Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51 (Mar. 29, 2011)

A district attorney’s office may not be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failure to train based on a single Brady violation. The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office conceded that, in prosecuting the defendant for attempted armed robbery, prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that should have been turned over under Brady. The defendant was convicted. Because of that conviction, the defendant chose not to testify in his own defense in his later murder trial. He was again convicted and spent 18 years in prison. Shortly before his scheduled execution, his investigator discovered the undisclosed evidence from his armed robbery trial. The reviewing court determined that the evidence was exculpatory and both convictions were vacated. The defendant then sued the district attorney’s office for damages under § 1983, alleging that the district attorney failed to train prosecutors adequately about their duty to produce exculpatory evidence and that the lack of training had caused the nondisclosure at issue. The jury awarded the defendant $14 million, and Fifth Circuit affirmed. Reversing, the Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Thomas, clarified that the failure-to-train claim required the defendant to prove both that (1) the district attorney, the policymaker for the district attorney’s office, was deliberately indifferent to the need to train prosecutors about their Brady disclosure obligation with respect to the type of evidence at issue and (2) the lack of training actually caused the Brady violation at issue. The Court determined that the defendant failed to prove that the district attorney was on actual or constructive notice of, and therefore deliberately indifferent to, a need for more or different Brady training. The Court noted that a pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is “ordinarily necessary” to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train. Here, however, no such pattern existed; the Court declined to adopt a theory of “single-incident liability.” Justice Scalia concurred, joined by Justice Alito, writing separately only to address several issues raised by the dissent. Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. For another discussion of this opinion, see the blog post here.