Tucker v. Smith, et al (INMATE 1)
ORDER that: 1. Plaintiff's 5 Objection is OVERRULED; 2. The 4 Recommendation is ADOPTED; 3. Plaintiff's 1983 claims against Lt. Harold Smith and Sgt. Glover Goodrich are DISMISSED with prejudice; and 4. To the extent Plaintiff may have a 1983 claim in the future against a different state entity based on these same facts, his claim is DISMISSED without prejudice. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 4/24/2017. (dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MICHAEL LEONARD TUCKER,
SR., AIS # 307805,
LT. HAROLD SMITH & SGT.
CASE NO. 3:17-CV-120-WKW
On March 17, 2017, the Magistrate Judge filed a Recommendation (Doc. # 4)
to which Plaintiff timely objected (Doc. # 5). Upon an independent and de novo
review of the record and Recommendation, Plaintiff’s objection is due to be
overruled, and the Magistrate Judge’s Recommendation is due to be adopted.
Plaintiff fundamentally misunderstands the Recommendation. Plaintiff’s 42
U.S.C. § 1983 action seeks damages based on the allegation that two police officers
committed perjury at Plaintiff’s murder trial. For two reasons, Plaintiff cannot
succeed. First, the United States Supreme Court squarely has held that “witnesses
are absolutely immune from damages liability based on their testimony.” Briscoe v.
LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 326 (1983). Thus, to the extent Plaintiff seeks damages from
the alleged perjurers, he cannot win.
Second, even to the extent Plaintiff may be able to sue another state entity for
his alleged wrongful conviction and incarceration, his suit puts the cart before the
horse. If true, the perjury allegations would call into question the validity of
Plaintiff’s conviction. Thus, the Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal not
because “there is no proof” to support Plaintiff’s claim (see Doc. # 5), as Plaintiff
suggests, but because this sort of claim is “not cognizable in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983
action ‘unless and until the conviction or sentence is reversed, expunged,
invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a writ of habeas corpus.’” (Doc. # 4, at 3
(quoting Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994)).)
Section 1983 allows plaintiffs to sue for damages that result from federal
rights violations committed by state actors like the police. However, to bring a
§ 1983 suit for a violation that bears on the validity of a state conviction, a plaintiff
must first challenge the conviction itself. Put simply, as long as the conviction
remains legally intact, a party cannot win a damages award that implies the invalidity
of that conviction.1 After exhausting all state court remedies (that is, after appealing
the conviction to the state’s highest court and losing), the first step in the process is
to challenge the conviction in federal court by filing a petition for a writ of habeas
See Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 (“[W]hen a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the
district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply
the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless
the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.”).
corpus. If Plaintiff succeeds in that action, then (and only then) may he bring a civil
action for damages under § 1983.
The Supreme Court was clear in Heck:
We hold that, in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional
conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a
§ 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been
reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared
invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or
called into question by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas
512 U.S. at 486–87. Because Plaintiff’s conviction has not been invalidated by any
of the means mentioned in Heck, his § 1983 claim cannot survive.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that:
Plaintiff’s objection (Doc. # 5) is OVERRULED;
The Recommendation (Doc. # 4) is ADOPTED;
Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against Lt. Harold Smith and Sgt. Glover
Goodrich are DISMISSED with prejudice; and
To the extent Plaintiff may have a § 1983 claim in the future against a
different state entity based on these same facts, his claim is DISMISSED without
DONE this 24th day of April, 2017.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?