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Oregon Court Improperly Holds Library Denial Claim is Heck-Barred

On July 31, 2014, an Oregon federal court erroneously dismissed a denial of law library claim, as barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).

On August 2, 2002, Seth Edwin Koch was convicted of two counts of Aggravated Murder and eight lesser offenses that he committed when he was 17 years old.

On August 14, 2003, Koch was sentenced two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP) on the Aggravated Murder convictions. He was also sentenced to 760 months in consecutive sentences on the lesser offenses.

Koch was initially confined at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility (MacLaren), because he was a minor. While there, Koch participated in the Secure Intensive Treatment Program (SITP), until his April 8, 2010 transfer to the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC).

As we’ve previously reported (PLN, 2014), while Koch was participating in SITP, prisoners with any type of legal proceeding, including appeals or collateral attacks on their conviction were: (1) denied privileges and amenities; (2) precluded from participating in the Violent Offender Group, which was a prerequisite to SITP housing; (3) threatened with discipline and SITP removal; and (4) threatened with transfer to adult prison. As a result, Koch did not appeal his conviction or LWOP sentence and the time to do so expired while he was at MacLaren.

Within three months of his transfer to adult prison, Koch filed an untimely petition for post-conviction relief. That action remains pending.

On April 9, 2012, Koch brought federal suit against numerous MacLaren employees, alleging that they denied interfered with his access to the courts when he was confined at MacLaren.

The court appointed counsel to represent Koch. On January 17, 2014, Defendants moved to stay the case to allow the parties to explore settlement options.

On February 14, 2014, the court stayed the matter for 60 days and on March 17, 2014, the court referred the matter to mediation at the request of the parties.

Settlement negotiations apparently fell apart. On April 14, 2014, Koch’s attorney informed the court “that mediation was futile” and resolution “is neither imminent or likely.”

On April 28, 2014, the court gave Defendants until May 19, 2014 to “file any challenges to the case going forward.”

On May 19, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Koch’s claims, arguing that pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), his exclusive remedy is in habeas corpus.

It appears that Koch’s attorney did not bother to file a response to the motion and the court took the matter under advisement on June 18, 2014.

On July 31, 2014, the district court dismissed the case, agreeing with Defendants that it was Heck-barred. In doing so, the court incorrectly concluded that “the Ninth Circuit has not addressed the intersection of the First Amendment and Heck as they apply to an inmate’s claim for denial of access to the courts.”

The court then followed the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Burd v. Sessler, 702 F.3d 429 (7th Cir. 2012), Hoard v. Reddy, 175 F.3d 531 (7th Cir. 1999) and several unpublished district court cases to justify holding that Koch’s claims were Heck-barred.

“Absent precedent to the contrary,” the district court concluded, “the reasoning in Burd, Hoard, and the district court cases in the Ninth Circuit is inevitably persuasive, and, therefore, the ‘favorable termination’ requirement of Heck applies under these circumstances.”

In reality, however, the Ninth Circuit has addressed the issue in Fuller v. Nelson, 128 Fed Appx. 584 (9th Cir. 2005), holding that “the remedy for the unconstitutional deprivation of an appeal would not be immediate release.” Therefore, the Ninth Circuit reversed “the district court’s dismissal of claims as barred under Heck” 128 Fed Appx. at 586.

The Oregon district court’s reliance on Burd and Hoard, rather than Fuller was clearly erroneous and subject to reversal. We will let you know if Koch or his attorney care.

See: Koch v. Jester, USDC 6:12-cv-00613-BR (D. Or. 2014).

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Related legal case

Koch v. Jester