Laskar v. Hurd, No. 19-11719

Decision Date28 August 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19-11719
Citation972 F.3d 1278
Parties Joy LASKAR, Ph.d., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Phillip W. HURD, Patrick A. Jenkins, Jilda D. Garton, Mark G. Allen. Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Michael Alan Dailey, Attorney, Anderson Dailey, LLP, ATLANTA, GA, for Plaintiff - Appellant.

Paul Jay Pontrelli, Attorney General's Office, ATLANTA, GA, for Defendants - Appellees.

Before WILLIAM PRYOR, Chief Judge, ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judge, and MOORE,* Chief District Judge.


The main issue in this appeal is whether the dismissal of a prosecution as untimely satisfies the favorable-termination element of a claim for malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment. Joy Laskar's complaint alleges that Jilda Garton, Mark Allen, Patrick Jenkins, and Phillip Hurd—four officials at the Georgia Institute of Technology—played a role in creating a report that falsely accused him of stealing resources from the Institute, which then led to his arrest and prosecution for racketeering and theft. After a state trial judge dismissed the prosecution as untimely, Laskar sued the officials in the district court for malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment. The officials moved to dismiss the complaint and invoked qualified immunity. The district court concluded that the dismissal of Laskar's prosecution was not a favorable termination and granted the motion. We disagree and conclude that a dismissal for untimeliness qualifies as a favorable termination. We also conclude that Laskar has alleged that Hurd and Jenkins, but not Garton and Allen, violated his clearly established constitutional rights. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


Laskar was an electrical engineer and professor at Georgia Tech who served as the director of the Georgia Electronic Design Center, a research entity affiliated with Georgia Tech. The Center established partnerships with technology companies that provided funding to the Center in exchange for collaborating with researchers from Georgia Tech. Laskar founded and directed one such company, Sayana Wireless LLC, which became a paying member of the Center, entitled to use the facilities, equipment, and staff of Georgia Tech.

In December 2009, Garton, the Associate Vice Provost for Research, and Allen, the Senior Vice Provost for Research and Innovation, requested that the auditing department at Georgia Tech investigate around $650,000 in cost overruns at the Center. Over the next two months, Garton and Allen expressed their concerns to Hurd, the Chief Audit Executive, that Laskar was mixing his work at Georgia Tech with his work for Sayana and that money at the Center was being "double spent." Hurd, who led the investigation, expanded the audit to all of the Center's finances.

In April 2010, Hurd and his audit team, which included Jenkins, produced a report that accused Laskar of lying to the Internal Revenue Service, misusing equipment and other property of Georgia Tech to benefit Sayana, and committing other violations of Georgia law. Hurd later reported that the amount of theft "may be as great as $700,000 to $1,470,000."

Hurd gave the report to the Associate Vice Chancellor of Georgia Tech, who notified the Attorney General of Georgia. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation began to investigate Laskar. In May 2010, a special agent from the Bureau submitted an affidavit to two state judges to secure warrants for the search and seizure of Laskar and his property. The affidavit explained that the "primary source of information" supporting the request was the audit. It also clarified that "[u]nless otherwise indicated," Hurd provided the information supporting the affidavit.

The warrant affidavit reiterated that "Laskar had used his position at Georgia Tech to steal money and other resources from the Institute." It stated that Laskar used funds from Georgia Tech to pay for fully functional microchips that Sayana then sold. It also asserted that Laskar abused his position at Georgia Tech to give Sayana illegal access to the school's equipment, employees, and other resources.

The accusations in the warrant affidavit were false. After an investigation, the Internal Revenue Service determined that Sayana and Laskar owed no tax penalties. Sayana was entitled to use the equipment and resources of Georgia Tech at the Center. And the only microchips that Sayana used were chip prototypes it provided to students and faculty at Georgia Tech for research purposes. Sayana never sold these chips, which had no market value; instead, it had a collaborative research agreement with an outside company to test and evaluate the microchip prototypes.

The investigation that Hurd and his audit team conducted, which provided the basis for the affidavit, was less than thorough. For example, Hurd and Jenkins did not investigate whether Laskar or Sayana had sold the microchips. Nor did they have any evidence that Laskar had ever taken or used these microchips. And although Hurd ostensibly expanded the audit to all of the Center's finances, the investigation focused exclusively on Sayana's relationship with the Center. Had Hurd and Jenkins examined the Center more broadly, they would have found that Sayana, like numerous other companies, gained access to the Center's resources in exchange for paying a membership fee.

Both judges issued the warrants after concluding that probable cause existed to find that Laskar had violated Georgia law. State law-enforcement officers and officials from Georgia Tech executed the warrants the next week. They raided 21 locations, including Laskar's home, office, and vehicle. They seized many of Laskar's personal items, including his computers. Laskar was also arrested and "deprived of his personal liberty."

