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Heck v. Humphrey

Supreme Court of the United States

April 18, 1994, Argued ; June 24, 1994, Decided

No. 93-6188


 [*478]  [***389]  [**2368]    JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

 This case presents the question whether a state [****5]  prisoner may challenge the constitutionality of his conviction in a suit for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Petitioner Roy Heck was convicted in Indiana state court of voluntary manslaughter for the killing of Rickie Heck, his wife, and is serving a 15-year sentence in an Indiana prison. While the appeal from his conviction was pending, petitioner,  [*479]  proceeding pro se, filed this suit in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 2 naming as defendants respondents James Humphrey and Robert Ewbank, Dearborn County prosecutors, and Michael Krinoph, an investigator with the Indiana State Police. The complaint alleged that respondents, acting under color of state law, had engaged in an "unlawful, unreasonable, and arbitrary investigation" leading to petitioner's arrest; "knowingly destroyed" evidence "which was exculpatory in nature and could have proved [petitioner's] innocence"; and caused "an illegal and unlawful voice identification procedure" to be used at petitioner's trial. App. 5-6. The complaint sought, among other things, compensatory and punitive monetary damages. It did not ask for injunctive relief, and petitioner has  [***390]  not sought release [****6]  from custody in this action.

The District Court dismissed the action without prejudice, because the issues it raised "directly implicate the legality of [petitioner's] confinement," id., at 13. While petitioner's appeal to the Seventh Circuit was pending, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence on direct appeal, Heck v. State, 552 N.E.2d 446, 449 (Ind. 1990); his first petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court was dismissed because it contained unexhausted claims;  [****7]  and his second federal habeas petition was denied, and the denial affirmed by the Seventh Circuit.

 When the Seventh Circuit reached petitioner's appeal from dismissal of his § 1983 complaint, it affirmed the judgment and approved the reasoning of the District Court: "If, regardless of the relief sought, the plaintiff [in a federal civil  [*480]  rights action] is challenging the legality of his conviction, [3] so that if he won his case the state  [**2369]  would be obliged to release him even if he hadn't sought that relief, the suit is classified as an application for habeas corpus and the plaintiff must exhaust his state remedies, on pain of dismissal if he fails to do so." 997 F.2d 355, 357 (1993). Heck filed a petition for certiorari, which we granted. 510 U.S. 1068 (1994).

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512 U.S. 477 *; 114 S. Ct. 2364 **; 129 L. Ed. 2d 383 ***; 1994 U.S. LEXIS 4824 ****; 62 U.S.L.W. 4594; 94 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4755; 94 Daily Journal DAR 8793



Disposition: 997 F.2d 355, affirmed.


damages, confinement, state prisoner, common law, invalidated, sentence, common-law, probable cause, rights, federal court, habeas corpus, convicted, exhaustion, cases, malicious prosecution, cause of action, state court, immunity, analogy, tort of malicious prosecution, malicious-prosecution, challenging, arrest, abuse of process, civil rights, deprivation, required to exhaust, claim for damages, district court, seek damages

Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Section 1983 Actions, Scope, Civil Procedure, Judgments, Preclusion of Judgments, Res Judicata, General Overview, Procedural Matters, Federal Versus State Law, Exhaustion Doctrine, Criminal Law & Procedure, Procedural Defenses, Exhaustion of Remedies, Prerequisites, Labor & Employment Law, Collective Bargaining & Labor Relations, Enforcement of Bargaining Agreements, Exhaustion of Remedies, Habeas Corpus, Procedure, Exclusivity, Jurisdiction, Cognizable Issues, Postconviction Proceedings, Imprisonment, Torts, Types of Damages, Compensatory Damages, Preliminary Proceedings, Arraignments, Procedural Matters, Intentional Torts, Malicious Prosecution, Elements, Favorable Termination, Abuse of Process, Sentences, Remedies, Damages, Expungement of Convictions, Justiciability, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Federal Common Law, Full Faith & Credit