522 U.S. 118 (1997), 96-792, Kalina v. Fletcher

Docket Nº:No. 96-792
Citation:522 U.S. 118, 118 S.Ct. 502, 139 L.Ed.2d 471, 66 U.S.L.W. 4031
Party Name:KALINA v. FLETCHER
Case Date:December 10, 1997
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 118

522 U.S. 118 (1997)

118 S.Ct. 502, 139 L.Ed.2d 471, 66 U.S.L.W. 4031

KALINA

v.

FLETCHER

No. 96-792

United States Supreme Court

December 10, 1997

Argued October 7, 1997

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Following customary practice, petitioner prosecuting attorney commenced criminal proceedings by filing three documents in Washington state court: (1) an unsworn information charging respondent with burglary; (2) an unsworn motion for an arrest warrant; and (3) a "Certification for Determination of Probable Cause," in which she summarized the evidence supporting the charge and swore to the truth of the alleged facts "[u]nder penalty of perjury." Based on the certification, the trial court found probable cause, and respondent was arrested and spent a day in jail. Later, however, the charges against him were dismissed on the prosecutor's motion. Focusing on two inaccurate factual statements in petitioner's certification, respondent sued her for damages under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that she had violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizures. The Federal District Court denied her motion for summary judgment, holding that she was not entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity and that whether qualified immunity would apply was a question of fact. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Held:

Section 1983 may create a damages remedy against a prosecutor for making false statements of fact in an affidavit supporting an application for an arrest warrant, since such conduct is not protected by the doctrine of absolute prosecutorial immunity. Pp. 123-131.

(a) Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 410, 430-431, and subsequent cases recognize that a criminal prosecutor is fully protected by absolute immunity when performing the traditional functions of an advocate, see, e. g., Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273, but is protected only by qualified immunity when he is not acting as an advocate, as where he functions as a complaining witness in presenting a judge with a complaint and supporting affidavit to establish probable cause for an arrest, see Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 340-341. Under these cases, petitioner's activities in connection with the preparation and filing of the information against respondent and the motion for an arrest warrant clearly are protected by absolute immunity as part of the advocate's function. Indeed, except for her act in personally attesting to the truth of the averments in the certification, the preparation and filing of that third document was protected as well. Pp. 123-129.

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(b) However, petitioner was acting as a complaining witness rather than a lawyer when she executed the certification "[u]nder penalty of perjury," and, insofar as she did so, § 1983 may provide a remedy for respondent. Since the Fourth Amendment requirement that arrest warrants be based "upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation" may not be satisfied by the mere filing of an unsworn information signed by the prosecutor, see, e. g., Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 117, and since most Washington prosecutions are commenced by information, state law requires that an arrest warrant be supported by either an affidavit "or sworn testimony establishing the grounds for issuing the warrant." Petitioner's certification was designed to satisfy those requirements, but neither federal nor state law made it necessary for the prosecutor to make that certification. Petitioner's argument that such execution was just one incident in a presentation that, viewed as a whole, was the work of an advocate is unavailing. Although the exercise of an advocate's professional judgment informed petitioner's other actions, that judgment could not affect the truth or falsity of the factual statements contained in the certification. Testifying about facts is the function of the witness, not of the lawyer. No matter how brief or succinct it may be, the evidentiary component of an application for an arrest warrant is a distinct and essential predicate for a finding of probable cause. Even when the person who makes the constitutionally required "Oath or affirmation" is a lawyer, the only function that she performs is that of a witness. Petitioner's final argument, that denying her absolute immunity will have a "chilling effect" on prosecutors in the administration of justice, is not supported by evidence and is unpersuasive. Pp. 129-131. .

93 F.3d 653, affirmed

Stevens, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Scalia, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined, post, p. 131.

Norm Maleng argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Michael C. Duggan and John W. Cobb.

Patricia A. Millett argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With her on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, Deputy Solicitor General Waxman, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Preston, Barbara L. Herwig, and Peter R. Maier.

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Timothy K. Ford argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Robert S. Mahler and Daniel Hoyt Smith. [*]

Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether 42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates a damages remedy against a prosecutor for making false statements of fact in an affidavit supporting an application for an arrest warrant, or whether, as she contends, such conduct is protected by "the doctrine of absolute prosecutorial immunity."

I

Petitioner is a deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, Washington. Following customary practice, on December 14, 1992, she commenced a criminal proceeding

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against respondent by filing three documents in the King County Superior Court. Two of those documents—an information charging respondent with burglary and a motion for an arrest warrant—were unsworn pleadings. The burglary charge was based on an alleged theft of computer equipment from a school.

Washington Criminal Rules require that an arrest warrant be supported by an affidavit or "sworn testimony establishing the grounds for issuing the warrant."[1] To satisfy that requirement, petitioner supported her motion with a third document—a "Certification for Determination of Probable Cause"—that summarized the evidence supporting the charge. She personally vouched for the truth of the facts set forth in the certification under penalty of perjury.[2] Based on petitioner's certification, the trial court found probable cause and ordered that an arrest warrant be issued.

Petitioner's certification contained two inaccurate factual statements. After noting that respondent's fingerprints had been found on a glass partition in the school, petitioner stated that respondent had "never been associated with the school in any manner and did not have permission to enter the school or to take any property."[3 ] In fact, he had installed partitions on the premises and was authorized to enter the school. She also stated that an employee of an electronics store had identified respondent "from a photo montage" as the person who had asked for an appraisal of a computer stolen from the school.[4] In fact, the employee did not identify respondent.[5]

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Respondent was arrested and spent a day in jail. About a month later, the charges against him were dismissed on the prosecutor's motion.

II

Respondent brought this action under Rev. Stat. § 1979, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages from petitioner based on her alleged violation of his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizures. In determining immunity, we accept the allegations of respondent's complaint as true. See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 261 (1993). Respondent's complaint focuses on the false statements made by petitioner in the certification.[6] Petitioner moved for summary judgment on the ground that the three documents that she filed to commence the criminal proceedings and to procure the arrest warrant were protected by "the doctrine of absolute prosecutorial immunity."[7 ] The District Court denied the motion, holding that she was not entitled to absolute immunity and that whether qualified immunity would apply was a question of fact.[8] The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

The Ninth Circuit first noted that under our decision in Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335 (1986), "a police officer who secures an arrest warrant without probable cause cannot assert an absolute immunity defense," and then observed that petitioner's "actions in writing, signing and filing the declaration for an arrest warrant" were "virtually identical to the police officer's actions in Malley." 93 F.3d 653, 655- 656 (1996). Relying on the functional approach endorsed in Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, the Court of Appeals concluded that "it would be 'incongruous' to expose police to potential liability while protecting prosecutors for the same act." 93F. 3d, at 656.

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The Court of Appeals acknowledged that the Sixth Circuit had reached a different result in Joseph v. Patterson, 795F. 2d 549, 555 (1986), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1023 (1987), a case that predated our decision in Buckley. Because we have never squarely addressed the question whether a prosecutor may be held liable for conduct in obtaining an arrest warrant, we granted certiorari to resolve the conflict. 519 U.S. 1148 (1997). We now affirm.

III

Section 1983 is a codification of § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871.[9] The text of the statute purports to create a damages remedy against every state official for the violation of any person's federal constitutional or statutory rights.[10] The coverage of the...

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