False Arrest Lawsuit Against a Police Officer In California

In Gill v. Epstein (1965) 62 Cal. 2d 611 [44 Cal. Rptr. 45, 401 P.2d 397], the plaintiff was arrested without a warrant and jailed on a charge of theft. Two days later he was arraigned and then returned to jail. He remained in jail until the preliminary hearing five days later, at which time the case against him was dismissed on motion of the district attorney. The plaintiff then brought an action under state law for false arrest and false imprisonment against the police officers who handled his case and the city which employed them. The trial court instructed the jury it could not award damages arising from plaintiff's confinement in jail after his arraignment. The Supreme Court held this instruction was erroneous: "The arraignment would not have taken place had the arrest not been made. Thus, the arrest was a cause in fact of plaintiff's imprisonment. Although a chain of causation may be broken by an independent intervening act which is not reasonably foreseeable [citation], plaintiff's arraignment was not such an act. It was clearly a foreseeable result of the arrest and was actually contemplated by defendants. Under the circumstances, the arrest was a proximate cause of plaintiff's imprisonment both before and after the arraignment, and he is entitled to recover damages for physical and mental suffering during the entire period he was confined." (62 Cal. 2d at pp. 617-618, italics in original.) In Jackson v. City of San Diego (1981) 121 Cal. App. 3d 579 [175 Cal. Rptr. 395], the police arrested Jackson without a warrant and charged him with robbery and murder. He was convicted and sentenced to state prison. Ten months later he was set free after another individual confessed to the crimes and was tried and convicted. Jackson successfully sued the City of San Diego on a state law claim for false imprisonment and the city appealed. the appellate court defined the issue as "whether an innocent man, convicted and imprisoned for crimes he did not commit, can obtain damages for the entire period of his incarceration." ( Id. at p. 581.) The court concluded "[a]s tempting as it might be to focus on the legalism of proximate cause to compensate Jackson for all damages he suffered, we cannot do so." ( Id. at p. 588.) Observing the Government Code imposes liability on police officers for false arrest and false imprisonment but immunizes them from liability for malicious prosecution (Gov. Code, 820.4, 821.6), the court in Jackson concluded the Legislature intended "a ceiling be placed on damages which may be awarded for false imprisonment, limiting those damages to the period of incarceration beginning with the false arrest, but ending when lawful process begins." ( Jackson, supra, 121 Cal. App. 3d at p. 582.) In other words false imprisonment--a violation of a person's personal interest in freedom from restraint--ends at the point where malicious prosecution--a violation of a person's interest in freedom from unjustified litigation--begins. ( Id. at p. 585.) Therefore, the court held, "Jackson is entitled to all the damages he suffered during the period from his warrantless arrest to the date he was rearrested pursuant to the grand jury indictment." ( Id. at p. 582.) The court viewed its holding as consistent with Gill v. Epstein, supra, 62 Cal. 2d 611, because Gill never reached the point at which his false imprisonment would have merged into malicious prosecution. Instead, the charges against him were dismissed at the preliminary hearing and therefore he was "not imprisoned beyond an independent evaluation of probable cause." ( Jackson, supra, 121 Cal. App. 3d at pp. 584.) In Asgari v. City of Los Angeles, supra, 15 Cal. 4th 744, the Supreme Court overruled its decision in Gill and adopted a more restrictive measure of damages for false imprisonment based on the immunity provisions of Government Code sections 820.4 and 821.6. Asgari was arrested and charged with the sale of narcotics. He remained in jail for more than seven months, until he was acquitted following a jury trial. He sued the arresting officers and the city which employed them for false arrest and related causes of action and was awarded damages for the injuries arising from the entire period of his incarceration. The Supreme Court reviewed the judgment to decide "whether the trial court erred in instructing the jury that a police officer's liability for false arrest may include damages sustained by the arrestee after the filing of formal charges[.]" (15 Cal. 4th at p. 748.) The court held that while such damages are allowed in a section 1983 action, citing Smiddy v. Varney, supra, 665 F.2d 261, they "do not reflect the applicable California law, and . . . the jury should have been instructed that the immunity from liability for injury caused by malicious prosecution, provided to public employees by Government Code section 821.6, precludes a plaintiff in a false arrest action from recovering damages that are attributable to the period of the plaintiff's incarceration that follows his or her arraignment on criminal charges." ( Asgari, supra, 15 Cal. 4th at p. 748.) Relying heavily on the analysis in Jackson v. City of San Diego, supra, 121 Cal. App. 3d 579, the Supreme Court explained: "As recognized by the Court of Appeal in [Jackson], the Legislature's imposition of liability when a police officer causes a suspect to be confined unlawfully (false arrest), coupled with the Legislature's grant of absolute immunity when a police officer, maliciously and without probable cause, causes a suspect to be confined through the initiation of lawful process (malicious prosecution), evidences a legislative intent to shield police officers from liability for damages that are attributable to a suspect's incarceration after the institution of lawful process. It follows that a police officer's liability for false arrest does not include damages caused by incarceration following the arrestee's arraignment on formal charges." ( Asgari, supra, 15 Cal. 4th at p. 758, fn. omitted.) The court further explained it was departing from the more liberal rule in Gill v. Epstein because "The events . . . in [Gill] occurred before the enactment of the California Tort Claims Act of 1963, and the decision in that case therefore did not consider the effect of sections 820.4 and 821.6 or discuss the effect that immunity for malicious prosecution should have on the scope of the damages properly recoverable in an action for false arrest." ( Asgari, supra, 15 Cal. 4th at p. 758, fn. 10.)