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Truman v. Orem City.

No. 19-4133. D.Utah. Judge Tymkovich. 42 USC § 1983—Qualified Immunity—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Fabrication of Evidence—Summary Judgment—Failure to Preserve Issue on Appeal.

June 21, 2021


A jury convicted plaintiff of murdering his wife. While imprisoned, plaintiff and his legal team discovered that the prosecution had knowingly falsified measurements of the murder scene to rule out the possibility of suicide or a self-inflicted accidental wound. The state court granted defendant’s motion for a new trial, and plaintiff was acquitted.

Plaintiff then brought a 42 USC § 1983 action against the prosecutor and police officers. The district court found that the prosecutor was entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law, and it granted summary judgment to the police officers, finding the claims against them barred by previous holdings in state court.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that the district court erred by dismissing his fabrication of evidence claim against the prosecutor based on qualified immunity. To overcome qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show that defendant’s actions violated a constitutional or statutory right that was clearly established at the time of the conduct. The constitutional right here was plaintiff’s due process right not to be deprived of liberty as a result of the fabrication of evidence by a government officer. To state a fabrication of evidence claim, a plaintiff must allege (1) the defendant knowingly fabricated evidence, (2) the fabricated evidence was used against plaintiff, (3) the use of the evidence deprived plaintiff of liberty, and (4) the conviction has been invalidated or called into doubt.

Accepting the allegations as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff plausibly alleged that the prosecutor fabricated evidence based on the prosecutor’s multiple visits to the home, his attendance at a crime scene reconstruction, and viewing of photos; the fabricated evidence was used in the criminal case against plaintiff; the evidence deprived plaintiff of a fair trial; and the conviction was invalidated. Further, the right not to be deprived of liberty as a result of the fabrication of evidence by a government officer was clearly established at the time of the prosecutor’s conduct. Accordingly, the district court erred.

Plaintiff also argued that the district court improperly granted summary judgment to the police officers on the fabrication of evidence claim on the ground of issue preclusion. However, plaintiff forfeited this argument, and he waived any argument regarding plain error review by failing to assert it on appeal. Therefore, the grant of summary judgment was proper.

The dismissal of the claim against the prosecutor was reversed and the grant of summary judgment to the police officers was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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