85 F.3d 178 (4th Cir. 1996), 94-7063, Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, N.C.

Docket Nº:94-7063.
Citation:85 F.3d 178
Party Name:Larry Jerome BROOKS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA; M.N. Barker, individually and as a City Police Officer, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:June 03, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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85 F.3d 178 (4th Cir. 1996)

Larry Jerome BROOKS, Plaintiff-Appellant,



individually and as a City Police Officer,


No. 94-7063.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 3, 1996

Argued Jan. 31, 1996.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 180

ARGUED: Romallus Olga Murphy, Sr., Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellant. Ursula Marie Henninger, Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, P.L.L.C., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Gusti W. Frankel, Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, P.L.L.C., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellees.

Before WILKINS, NIEMEYER, and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings by published opinion. Judge WILKINS wrote the opinion, in which Judge NIEMEYER and Judge MICHAEL joined.


WILKINS, Circuit Judge:

Larry Jerome Brooks brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West 1994), seeking monetary damages for alleged violations of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments in connection with his arrest and prosecution on state criminal charges. Concluding that Brooks' action was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, the magistrate judge 1 entered judgment in favor of Appellees, the City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the arresting officer, M.N. Barker, in his individual and official capacities. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.


Brooks was arrested on charges of kidnapping, rape, and other sexual offenses on June 28, 1989. He vigorously asserted his innocence and offered to submit to polygraph and DNA testing. The charges against him were ultimately dismissed by a state prosecuting attorney on February 18, 1991. Almost three years later, on February 17, 1994, Brooks filed this lawsuit. His first cause of action charged that Officer Barker violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by illegally seizing him without probable cause and his rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by depriving him of liberty without due process of law. He further maintained that Officer Barker should have attempted to have the criminal proceedings terminated after he knew or should have known that Brooks had not committed the offenses. His second cause of action charged that the City maintained policies of failing to adequately train, supervise, and control officers in investigation and arrest procedures.

The magistrate judge granted Appellees' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), reasoning that Brooks' action was time barred because he had not filed it within three years of the date

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of his arrest. Brooks appeals, claiming that his action was timely with respect to Officer Barker because it was filed within three years of the date the charges were dismissed. 2


We review de novo the decision of the lower court to grant a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), recognizing that dismissal is inappropriate unless, accepting as true the well-pleaded facts in the complaint and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff would be entitled to no relief under any state of facts which could be proved in support of his claim." Mylan Lab., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 & n. 4 (4th Cir.1993) (internal quotation marks omitted), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 1307, 127 L.Ed.2d 658 (1994). Although a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) invites an inquiry into the legal sufficiency of the complaint, not an analysis of potential defenses to the claims set forth therein, dismissal nevertheless is appropriate when the face of the complaint clearly reveals the existence of a meritorious affirmative defense. Richmond, F. & P. R.R. v. Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir.1993). See generally 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357, at 352 (1990) ("A complaint showing that the statute of limitations has run on the claim is the most common situation in which the affirmative defense appears on the face of the pleading," rendering dismissal appropriate.)

The parties agree that because the state limitations period governing a claim for damages for personal injuries applies to a § 1983 action, regardless of the allegations in the complaint, the three-year statute of limitations set forth in N.C.Gen.Stat. § 1-52(5) (1995) controls. See Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 1947, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985); National Advertising Co. v. City of Raleigh, 947 F.2d 1158, 1161-62 & n. 2 (4th Cir.1991), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 931, 112 S.Ct. 1997, 118 L.Ed.2d 593 (1992). Thus, the first question before us is when the limitations period began to run.

Although the applicable state statute of limitations supplies the length of the limitations period in a § 1983 action, the time of accrual of the cause of action is a matter of federal law. Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Correction, 64 F.3d 951, 955 (4th Cir.1995) (en banc), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 1273, 134 L.Ed.2d 219 (1996). "Under federal law a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff possesses sufficient facts about the harm done to him that reasonable inquiry will reveal his cause of action." Id. In order to determine when a claimant possessed sufficient facts to know or have reason to know of the alleged injury, we may look to the common-law cause of action most closely analogous to the constitutional right at stake as an " 'appropriate starting point.' " Heck v. Humphrey, --- U.S. ----, ---- - ----, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 2370-71, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994) (quoting Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 258, 98 S.Ct. 1042, 1049, 55 L.Ed.2d 252 (1978)); Calero-Colon v. Betancourt-Lebron, 68 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir.1995).

Viewed in the light most favorable to Brooks, his complaint alleges that his seizure was unreasonable and that he was deprived of due process, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, because his arrest was not supported by probable cause and because his prosecution was continued after it was apparent that he was innocent. These claims are analogous to two common-law causes of action--false arrest and malicious prosecution. Heck, --- U.S. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 2371. At common law, allegations that a warrantless arrest or imprisonment was not supported by probable cause advanced a claim of false arrest or imprisonment. See id.; Calero-Colon, 68 F.3d at 3-4; Singer v. Fulton County Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 117 (2d Cir.1995), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 1676, 134 L.Ed.2d 779 (1996). A claim of false arrest permitted the recovery

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of damages from " 'the time of detention up until issuance of process or arraignment, but not more.' " Heck, --- U.S. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 2371 (quoting W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 119, at 888 (5th ed. 1984)); Calero-Colon, 68 F.3d at 4; Singer, 63 F.3d at 117. However, allegations that an arrest made pursuant to a warrant was not supported by probable cause, or claims seeking damages for the period after legal process issued, are analogous to the common-law tort of malicious prosecution. Heck, --- U.S. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 2371; Calero-Colon, 68 F.3d at 4; Singer, 63 F.3d at 117. Because the allegations contained in Brooks' complaint do not specify whether his arrest was made pursuant to a warrant, we consider the timeliness of Brooks' claims under both scenarios.


The magistrate judge apparently viewed Brooks' § 1983 complaint as alleging an unlawful warrantless arrest and held that such a claim accrued on the date of his arrest. We agree that this was the appropriate time of accrual of Brooks' claim to the extent that it charges a warrantless arrest unsupported by probable cause. There is no question that on the day of his arrest Brooks knew or should have known both of the injury resulting from his allegedly illegal seizure and who was responsible for any injury. See Nasim, 64 F.3d at 955. This conclusion accords with the decisions of the other courts of appeals that have addressed the question. See Davis v. Ross, 995 F.2d 137, 138 (8th Cir.1993) (per curiam); Johnson v. Johnson County Comm'n Bd., 925 F.2d 1299, 1300-01 (10th Cir.1991); Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 350-51 (3d Cir.1989); McCune v. City of Grand Rapids, 842 F.2d 903, 906 (6th Cir.1988); Mack v. Varelas, 835 F.2d 995, 999-1000 (2d Cir.1987); Davis v. Harvey, 789 F.2d 1332, 1333 n. 1 (9th Cir.1986); Rinehart v. Locke, 454 F.2d 313, 315 (7th Cir.1971).

Brooks asserts, however, that the recent Supreme Court decision in Heck v. Humphrey, --- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), dictates a different conclusion. Under Heck, Brooks maintains, a cause of action alleging an unconstitutional seizure accomplished by a warrantless arrest without probable cause does not accrue until the criminal proceedings against the accused are terminated in his favor.

In Heck, the Supreme Court held:

[I]n order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or...

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