329 F.3d 463 (6th Cir. 2003), 00-4033, Dotson v. Wilkinson

Docket Nº:00-4033
Citation:329 F.3d 463
Party Name:Dotson v. Wilkinson
Case Date:May 19, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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329 F.3d 463 (6th Cir. 2003)

William Dwight DOTSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Reginald A. WILKINSON, Defendant-Appellee.

Rogerico Johnson, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Margarette Ghee, Defendant-Appellee.

Nos. 00-4033, 00-4051.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

May 19, 2003


Argued and Submitted: Dec. 11, 2002.

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William Dwight Dotson, Mansfield, OH, pro se.

John Q. Lewis (argued and briefed), Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, Cleveland, OH, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Rogerico J. Johnson, Youngstown, OH, pro se.

J. Eric Holloway, Asst. U.S. Atty., Office of Attorney General, Corrections Litigation Section, Columbus, OH, Todd R. Marti (argued and briefed), Office of Attorney General, Corrections Litigation Section, Columbus, OH, for Defendants-Appellees.


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BOYCE F. MARTIN, JR., C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which BOGGS, DAUGHTREY, MOORE, COLE, and CLAY, JJ., joined. GILMAN, J. (pp. 472-479), delivered a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BATCHELDER, GIBBONS, and ROGERS, JJ., joined.


BOYCE F. MARTIN, JR., Chief Circuit Judge.

Rogerico Johnson and William Dwight Dotson appeal the dismissal of their individual 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against the Ohio Adult Parole Authority. The claims asserted improprieties in the respective plaintiffs' parole proceedings. These claims were dismissed as not cognizable under section 1983, according to the rule of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994). The district courts ruled that these claims were cognizable only under a petition for habeas corpus because they necessarily implied the invalidity of the prisoners' confinement. For the following reasons, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and find that certain prisoner claims are cognizable under section 1983.

In April of 1999, Rogerico Johnson, who was incarcerated in the state of Ohio, had an initial parole hearing. According to the Ohio Code, the parole hearing must be conducted by the Parole Board or by at least one member of the Parole Board and one Parole Board Hearing Officer. In Johnson's case, the hearing was conducted by one Parole Board member alone. At the hearing, that member of the Parole Board did not allow Johnson to speak on his own behalf, although the Code requires that she consider his oral or written statements. She did not ask Johnson any questions; Johnson was not allowed to ask any questions. The Parole Board member based her decision to deny parole on two alleged convictions for which Johnson was never even charged, in violation of the Code's permissible considerations.

Johnson claims that his due process rights were violated by this parole hearing. He filed a section 1983 claim challenging the parole hearing, not the denial of parole. He sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court dismissed Johnson's suit for failure to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), finding that Heck precluded his claim. Johnson alleges that this challenge is cognizable under section 1983 and that the district court erred in dismissing his complaint.

William Dwight Dotson was convicted in Ohio in 1981 of aggravated murder. Under the regulations in place at the time, he was not eligible for parole for fifteen years. If he were denied parole at that point, the Parole Board would be required to give him another hearing within five years. Dotson was denied parole initially, and the Parole Board set his next hearing for ten years later, with a halfway point evaluation in five years. This plan complied with the regulations in effect when Dotson was sentenced.

Before that five years lapsed, however, the Ohio regulations changed, and the new parole rules said that a prisoner convicted of aggravated murder was not eligible for parole for more than thirty-two years. Dotson attended his halfway review, scheduled under the regulations in place at the time of his initial incarceration. At that review, however, the Parole Board decided the new rules applied retroactively, and the Parole Board announced that Dotson would not be eligible for parole until 2007. They nevertheless kept the 2005 date scheduled for Dotson's next hearing. The Parole Board made a determination about Dotson's parole eligibility,

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not about his parole suitability, as was required by the old regulations.

Dotson filed suit under section 1983, alleging violations within the parole hearing procedures. The district court dismissed Dotson's claim, stating it was not cognizable under section 1983.

When a district court dismisses a case or claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), this court reviews such dismissal de novo. McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 1997). The grant of a motion for summary judgment is also reviewed de novo, and this court applies the same standard the district court applied. See Perry v. McGinnis, 209 F.3d 597, 600 (6th Cir. 2000).

Federal habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is the exclusive avenue for challenging the fact or duration of a prisoner's confinement, but civil rights actions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are available to challenge the conditions of that confinement, according to the Supreme Court. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973). The cases before this en banc court today involve the intersection of these two provisions. It is our task to determine under what circumstances a prisoner may use a section 1983 action, rather than a habeas corpus petition, to challenge the procedures used in his parole hearing.

Five somewhat confusing Supreme Court cases govern the issue here, and our sister circuits have struggled with application of their holdings. We have struggled as well, as evidenced by the conflicting opinions, mostly unpublished, of this court thus far. We now seek to clarify the conflict.

The oldest of the relevant Supreme Court cases is Preiser. 411 U.S. 475, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973). In this case, prisoners challenged a policy of deprivation of good-time credits after disciplinary hearings. Id. at 476-82, 93 S.Ct. 1827. The prisoners sought injunctive relief in the form of immediate restoration of the credits, which in every case would automatically result in the prisoners' immediate release from confinement. Id. at 477, 93 S.Ct. 1827. Because this action challenged the duration of their confinement, the Supreme Court held that "a state prisoner challenging his underlying conviction and sentence on federal constitutional grounds in a federal court is limited to habeas corpus." Id. at 489, 93 S.Ct. 1827.

As explained above, however, Preiser left open the possibility that a section 1983 claim might still lie. The Supreme Court said, "[I]f a state prisoner is seeking damages, he is attacking something other than the fact or length of his confinement, and he is seeking something other than immediate or more speedy release--the traditional purpose of habeas corpus." Id. at 494, 93 S.Ct. 1827. The Court went on to say, "Accordingly, ... a damages action by a state prisoner could be brought under the Civil Rights Act in federal court without any requirement of prior exhaustion of state remedies." Id. (emphasis added).

After imagining a prisoner's claim that might be cognizable under section 1983 in Preiser, the Supreme Court decided in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 554-55, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974), that a section 1983 claim for damages based on a challenge to the procedures employed by the state in imposing sanctions on a prisoner, including the loss of good-time credits for flagrant or serious misconduct, was in fact cognizable. The suit was a class action, and it issued a general challenge to the procedures employed by the state. The Court said, "[I]t was proper for the [courts] to determine the validity of the procedures for revoking good-time credits

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and to fashion appropriate remedies for any constitutional violations ascertained, short of ordering the actual restoration of good time already cancelled." The Court recognized the section 1983 claim.

After a long period of silence on the matter, the Court decided Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994). In Heck, a prisoner claimed that the defendants, state prosecutors and investigators, had engaged in an unlawful investigation of him that led to his unlawful arrest and prosecution. He sought compensatory and punitive damages but not release from custody or other injunctive relief. Nevertheless, because the Court found that Heck was actually testing the reliability and legality of his confinement, his claim was not cognizable under section 1983. Id. at 481-82, 114 S.Ct. 2364.

The Court sought to further clarify the question, however. Citing the Preiser quote above, that seeking damages is not challenging one's confinement, the Supreme Court said, "That statement may not be true, however, when establishing the basis for the damages claim necessarily demonstrates the invalidity of the conviction." Id. at 481, 93 S.Ct. 1827. The Supreme Court went on to limit the use of section 1983 for prisoner claims, stating at 486-87, 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 corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that...

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