Luke v. Gulley

Court: 11th Circuit
Case Number: 2020 WL 5524730
Decision Date: September 15, 2020
Case Type: malicious prosecution

According to Luke's complaint, in March 2017, a man named Lewis and two other individuals perpetrated a drive-by shooting of a cookout where Luke was present. Unarmed, Luke dove to the ground for safety. During the course of the shooting, Luke did not encourage others to fire at the vehicle. Lewis was shot and killed during the shooting.

Despite Luke's inaction, Officer Gulley sought a warrant to arrest Luke on a charge of felony murder. Gulley's warrant affidavit stated that Luke killed Lewis when he shot at Lewis's vehicle. Gulley claimed in an affidavit to have a statement from an eyewitness but there was no eyewitness. Nor did he have any evidence that Luke fired a weapon at Lewis. Gulley knew that his accusation against Luke and the allegations in his warrant affidavit were false.

Luke was arrested and remained in jail from March until May 2017. The trial court dismissed the charges in May 2018. After the dismissal, Luke sued Gulley for malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment and for false arrest and malicious prosecution under Georgia law.

Gulley removed the suit to federal court and moved to dismiss Luke's complaint. Gulley argued that Luke had not established that the prosecution terminated in his favor, so his claim of malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment failed. Gulley attached a copy of the order dismissing the charges against Luke. That order stated that the prosecutor had made an offer to Luke: if Luke testified against other defendants in the prosecution, the prosecutor would move to dismiss the charges against him. According to Gulley, this was not a favorable termination because Luke compromised with his accuser to end the prosecution. The district court found in Gulley’s favor.

On appeal the court stated that for Luke to establish malicious prosecution he must prove (1) that the defendant violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from seizures pursuant to legal process and (2) that the criminal proceedings against him terminated in his favor. To establish that Gulley violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from seizures pursuant to legal process, Luke must show “that the legal process justifying his seizure was constitutionally infirm” and “that his seizure would not otherwise be justified without legal process.”

Gulley contended that proceedings cannot terminate in the favor of a criminal defendant when the termination is the product of compromise. The court disagreed with Gulley's argument that Luke did not receive a favorable termination. Even though the court considered the dismissal order, the court must construe the order in the light most favorable to Luke and resolve all reasonable inferences in his favor. When placed in that light, the order does not eliminate every reasonable inference that Luke received a favorable termination, because the complaint alleges that Luke was indicted on several other unspecified charges in addition to felony murder, the court did not know whether Luke admitted that he was guilty during the hearing. A reasonable inference would be that he did not admit to felony murder during the hearing, therefore the court must conclude, at this stage, that Luke's complaint alleges that he received a favorable termination.

The court vacated the order dismissing Luke's complaint of malicious prosecution against Gulley and remanded for further proceedings.