538 F.3d 373 (5th Cir. 2008), 08-30163, Connors v. Graves

Docket Nº:08-30163
Citation:538 F.3d 373
Party Name:Shawn CONNORS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Willie GRAVES; Brian Smith; Ben Smith, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 04, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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538 F.3d 373 (5th Cir. 2008)

Shawn CONNORS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Willie GRAVES; Brian Smith; Ben Smith, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 08-30163

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

August 4, 2008

Page 374

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 375

Keith Michael Couture, Couture & Soileau, Mandeville, LA, for Connors.

Eric L. Pittman, Pittman Law Firm, APLC, Denham Springs, LA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Before HIGGINBOTHAM, SMITH and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.

HAYNES, Circuit Judge:

Shawn Connors appeals an adverse summary judgment on his excessive force, unlawful seizure, and conspiracy claims against law enforcement officers Ben Smith and Brian Smith and the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office through Sheriff Willie Graves. The district court determined that Connors could not pursue his claims against the defendants because they were entitled to qualified immunity. We affirm the district court's judgment, but we do so on different grounds than did the district court.1 We hold that Connors's civil claims are barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), because success on those claims would necessarily impugn Connors's state criminal convictions which arose from the same underlying facts.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

According to the defendants, Connors attempted to rob Hibernia Bank in Albany, Louisiana, failed in those attempts, and then fled the scene. Law enforcement officers, including officers Ben Smith and Brian Smith, pursued Connors's vehicle. During the pursuit, Connors allegedly fired his weapon at the officers. After numerous attempts to deflate the tires on Connors's vehicle failed, he traversed the median of the interstate and began traveling in the opposite direction. At this point, one of the officers fired his weapon, striking Connors in the forearm. Connors then swerved and struck an occupied vehicle.

Connors filed the present lawsuit seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 resulting from the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights by law enforcement officers acting under the color of state law. In proceedings before the district court in this case, Connors claimed that he never fired at the officers. He alleged that officers Ben Smith and Brian Smith deprived him of his constitutional rights to be free from excessive force and unlawful seizure. He also claimed that the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office, through Sheriff Willie Graves, acquiesced in and/or condoned this conduct. He also brought a conspiracy claim against the defendants related to this conduct. 2

The district court stayed Connors's claims pending resolution of state criminal charges arising from the same underlying conduct. Connors subsequently pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm from a

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motor vehicle under LA.REV.STAT. ANN. § 14:94(E) (1995), a felony under Louisiana law. See LA.CODE CRIM. PROC. ANN. art. 933(3). He also pleaded guilty to attempted simple burglary and negligent injury. Connors's counsel then informed the federal district court of Connors's guilty pleas, stating that “[t]his completes the criminal aspect of this case." He also requested that the court set Connors's claims on an active docket. Connors does not assert in this appeal that he has challenged his criminal convictions, either through a direct appeal or a habeas proceeding, and the record does not indicate that any such action is pending.

The defendants filed a rule 12(b)(6) motion, arguing that Connors's claims were barred by the Heck doctrine or, alternatively, that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. After notice, the district...

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