D. New Jersey Discusses Split Re: Availability of Damages in § 1983 Suit Where State Criminal Proceedings Still Pending

Per Muldrow v. Defazio, 2007 WL 496813 (D. N.J. Feb. 13, 2007):

Here, the Court must determine whether Muldrow may recover damages in a § 1983 suit on the basis of an allegedly illegal search and seizure while his state criminal proceedings precipitating the subject search and seizure are currently pending. The Court first looks to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), in which the Supreme Court barred any suit for damages premised on a civil rights violation if the basis for the suit is inconsistent with or would undermine the lawfulness of a conviction or sentence. . . .

Specifically addressing, albeit in dicta, whether a § 1983 suit, for damages attributable to an allegedly unreasonable search, would lie in advance of a judicial determination of the invalidity of the related conviction, the Supreme Court said, ["]For example, a suit for damages attributable to an allegedly unreasonable search may lie even if the challenged search produced evidence that was introduced in a state criminal trial resulting in the § 1983 plaintiff's still-outstanding conviction. Because of doctrines like independent source and inevitable discovery, and especially harmless error, such a § 1983 action, even if successful, would not necessarily imply that the plaintiff's conviction was unlawful. In order to recover compensatory damages, however, the § 1983 plaintiff must prove not only that the search was unlawful, but that it caused him actual, compensable injury, which, we hold today, does not encompass the “injury” of being convicted and imprisoned (until his conviction has been overturned).["] Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n. 7.

The circuits are split as to the proper interpretation of footnote seven. At least three circuits have held that footnote seven creates a general exception to Heck for Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure claims. See, e.g., Copus v.. City of Edgerton, 151 F.3d 646, 648 (7th Cir.1998); Simmons v. O'Brien, 77 F.3d 1093, 1095 (8th Cir.1996); Datz v. Kilgore, 51 F.3d 252, 253 n. 1 (11th Cir.1995). Other circuits permit such claims to go forward only after the district court makes an individualized determination that a favorable ruling in that case would not undermine the related criminal conviction or pending criminal proceedings. See, e.g., Ballenger v. Owens, 352 F.3d 842 (4th Cir.2003); Harvey v. Waldron, 210 F.3d 1008 (9th Cir.2000); Shamaeizadeh v. Cunigan, 182 F.3d 391 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1021 (1999); Hudson v. Hughes, 98 F.3d 868, 872 (5th Cir.1996); Woods v. Candela, 47 F.3d 545, 546 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 808 (1995). Cf. Beck v. City of Muskogee Police Dept., 195 F.3d 553, 559 n. 4 (10th Cir.1999)(generally disagreeing with courts that make an individualized determination, but noting that the case before it was not the “rare situation ... where all evidence was obtained as a result of an illegal arrest”).

Recently, the Third Circuit concluded that a Fourth Amendment claim can be brought under § 1983, even without favorable termination, if the district court determines that success on the claim would not necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction. Gibson v. Superintendent of New Jersey Dept. of Law and Public Safety, 411 F.3d 427, 435-39 (2005), cert. denied, 126 S.Ct. 1571 (2006). However, in those cases in which a district court determines that success on the § 1983 claim would imply the invalidity of the conviction, the cause of action is deferred until the conviction is overturned pursuant to Heck. Id. Adopting a fact-based approach to interpreting footnote seven of Heck, the Third Circuit stated: ["]... under Heck, a district court is required only to make a threshold determination as to whether a plaintiff's § 1983 claim, if successful, would have the hypothetical effect of rendering the criminal conviction or sentence invalid. If this threshold is satisfied, the district court's analysis is at an end, and the Heck deferred accrual rule is triggered.["] Id. at 451.


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