Section 1983 Litigation/Exhaustion of State Remedies: Preiser-Heck Doctrine, Notice of Claim, and Ripeness
State Judicial Remedies: Parratt-Hudson Doctrine[edit | edit source]
State judicial remedies generally need not be exhausted in order to bring a § 1983 action. “The federal [§ 1983] remedy is supplementary to the state remedy, and the latter need not be first sought and refused before the federal one is invoked.” When a § 1983 plaintiff has pursued a state judicial remedy, or was an involuntary state court litigant (such as a criminal defendant), the state court judgment may be entitled to preclusive effect in the § 1983 action.
Under the Parratt-Hudson doctrine, when a deprivation of liberty or property results from “random and unauthorized” official conduct, the availability of an adequate postdeprivation judicial remedy satisfies procedural due process. The Parratt-Hudson doctrine does not apply when the deprivation results from enforcement of the established state procedure, or from actions by officials with authority to both cause deprivations and provide predeprivation process. Parratt-Hudson is not an exhaustion doctrine; when applicable, it results in rejection of procedural due process claims on the merits, not for failure to exhaust. Even when the Parratt-Hudson doctrine does not apply, a § 1983 plaintiff who asserts a procedural due process claim has the burden of showing the inadequacy of the available state remedies.
In District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, the § 1983 complaint asserted substantive and procedural due process rights to postconviction access to evidence for DNA testing. The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff was not required to “exhaust state-law remedies”; but to prevail on his procedural due process claim, he had the “burden to demonstrate the inadequacy of the state-law procedures available to him in state postconviction relief. These procedures are adequate on their face, and without trying them, Osborne can hardly complain that they do not work in practice.” A postdeprivation remedy may be adequate under Parratt-Hudson even if it does not afford all of the relief available under § 1983, such as an award of attorneys’ fees.
Preiser, Heck, and Beyond[edit | edit source]
In Preiser v. Rodriguez, the Supreme Court held that a prisoner’s constitutional claim challenging the fact or duration of confinement and seeking immediate or speedier release must be brought under federal habeas corpus, following exhaustion of state remedies, even though such a claim may come within the literal terms of § 1983. In these circumstances, federal habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy. The Court reasoned that the more specific federal habeas remedy should prevail over the more general § 1983 remedy, and that prisoners should not be allowed to evade the federal habeas exhaustion requirement by filing the claim under § 1983.
Procedural Due Process and Conditions of Confinement[edit | edit source]
The decision in Preiser, however, does not preclude prisoners from utilizing § 1983 either to enforce procedural due process protections or to challenge the conditions of their confinement. In Wilkinson v. Dotson, the Supreme Court held that the prisoners’ challenge to parole release procedures could be asserted under § 1983 because the prisoners sought only enhanced process; they did not challenge either the fact or length of their confinement, and did not seek immediate or speedier release. If successful, the plaintiffs, at most, could obtain new parole release hearings. In Nelson v. Campbell, the Court held that a death row inmate may assert a § 1983 challenge to the constitutionality of a medical procedure that would have been a precursor to his lethal injection. The Court viewed the claim as a “condition of confinement” medical treatment claim. It did not decide whether a challenge to the method of execution itself, e.g., lethal injection, may be asserted under § 1983.
Claims for Damages (Heck v. Humphrey)[edit | edit source]
In Heck v. Humphrey, the Supreme Court held that a plaintiff who seeks damages on a § 1983 claim that necessarily implicates the constitutionality of the claimant’s state conviction or sentence must demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has been overturned, either judicially or by executive order. Strictly speaking, the Heck doctrine is not an exhaustion doctrine; in fact, it is more onerous than an exhaustion requirement because, unless and until the conviction is overturned, the § 1983 claim is not cognizable. However, sometimes the Heck doctrine can work in a § 1983 plaintiff’s favor by delaying the accrual of the class for relief for statute of limitations purposes.
