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Michigan Prisoner’s Malicious Prosecution Claim Survives Summary Judgment

Before the court was the appeal of Michigan prisoner Chris Davis, who is housed at Ionia Correctional Facility. His 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action was screened and several claims were dismissed, but Davis was allowed to proceed on his First Amendment claim of retaliation for filing a grievance and state and federal malicious prosecution claims against guard James Gallagher. The court subsequently granted Gallagher’s motion for summary judgment, and Davis appealed.

As Davis “was leaving breakfast one morning, Gallagher called him ‘Bubba’ and asked where he was going.” When Davis did not respond, Gallagher called Davis “boy” and demanded an answer to his question. Davis told Gallagher that “Bubba” and “boy” are racist terms and that he may file a grievance over his perceived racism. Gallagher responded that Davis better acknowledge him when called “or I will put your ass in the hole, boy.”

Gallagher did not dispute that interaction, but he disputed Davis’ version of events at lunch. As he was leaving the lunchroom, Gallagher asked Davis, “Hey Bubba, what’s that in your hand?” Davis responded, “season salt” and reiterated that “Bubba” was a racist term. According Tom Davis, Gallagher “searched” him and planted heroin on him. Gallagher claimed he saw Davis put something in his pocket, and the search revealed a napkin with a rock-like substance in it that proved to be heroin.

An investigation ensued and Davis was subsequently charged criminally. He was acquitted by a jury. On appeal after the district court’s grant of summary judgment in Gallagher’s favor, the Sixth Circuit found one issue was ripe for resolution: whether probable cause existed to prosecute Davis.

Gallagher argued Davis was precluded from arguing there was no probable cause because a Michigan court had already made that determination. Here, however, there was an issue of whether Gallagher falsified evidence to support the probable cause finding. The court found Davis’ failure to argue at the probable cause hearing that the evidence was fabricated was not fatal to his claim.

At that stage, a defendant “may opt not to put all of her cards on the table, especially to the extent this might inform future trial proceedings,” the Sixth Circuit wrote. “After all, a probable cause hearing that reveals a defendant’s trial strategy may do more harm than good.”

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Related legal case

Davis v. Gallagher