Los Angeles Team Lands Precedent-Setting Appellate Win in Brady Claim Police Civil Rights Matter at the Ninth Circuit
Los Angeles, Calif. (August 18, 2023) – Los Angeles Partner Tony M. Sain and Associate Abigail R. McLaughlin recently secured a precedent-setting appellate victory: making new law when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit clarified the availability of civil claims arising from alleged failures to disclose exculpatory evidence in a criminal case under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The new Ninth Circuit case law holds that a plaintiff cannot state a viable claim for an alleged Brady violation unless the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence affected the outcome of a pretrial criminal proceeding, or resulted in a conviction at trial or by plea. Since our client’s plaintiff could not meet the new threshold, our Los Angeles team won judgment for the defense via appeal.
The plaintiff in this case was a pretrial detainee for four years in a County of Riverside jail for his roommate’s murder. During the investigation, the plaintiff confessed to the murder after a lengthy interrogation. However, the details he provided in his confession did not match the forensic facts of the case, and he later claimed that his confession was sarcastic. The plaintiff’s pretrial incarceration was repeatedly extended, as his own counsel sought a series of continuances in the criminal case. As a result, the plaintiff never proceeded to a preliminary hearing – an evidentiary court proceeding in California where probable cause to support the criminal charges must be found before the criminal defendant will be bound to proceed to trial. Approximately six months before the plaintiff’s release, another roommate of the decedent confessed more credibly to the murder. As a result, before the plaintiff’s preliminary hearing had occurred, he was released, and the criminal charges against him were dismissed.
Plaintiff’s Claims and District Court Rulings
Years after the statute of limitations had run as to all but the Brady claim, the plaintiff filed claims for malicious prosecution, a Brady violation, and related municipal policy/custom Monell violations against Lewis Brisbois’ municipal clients. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings – in favor of the defendants – on all of the malicious prosecution and related Monell claims, but it held that the non-time-barred Brady claim (and associated pendant Monell claim) could proceed. It did so, notwithstanding that the prevailing case law held that Brady claims were not viable unless the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence resulted in a conviction at trial or by plea. The municipality defendants subsequently sought and obtained district court authorization to bring an interlocutory appeal on the Brady claim viability issue, and the appeal ensued.
The Appeal and Ninth Circuit Decision
Mr. Sain and Ms. McLaughlin appeared before the Ninth Circuit for oral argument in May. The court ultimately held that, although there was exculpatory evidence to undermine the plaintiff’s confession, his Brady claim was not actionable because the criminal charges against him had been dismissed before he was subjected to a preliminary hearing where evidence could have been presented. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit ordered the district court to enter judgment in favor of Lewis Brisbois’ clients. The plaintiff did not challenge the district court finding that his other claims in the matter were time-barred. As such, the case is expected to be dismissed – in its entirety – in the near future.
Mr. Sain is a Princeton-educated member of Lewis Brisbois’ General Liability and National Trial Practices. He focuses his practice on high exposure, high-stakes, high-profile matters in a wide variety of catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases across a number of practice areas, including personal injury, tort litigation, as well as police civil rights and public entity defense.
Ms. McLaughlin is a member of the General Liability Practice. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma College of Law, she practiced at a boutique probate litigation firm, handling all aspects of cases from inception to settlement or trial, before moving to a mid-size firm as a member of their strategy, writs, and appeals team: where she first began working with Mr. Sain, before joining him here at Lewis Brisbois. This win was also Ms. McLaughlin’s first appellate oral argument and her performance earned praise from the Circuit Court.