In Nelson v. Campbell, the Supreme Court said that it was
careful in Heck to stress the importance of the term “necessarily.” For instance, we acknowledged that an inmate could bring a challenge to the lawfulness of a search pursuant to § 1983 in the first instance even if the search revealed evidence used to convict the inmate at trial, because success on the merits would not “necessarily imply that plaintiff’s conviction was unlawful.”
Lower courts sometimes have a difficult time determining whether a § 1983 claim “necessarily implicates” the validity of a conviction. For example, it is not always clear whether, under the Heck doctrine, a § 1983 excessive force claim necessarily implicates a conviction for such crimes as resisting arrest, assault or battery of an officer, or obstructing an officer. Resolution of the issue requires a careful analysis of the specific facts alleged in the § 1983 excessive force complaint in relation to the specific crime for which the plaintiff was convicted.
Skinner v. Switzer[edit | edit source]
In Skinner v. Switzer, the Supreme Court, relying heavily on Wilkinson v. Dotson, held that the Heck doctrine did not bar a convicted state prisoner from asserting a procedural due process right of access to evidence for the purpose of postconviction DNA testing under § 1983. Such a claim is not required to be asserted in a habeas corpus proceeding.
The Court reasoned that similar to the procedural due process claim in Wilkinson, “a postconviction [procedural due process] claim for DNA testing is properly pursued in a § 1983 action” because “[s]uccess in the suit gains for the prisoner only access to the DNA evidence, which may prove exculpatory, inculpatory, or inconclusive. In no event will a judgment that simply orders DNA tests ‘necessarily impl[y] the unlawfulness of the State’s custody.’” Although success on the claim for DNA testing might further Skinner’s ultimate aim of overturning his conviction, there is no authority that “habeas corpus [i]s the sole remedy, or even an available one, whe[n] the relief sought” will not lead to immediate or speedier release from custody.
Heck and Accrual of Claim[edit | edit source]
The Heck doctrine has implications for the statute of limitations, because a § 1983 claim that necessarily implicates the validity of a conviction or sentence is not cognizable and thus does not accrue until the conviction has been overturned. Over time, Heck has become a more important precedent than Preiser and is asserted in large numbers of § 1983 actions.
In Wallace v. Kato, the Supreme Court indicated that whether a § 1983 claim attacks the validity of a conviction within the meaning of the Heck doctrine should be evaluated as of the date the § 1983 claim accrued. In Wallace, the plaintiff’s § 1983 challenge to his warrantless arrest accrued on the date he was bound over for trial, which was long before he was convicted. On that date, there was obviously no conviction that could be attacked. In other words, as the Court expressly acknowledged, the Heck doctrine does not encompass future convictions. The Court said that the “impracticability” of applying Heck to future convictions was “obvious,” i.e., it would invite speculation about whether there will be a conviction and, if so, whether the federal § 1983 action would impugn the conviction.
Prison Disciplinary Sanctions[edit | edit source]
In Edwards v. Balisok, the Supreme Court held that the Preiser-Heck doctrine applies to prisoner procedural due process claims that necessarily implicate the validity of a prison disciplinary sanction. The plaintiff in Edwards alleged that he was denied an opportunity to defend the disciplinary charges because of the hearing officer’s deceit and bias. The Court held that this claim was subject to Heck because the alleged procedural defect, if established, would necessarily imply the invalidity of the sanctioned deprivation of good-time credits. On the other hand, in Muhammad v. Close, the Court held that a prisoner’s challenge to some aspect of a prison disciplinary proceeding that does not implicate either the finding of “guilt” or the disciplinary sanction is not governed by the Heck doctrine. The prisoner in Muhammad challenged, under § 1983, his prehearing lockup, but did not challenge his disciplinary conviction or sanction. Because the § 1983 complaint did not contest either the disciplinary conviction or sanction, it was not subject to Heck.
When Habeas Is Not Available[edit | edit source]
In Spencer v. Kemna, five justices in concurring and dissenting opinions took the position that the Heck doctrine does not apply to § 1983 claimants who are not in state custody and who therefore cannot seek relief in a federal habeas corpus proceeding. The lower courts are in conflict over whether the positions of these five justices should be viewed as binding precedent.
