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8th Circuit: "Favorable Termination" Rule Applies Even if Plaintiff No Longer Incarcerated

In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), the Supreme Court ruled that a prisoner could not bring a suit for damages for an unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, unless and until the underlying conviction has been reversed or invalidated. This became what is known as the "favorable termination" rule.

In 2012 Tony Newmy sued his parole officer, Trey Johnson, and other Mississippi County, Arkansas officials, alleging that Johnson falsely reported that Newmy failed to report to see him as required by the terms of Newmy's parole. As a result of Johnson's allegation, Newmy was required to serve another five months in jail.

While incarcerated, Newmy filed numerous grievances pertaining to his complaints against Johnson. But due to his relatively short stay in jail, he was not able to exhaust his administrative remedies -- a prerequisite for a prisoner filing a federal lawsuit.

So Newmy's lawsuit was filed after his release from custody. The district court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim. On appeal, the sole question was whether the fact that Newmy was no longer in jail affected the court's Heck analysis.

While recognizing that a strict interpretation of Heck "could preclude a damages claim for an inmate who is detained for only a short time with limited access to legal resources," the court found that this was "a consequence of the principle barring collateral attacks that was applied in Heck."

The 8th Circuit found, despite some conflicting decisions from some other circuits, that the Supreme Court in Heck meant "to impose a universal favorable termination requirement on all § 1983 plaintiffs attacking the validity of their conviction or sentence," regardless of their status as a free citizen or a prisoner.

Readers should note that Heck applies to prisoners who are challenging the validity of prison disciplinary infractions as well. See: Newmy v. Johnson, et al., No. 13-2756 (8th Cir. 07/12/2014).

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Related legal case

Newmy v. Johnson, et al.