Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 93-6188. Argued April 18, 1994—Decided June 24, 1994

While petitioner Heck's direct appeal from an Indiana conviction was pending, he filed this suit under 42 U. S. C. 1983, seeking damages— but not injunctive relief or release from custody—on the claim that respondents, acting under color of state law, had engaged in unlawful acts that had led to his arrest and conviction. After the Federal District Court dismissed this action without prejudice, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld Heck's conviction and sentence, and his two petitions for federal habeas relief were rejected. The Court of Appeals then affirmed the dismissal of the 1983 complaint and approved the District Court's reasoning: If the plaintiff in a federal civil rights action is challenging the legality of his conviction, so that his victory would require his release even if he had not sought that relief, the suit must be classified as a habeas corpus action and dismissed if the plaintiff has failed to exhaust his state remedies.

Held: 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 corpus, 28 U. S. C. 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under 1983. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U. S. 475, 494, and Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U. S. 539, 554, distinguished. The foregoing conclusion follows upon recognition that the common law of torts provides the appropriate starting point for the 1983 inquiry, see Carey v. Piphus, 435 U. S. 247, 257-258; that the tort of malicious prosecution, which provides the closest analogy to claims of the type considered here, requires the allegation and proof of termination of the prior criminal proceeding in favor of the accused, see, e. g., Carpenter v. Nutter, 59 P. 301; and that this Court has long been concerned that judgments be final and consistent and has been disinclined to expand opportunities for collateral attack on criminal convictions, see, e. g., Parke v. Raley, 506 U. S. 20, 29-30. Although the issue in cases such as this is not, therefore, the exhaustion of state remedies,


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