State Administrative Remedies; PLRA[edit | edit source]
Plaintiffs Generally Not Required to Exhaust State Administrative Remedies[edit | edit source]
In Patsy v. Board of Regents, the Supreme Court held that state administrative remedies need not be exhausted in order to bring suit under § 1983. The Court reasoned that individuals should not have to seek relief from the state and local authorities against whom § 1983 guarantees immediate judicial access. As with state judicial remedies, a § 1983 plaintiff who asserts a procedural due process claim may have to pursue state administrative remedies in order to demonstrate their inadequacy.
PLRA Exhaustion Requirement[edit | edit source]
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires prisoners to exhaust “available” administrative remedies before bringing suit to contest the conditions of their confinement. The PLRA exhaustion requirement has generated a tremendous amount of decisional law.
In Booth v. Churner, the Supreme Court held that prisoners who seek money damages judicially must satisfy the PLRA exhaustion requirement even when the available administrative procedures do not afford a monetary remedy, so long as some type of relief is available administratively. In Porter v. Nussle, the Court held that prisoner excessive force claims are challenges to conditions of confinement, and thus subject to the PLRA exhaustion requirement. It found “that the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.”
In Woodford v. Ngo, the Supreme Court held that the PLRA requirement is not satisfied by the filing of an untimely or otherwise procedurally defective administrative grievance. Rather, the PLRA requires “proper exhaustion,” i.e., the prisoner’s grievance must be in compliance with the agency’s deadlines and other procedural rules. The Court left open the possibility of an exception for cases in which “prisons might create procedural requirements for the purpose of tripping up all but the most skillful prisoners.” It also noted that “the PLRA exhaustion requirement is not jurisdictional, and thus allow[s] a district court to dismiss plainly meritless claims without first addressing what may be a much more complex question, namely, whether the prisoner did in fact properly exhaust available administrative remedies.”
In Jones v. Bock, the Supreme Court held that the prisoner is not required to plead compliance with the PLRA exhaustion requirement. Rather, failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense. The Court also held that exhaustion is not per se inadequate merely because a prison official sued in the § 1983 action was not named in the administrative grievance. It acknowledged, however, that under Woodford, prisoners must comply with the grievance procedures, and that a grievance procedure may require the prisoner to name a particular official. “The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison’s requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Finally, the Court held that the PLRA does not require dismissal of the entire action when “the prisoner has failed to exhaust some, but not all of the claims asserted in the complaint.” A “total exhaustion” rule could have the unwholesome effect of inmates filing more separate lawsuits “to avoid the possibility of an unexhausted claim tainting the others. That would certainly not comport with the purpose of the PLRA to reduce the quantity of inmate suits.” Factual issues pertaining to the PLRA exhaustion requirement are for the court.
When a prisoner’s § 1983 complaint is dismissed for failure to satisfy the PLRA exhaustion requirement, dismissal should almost always be without prejudice so that it does not bar reinstatement of the suit after exhaustion is satisfied.
Notice of Claim[edit | edit source]
In Felder v. Casey, the Supreme Court held that state notice-of-claim rules may not be applied to § 1983 claims. Because a notice-of-claim rule is not one of those universally recognized rules necessary for fair procedure, like a limitation defense or a survivorship rule, the absence of a federal notice-of-claim rule is not a “deficiency” in the federal law requiring resort to state law under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(a). Furthermore, the Court found that state notice-of-claim rules unduly burden and discriminate against civil rights claimants, and impose an exhaustion requirement incompatible with the Patsy rule that a § 1983 plaintiff is not required to exhaust state administrative remedies. However, it acknowledged that state notice-ofclaim rules may be applied to state law claims that are supplemental to § 1983 claims.