The accusations against Laskar led to a failed prosecution against him in state court. In December 2014, a grand jury indicted Laskar for racketeering and theft. The trial court dismissed the charges against Laskar nearly two years later. It ruled that any potentially criminal act by Laskar could have occurred only outside the statute of limitations.

Laskar filed a complaint of malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment against Hurd, Jenkins, Garton, and Allen. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint alleged that these four officials "knowingly provid[ed] false, misleading and materially incomplete information" about Laskar "to law enforcement and prosecutors" and that they "maliciously instigat[ed] ... the criminal prosecution [against him] without probable cause."

The officials moved to dismiss Laskar's complaint. They argued that Laskar's claim failed because the dismissal of the prosecution against him as untimely was not a favorable termination. The officials also invoked qualified immunity and argued that Laskar had not alleged that they acted without probable cause, that they acted with malice, or that they caused his prosecution. The district court agreed with the officials that Laskar had failed to allege a favorable termination and dismissed his complaint.


We review de novo a dismissal for failure to state a claim. Echols v. Lawton , 913 F.3d 1313, 1319 (11th Cir. 2019). "We accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Id. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).


"Qualified immunity shields public officials from liability for civil damages when their conduct does not violate a constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged action." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). This immunity "protect[s] from suit all but the plainly incompetent or one who is knowingly violating the federal law." Kjellsen v. Mills , 517 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted), abrogated on other grounds by Williams v. Aguirre , 965 F.3d 1147, 1162–65 (11th Cir. 2020). To receive qualified immunity, the state official "bears the initial burden to prove that he acted within his discretionary authority." Dukes v. Deaton , 852 F.3d 1035, 1041 (11th Cir. 2017). Officials that act within their discretionary authority are "entitled to qualified immunity under § 1983 unless (1) they violated a federal statutory or constitutional right, and (2) the unlawfulness of their conduct was clearly established at the time." District of Columbia v. Wesby , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 577, 589, 199 L.Ed.2d 453 (2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). Laskar does not dispute that the officials acted within their discretionary authority, so he bears the burden of proving that they are not entitled to qualified immunity from his claim of malicious prosecution.

To maintain a claim of malicious prosecution, Laskar must overcome two hurdles. First, he must prove that he suffered a seizure pursuant to legal process that violated the Fourth Amendment. See Williams , 965 F.3d at 1157–59 ; Kingsland v. City of Miami , 382 F.3d 1220, 1235 (11th Cir. 2004). This burden requires him to "establish (1) that the legal process justifying his seizure was constitutionally infirm and (2) that his seizure would not otherwise be justified without legal process." Williams , 965 F.3d at 1165. Second, Laskar must satisfy "the elements of the common law tort of malicious prosecution." Id. at 1157 (quoting Paez v. Mulvey , 915 F.3d 1276, 1285 (11th Cir. 2019) ). Under these elements, Laskar must prove that the officials instituted criminal process against him "with malice and without probable cause" and that the broader prosecution against him terminated in his favor.

Id. (quoting Paez , 915 F.3d at 1285 ). Although the common-law elements of malicious prosecution also require proof of damages, see Paez , 915 F.3d at 1285 ; Wood v. Kesler , 323 F.3d 872, 881–82...

To continue reading

Request your trial
39 cases
  • Thompson v. Clark
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 4, 2022
    ...Circuit has held that a favorable termination occurs so long as the criminal prosecution ends without a conviction. See Laskar v. Hurd , 972 F.3d 1278, 1282 (2020). This Court granted certiorari to resolve the split. 592 U.S. ––––, 141 S.Ct. 1682, 209 L.Ed.2d 263 (2021).IIAIn 1871, Congress......
  • Cooper v. Lister, Civil Action 1:21-cv-00324-C
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • January 13, 2023
    ...of “settlements in which the defendant admitted guilt” were “fatal to a plaintiff's ability to establish the absence of probable cause.” Id. at 1288-1289 (citing Morton v. 55 Me. 24, 27 (1867) as “holding that a plaintiff who settled a prosecution by paying part of the amount his accuser de......
  • Shaw v. Peach Cnty.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Georgia
    • November 3, 2022
    ...against ‘searches' and ‘seizures' (and not ‘prosecutions') ....”), abrogated on other grounds by Wallace, 549 U.S. at 389-90)); Laskar, 972 F.3d at 1297 (“In Williams, we held that relevant injury' for a claim of malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment, ‘is the seizure that followe......
  • Torres v. City
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • March 30, 2022
    ...... Lanning v. City of Glens Falls , 908 F.3d 19, 25 (2d Cir. 2018);. see also Laskar v. Hurd , 972 F.3d 1278, 1289 (11th. Cir. 2020); Cantalino v. Danner , 96 N.Y.2d 391, 729. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT