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Seventh Circuit Discusses Heck and Court Access Claims

The plaintiff sought damages for defendants' hindrance of his efforts to litigate a state court collateral attack on his conviction. The rule of Heck v. Humphrey, "which forbids a convicted person to seek damages on any theory that implies that his conviction was invalid without first getting the conviction set aside," precludes this suit. While there might be an exception to Heck for cases where no route but a damage action is available, plaintiff had other options. At 533: "A prisoner who is prevented from exhausting his state remedies can go directly to federal district court" via habeas for federal claims. This plaintiff has state law claims, but he isn't arguing that he is forever barred from pursuing his state post-conviction remedy, and if he is, he can seek an injunction under 1983 to "clear away the blockage." (533) He is seeking an injunction, but not to get access to the courts; he wants the state courts enjoined to reopen his postconviction proceeding. This is a collateral attack that can't be done via 1983.

Judge Posner then identifies a paradox: a damage claim for denial of court access does not require the plaintiff to prove he or she would have won his case; it need only be non-frivolous. But Heck says you can only get damages after proving your conviction invalid. The resolution is that to get damages, you have to show you lost something of monetizable value, but that need not be proved to get an injunction. There is more about the settlement value of colorable claims. See: Hoard v. Reddy, 175 F.3d 531 (7th Cir. 1999).

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Related legal case

Hoard v. Reddy