Ripeness[edit | edit source]
In Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, the Supreme Court imposed stringent two-prong ripeness requirements for § 1983 regulatory takings claims in which the plaintiff claims that her property was taken without just compensation. First, the plaintiff must obtain a final determination from land use authorities concerning the permissible use of the property. This requirement is satisfied when the permissible uses of the property are known to a reasonable degree of certainty. Second, the plaintiff must obtain a final determination from the state court of the right to just compensation. In the process of satisfying the second requirement, normal preclusion principles will apply in the federal § 1983 action. The interplay of ripeness and preclusion is a potentially lethal “catch-22” for § 1983 takings claimants.
References[edit | edit source]
- Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 183 (1961).
- See infra Chapter 18.
- Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 532 (1984); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 541 (1981).
- See supra Chapter 4, § III.E.
- Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422, 436 (1982).
- Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 135–36 (1990).
- 557 U.S. 52 (2009).
- Id. at 71 (citation omitted). See also Christiansen v. W. Branch Cmty. Sch. Dist., 674 F.3d 927, 935–36 (8th Cir. 2012) (§ 1983 plaintiff who asserts right to postdeprivation process must pursue available postdeprivation remedies).
- Parratt, 451 U.S. at 544.
- 411 U.S. 475 (1973).
- 544 U.S. 74 (2005).
- 541 U.S. 637 (2004).
- Id. at 644. See also Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 580–81 (2006) (constitutional challenge to three-drug sequence used to execute by lethal injection may be brought under § 1983).
- In Baze v. Rees, 128 S. Ct. 1520 (2008), the Supreme Court held, in a declaratory judgment action, that Kentucky’s three-drug protocol for carrying out the death penalty by lethal injection did not violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
- 512 U.S. 477 (1994).
- 541 U.S. 637 (2001).
- Id. at 647 (quoting Heck, 512 U.S. at 487).
- See Hooper v. Cnty. of San Diego, 629 F.3d 1127, 1134 (9th Cir. 2011) (noting that most circuit courts hold § 1983 excessive force claims do not necessarily imply invalidity of conviction for resisting arrest or peace officer or the like; also noting, however, that to extent state law “under which a conviction is obtained differs, the answer to the Heck question could also differ”).
- 131 S. Ct. 1289 (2011).
- 544 U.S. 74 (2005), discussed at note 1362 and accompanying text.
- Skinner, 131 S. Ct. at 1293 (quoting Wilkinson, 544 U.S. at 81).
- Id. at 1299. Skinner rejected the defendants’ argument that allowing the suit to be brought under § 1983 will lead to a proliferation of other such § 1983 suits.
In the Circuits that currently allow § 1983 claims for DNA testing, no evidence tendered by [defendant] shows any litigation flood or even rainfall. The projected toll on federal courts is all the more implausible regarding DNA testing claims, for Osborne has rejected substantive due process as a basis for such claims.
Id. (internal references omitted). Further, the Prison Litigation Reform Act “has placed a series of controls on prisoner suits, constraints designed to prevent sportive filings in federal court.” Id.
In dictum, the Court opined that in contrast to a “DNA access to evidence” claim, Brady claims are “within the traditional core of habeas corpus and outside the province of § 1983.” Id. at 1300 (citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 479 (1994); Amaker v. Weiner, 179 F.3d 48, 51 (2d Cir. 1999); Beck v. Muskagee Police Dept., 195 F.3d 553, 560 (10th Cir. 1999)). A Brady claim requires a showing that the state suppressed evidence material to guilt or punishment. “[P]arties asserting Brady violations postconviction generally do seek a judgment qualifying them for ‘immediate or speedier release’ from imprisonment.” Skinner, 131 S. Ct. at 1300 (citing Wilkinson, 544 U.S. at 82).
- 549 U.S. 384 (2007).
- Id. at 393.
- 520 U.S. 641 (1997).
- Id. at 646.
- 540 U.S. 749 (2004).
- Id. at 754–55.
- 523 U.S. 1 (1998).
