why include as dicta idle, speculative dicta by a single Justice (Souter) buried in more dicta (a concurring opinion)? Well, we just pointed out the other day that courts love to rule on things not before them. And so they let one federal judge, in an opinion that didn’t itself decide anything, dictate how federal law will likely be applied in Arizona (at least until a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court – the part, in other words, that can actually make binding rulings – does so on this subject).

The court sets aside the §1983 award, including the punitive damages that went with it (awarded thanks to an opinion we weren’t entirely complimentary to awhile back).

(link to opinion)