107 F.3d 380 (6th Cir. 1997), 95-3885, Chatman v. Slagle

Docket Nº:95-3885.
Citation:107 F.3d 380
Party Name:Ronnie L. CHATMAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. James SLAGLE, Defendant, Richard Unger, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:February 19, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 380

107 F.3d 380 (6th Cir. 1997)

Ronnie L. CHATMAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,


James SLAGLE, Defendant,

Richard Unger, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 95-3885.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

February 19, 1997

Argued Sept. 27, 1996.

Allan Scott Fisher, Toledo, OH, William L. Davis (argued and briefed), Lexington, KY, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Allen P. Adler, Asst. Attorney Gen. (argued and briefed), Columbus, OH, for Defendant-Appellant.

Before: SUHRHEINRICH and MOORE, Circuit Judges; McKINLEY, District Judge. [*]

Page 381

MOORE, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellee Ronnie L. Chatman successfully sued Ohio State Trooper Richard Unger under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an illegal search which resulted in his arrest on drug charges. Unger appeals, arguing that Chatman presented insufficient evidence of injury under the applicable law and that the criminal procedure doctrine of inevitable discovery should bar recovery. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.


The district court had jurisdiction over this federal claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. We have jurisdiction over this timely appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.


On November 9, 1992, Ohio State Highway Patrol Troopers James Slagle and Richard Unger stopped plaintiff-appellee Ronnie Chatman for speeding on Interstate 75 in Perrysburg Township, Ohio. 2 When the two troopers approached the car they smelled beer and asked Chatman and the front-seat passenger, David Clay, to step out of the car. Chatman complied but Clay remained seated and put his hand in his coat pocket. Trooper Slagle, after repeatedly asking Clay to take his hand out of his pocket, and apparently concerned that the man might be armed, grabbed Clay and struggled with him, eventually forcing Clay's hand from his pocket and discovering 15 grams of crack cocaine in a small plastic bag. The troopers arrested and searched Clay, who was carrying $1,340 in his pocket.

Trooper Unger then frisked Chatman. He found no weapons but took Chatman's wallet, opened it, and found two plastic bags containing approximately one gram of powder cocaine. He then handcuffed Chatman's hands behind his back, pushed his head over his car, and told him "I am tired of you people" and to "Shut up." 3 Tr. at 81.

The troopers then searched the car and found a loaded pistol under the front passenger seat and numerous small plastic bags. Chatman and Clay were taken to the county jail, where Chatman remained for three days. A state court convicted Clay of aggravated drug trafficking and sentenced him to one year in prison. Chatman was charged with a drug offense, but the cocaine found in his wallet was suppressed as the product of an illegal search, and all charges were dismissed. 4 Chatman was never given a citation or arrested for speeding, driving under the influence, or on any weapons charges.

Chatman brought this suit against Unger and Slagle, claiming that the troopers had violated his right to be "secure ... against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. CONST. amend. IV. At trial, the defendants repeatedly asked the district court to grant judgment as a matter of law on a novel theory: if the troopers had searched the passenger compartment of the car pursuant to arresting Clay, they would have discovered the gun and would then have arrested Chatman. They would then have conducted an inventory search of Chatman's wallet and found the cocaine. Therefore, argued the defendants, the cocaine should have been admitted in Chatman's state criminal trial under the inevitable discovery doctrine. See Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 440-48, 104 S.Ct. 2501, 2507-11, 81 L.Ed.2d 377 (1984); United States v. Kennedy, 61 F.3d 494, 497 (6th Cir.1995) ("The inevitable discovery doctrine,

Page 382

an exception to the exclusionary rule, allows unlawfully obtained evidence to be admitted at trial if the government can prove by a preponderance that the evidence inevitably would have been acquired through lawful means.") (citing Nix ). Had the prosecutor at the state trial argued the inevitable discovery doctrine, the cocaine would have been admitted and Chatman would have been convicted of a drug offense. This conviction would then, according to the state, have served to bar Chatman from filing a § 1983 claim against the officers under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994).

The district court accepted this creative theory but held that the question of whether or not the officers would inevitably have discovered the cocaine was a question of fact for the jury to decide. The case was submitted to the jury, which returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff against Trooper Unger, who was ordered to pay $8,500 in compensatory damages. 5 Unger appeals this judgment.


  1. Applicability of the Inevitable Discovery Doctrine in

    Civil Rights Cases

    Appellant's first argument is that the district court should have granted judgment as a matter of law based on Nix and Heck. We need not address the factual basis for this argument because it is clear to us that the inevitable discovery doctrine is no bar to a § 1983 suit when there has been no prior state trial.

    The Supreme Court in Heck held that "when 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." Heck, 512 U.S. at 487, 114 S.Ct. at 2372. This rule rests not on an abstract notion that a conviction somehow erases the harm done by unconstitutional state action, but on the concrete principle that a prisoner may not circumvent the procedural hurdles of modern habeas corpus law by using § 1983 to bring what is essentially a habeas petition. See id. at 478, 114 S.Ct. at 2368 ("This case presents the question whether a state prisoner may challenge the constitutionality of his conviction in a suit for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983."); id. at 486, 114 S.Ct. at 2372 ("[C]ivil tort actions are not appropriate vehicles for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments."); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 490, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 1836, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973) ("Congress has determined that habeas corpus [28 U.S.C. § 2254] is the appropriate remedy for state prisoners attacking the validity of the fact or length of their confinement, and that specific determination must override the general terms of § 1983."). Heck extends the Preiser rule to include § 1983 suits which request monetary, rather than injunctive, relief, for reasons of finality, consistency, and comity. Heck, 512 U.S. at 484, 114 S.Ct. at...

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