Trinity Marine Products, Inc. v. United States, No. 14-31130 (5th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Trinity filed an administrative claim in 2012 and a complaint in federal court in 2013 under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1), 2680(h), alleging malicious prosecution. In 1999, Trinity was indicted for illegally storing hazardous waste without a permit and the charges were dismissed in 2003. The district court dismissed Trinity's claim as time barred. The principal issue on appeal is whether equitable tolling is applicable in this case where one of the federal agents investigating Trinity intentionally concealed his extramarital affair with another investigator. Under Louisiana law, a claim of malicious prosecution requires showing both an “absence of probable cause” and “the presence of malice.” Thus, the only evidentiary basis for a viable malicious-prosecution FTCA claim “well grounded in fact” would be evidence to support the allegations that federal law enforcement officers maliciously instigated the prosecution despite a lack of probable cause. The court held that the district court erred by failing to equitably toll the statute of limitations, determining that the Government has not met its burden of conclusively establishing that Trinity would have discovered evidence to support the allegations in the complaint through the exercise of reasonable diligence prior to 2011. In this case, neither the unsealed grand jury testimony nor the amended complaint conclusively establish that Trinity would have discovered evidence to verify the allegations that federal law enforcement officials maliciously instigated the case despite a lack of probable cause. Accordingly, the court reversed as to this issue. The court concluded, however, that collateral estoppel is not applicable in this case. The court affirmed as to this issue.