The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur, United States District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Kevin Johnson ("Johnson") has filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section
1983") action, including related state law claims, against Village of
Riverdale and two of its police officers (collectively "Riverdale
Defendants") and a Cook County Assistant State's Attorney. Riverdale
Defendants have joined in a Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 12(b)(6) motion to
dismiss Johnson's Complaint — Count I (the Section 1983 claim) on
statute of limitations grounds and the other four counts as consequently
lacking a federal question anchor. With that motion now having been fully
briefed, this opinion addresses only the viability of the Section 1983
What follows in the Facts section is a precis of Johnson's Complaint,
which must of course be taken as true for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes. That
being done, the ensuing discussion explains why Johnson prevails and
Riverdale Defendants do not.
On February 10, 1998 Johnson's mother, a Riverdale resident, was
stabbed to death in her bedroom. When Johnson (then age 23) returned that
evening and discovered her dead body, he immediately reported the murder
by placing a 911 phone call.
Riverdale police responded, took Johnson and his younger brother into
custody and proceeded to interrogate Johnson all that night and the
following morning. As the result of threats and other unconstitutional
interrogation tactics, Johnson — even though innocent —
confessed falsely to the murder.
Johnson was then denied bond and spent well over a year in jail
awaiting trial. Meanwhile defendants intentionally failed to pursue
evidence that would have established Johnson's innocence and would have
implicated his mother's boyfriend (the real killer).
When Johnson went on trial in January 2000, all three individual
defendants (the police officers and the Assistant State's Attorney)
testified falsely about his "confession" and "actively withheld the
exculpatory fact that said confession had been unlawfully coerced"
(Complaint ¶ 15). Despite the bogus "confession," Johnson was
acquitted of all charges on January 11, 2001. This action was brought a
year later, on January 9, 2002.
In Heck, the Court held that a plaintiff seeking
damages for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction
or imprisonment, or for other harms caused by
unlawful actions that would render a conviction or
sentence invalid, has no § 1983 cause of action
until the conviction or sentence is reversed,
expunged, invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a
writ of habeas corpus. Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-88, 114
S.Ct. at 2372-73. That is, if a judgment for the
plaintiff "would necessarily imply the invalidity of
his conviction or sentence," the plaintiff's §
1983 cause of action does not arise, and the statute
of limitations on the action does not begin to run,
until or unless the plaintiff's conviction or
sentence has been held invalid. Id. at 487, 114
S.Ct. at 2372-73. Conversely, if "the plaintiff's
action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the
invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment
against the plaintiff," his § 1983 cause of
action arises, and the statute of limitations on the
action begins to run, when the plaintiff knows or
should have known that his constitutional rights
have been violated. Id.
Before this opinion turns to the measurement of Johnson's coerced
confession claim against that yardstick, one threshold question —
also answered by Washington — should be addressed. On this subject
the parties agree (Riverdale Defendants Mem. 3 and Johnson Mem. 4): Heck
applies with equal force to "claims, which, if successful, would
necessarily imply the invalidity of a potential conviction on a pending
criminal charge" (Washington, id. (emphasis in original), then citing and
quoting with approval Smith v. Holtz, 87 F.3d 108, 112-13 (3d Cir.
1996)). That is the situation posed here — when it came to
Johnson's actual trial, as stated earlier, he was acquitted.
Now to the ultimate merits. In this instance, according to Johnson
(who, as already explained, must be credited for present purposes), there
was no evidence other than the coerced confession that could arguably
connect Johnson to his mother's murder. And that being the case, a
judgment for Johnson in an attempted Section 1983 action that his
"confession" was a nullity "would necessarily imply the invalidity of
[any] conviction." That critical element of Johnson's case effectively
distinguishes it from Washington and from Gonzalez v. Entress, 133 F.3d 551
(7th Cir. 1998) (the other case sought to be invoked by Riverdale
Defendants), for in neither of those cases could it be said that the
establishment of the plaintiff's Section 1983 claim would necessarily
have tainted the conviction.
That alone is enough to defer the accrual of the claim that is now
under consideration to the date in 2001 when Johnson was in fact
exonerated. And that deferral plainly spells defeat for Riverdale
Defendants' limitations argument. But an added point (though not
necessary to the present decision) is worth making in terms of what has
become the much-mooted footnote 7 to the Heck opinion (512 U.S. at 487
n. 7). As the ...