- The trend is to hold the Heck doctrine inapplicable in these circumstances. See Cohen v. Longshore, 621 F.3d 1311 (10th Cir. 2010); Morrow v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 610 F.3d 1271 (11th Cir. 2010); Wilson v. Johnson, 535 U.S. 262 (4th Cir. 2008).
- 457 U.S. 496 (1982).
- See, e.g., Santana v. City of Tulsa, 359 F.3d 1241, 1244 (10th Cir. 2004).
- 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (1996).
- 532 U.S. 731 (2001).
- 534 U.S. 516 (2002).
- Id. at 532.
- 548 U.S. 81 (2006).
- Id. at 102. In some cases courts have held that the PLRA exhaustion requirement should not apply when the failure to exhaust was not the prisoner’s fault. For example, when a prison official’s threats toward an inmate inhibit the inmate’s ability to pursue an administrative grievance procedure, the defendant should be estopped from asserting failure to exhaust. See, e.g., Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 688–90 (2d Cir. 2004). See also Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1085–86 (11th Cir. 2008); Ziemba v. Wezner, 366 F.3d 161, 163–64 (2d Cir. 2003). In addition, exhaustion is not required where administrative remedies are unavailable to an inmate for various reasons beyond the prisoner’s control. Little v. Jones, 607 F.3d 1245, 1250 (10th Cir. 2010); Nunez v. Duncan, 591 F.3d 1217, 1224– 26 (9th Cir. 2010); Giano v. Goard, 380 F.3d 670, 677 (2d Cir. 2004).
- Woodford, 548 U.S. at 101.
- 549 U.S. 199 (2007).
- Id. at 218.
- Id. at 219.
- Id. at 223.
- Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 741–42 (7th Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 1620 (2009). See also Messa v. Goord, 652 F.3d 305, 309 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Matters of judicial administration often require district judges to decide factual disputes that are not bound up with the merits of the underlying dispute.”); Drippe v. Tobelinski, 604 F.3d 778, 782 (3d Cir. 2010) (dictum); Dillon v. Rogers, 596 F.3d 260, 271 (5th Cir. 2010) (judge may resolve any factual issues pertaining to exhaustion, but “when courts rule on exhaustion on the basis of evidence beyond the pleadings, the non-moving party should be granted the protections of [the] Rule 56” summary judgment procedures); Bryan v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1373–76 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 733 (2008).
- Gallagher v. Shelton, 587 F.3d 1063, 1068 (10th Cir. 2009); Ford v. Johnson, 362 F.3d 395, 401 (7th Cir. 2004); Steele v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 355 F.3d 1204, 1212–13 (10th Cir. 2003); McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1200–01 (9th Cir. 2002); Wright v. Hollingsworth, 260 F.3d 357, 359 (5th Cir. 2001); Brown v. Tombs, 139 F.3d 1102, 1104 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 523 U.S. 833 (1998). See also Burrell v. Powers, 431 F.3d 282, 285 (7th Cir. 2005); Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1009 (7th Cir. 2002).
- 487 U.S. 131 (1988).
- Patsy v. Bd. of Regents, 457 U.S. 496 (1982).
- 473 U.S. 172 (1985).
- Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, 533 U.S. 606, 620 (2001).
- The Supreme Court has described this ripeness as “prudential” rather than “jurisdictional.” Suitum v. Tahoe Reg’l Planning Agency, 520 U.S. 725, 733–34 (1997).
- San Remo Hotel v. San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323, 337–38 (2005).
- See Knutson v. City of Fargo, 600 F.3d 992, 996–99 (8th Cir.) (preclusion barred plaintiffs’ takings claim), cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 357 (2010); Agripost, LLC v. Miami-Dade Cnty., 525 F.3d 1049, 1052 (11th Cir. 2008) (state court decision precluded § 1983 takings claim), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 1668 (2009); Trafalgar Corp. v. Miami Bd. of Comm’rs, 519 F.3d 285, 287–88 (6th Cir. 2008) (state court rejection of regulatory takings claim for just compensation precluded relitigation of that claim in federal court).