Donald Wige v. City of Los Angeles

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 04-16-2013
  • Case #: 10-56515
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Watford for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski, Circuit Judge Hurwitz
  • Full Text Opinion

Where an officer’s testimony presented at a preliminary hearing is “materially different” from the statement used to obtain probable cause and the state court does not make a factual determination as to the “genuine dispute” of the credibility of that testimony, issue preclusion does not attach to bar later litigation.

Donald Wige filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 claim against several police officers and the City of Los Angeles for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. He contends the officers fabricated evidence which supported their claim of probable cause. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, "on the ground that the state court's probable cause finding is entitled to preclusive effect and bars Wige from relitigating the issue of probable cause." The Ninth Circuit held the district court erred because there was a “genuine dispute” as to whether there was fabricated testimony which called into question the probable cause. The "identity-of-issues requirement” in issue preclusion analysis is generally in most cases because the issue resolved at the preliminary hearing is identical to the issue that must be resolved in a false arrest or malicious prosecution action--namely, whether the evidence supports a finding of probable cause. However, if the evidence known to the arresting officers is “materially different from the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing,” the identity-of-issues requirement is not met. A recognized exception in California is "issue preclusion should be denied where the plaintiff alleges that the arresting officer lied or fabricated evidence presented at the preliminary hearing." The state court never purported to find either that the officers’ testimony was credible or not. It simply decided only that a reasonable jury could believe either one. "It did not (and did not have to) decide whether Officer Bellows should be believed." The panel held that Wige is not barred by issue preclusion in seeking to litigate whether the officers should be believed. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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