February 15, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 14 C 10521 -
Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, Judge.
Bauer, Easterbrook, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
Easterbrook, Circuit Judge.
September 1998 one of Dr. Robert Lance Wilson's
terminally ill patients was within hours of death. He was in
pain (morphine no longer worked for him) and suffocating but
had refused to have a breathing tube inserted. Wilson
concluded that the only possible palliation was
unconsciousness. As Wilson was injecting a drug to achieve
that objective, the patient's heart stopped. Wilson's
travails then began.
coroner classified the patient's death as murder, and the
Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
summarily suspended Wilson's medical license. He replied
that his treatment was medically appropriate and demanded a
hearing. According to Wilson, whose account we must accept
for current purposes, the Department's top administrators
were unconcerned about the propriety of the treatment,
unwilling to learn about that subject, and personally
offended when Wilson wanted a hearing. Wilson submits that
they decided to kick him out of the profession without regard
to the evidence.
the Department until March 2000 to hold any kind of hearing.
By then the coroner's finding of homicide had been
withdrawn and a criminal prosecutor had decided not to charge
Wilson. But, according to Wilson, the Department's
hearing was a farce with a foreordained outcome. His license
was suspended for five years, retroactive to October 1998. He
contested this result on two fronts: suits in both state and
federal suit began in October 1999, before the Department
held a hearing. The Department asked the federal judge to
dismiss the suit, and the judge abstained under the doctrine
of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), which the
Supreme Court has applied to state civil and administrative
proceedings in which units of state government attempt to
implement state policies. Trainor v. Hernandez, 431
U.S. 434 (1977). The Department wanted the federal judge to
dismiss Wilson's suit rather than stay it pending the
outcome of the state litigation; the federal judge obliged.
Department did not fare so well in state court. Four
times a state judge vacated the Department's
decision. After each of the first three, the Department
reinstated its decision and the litigation continued. The
Department's decision after the March 2000 hearing was
set aside in April 2002, on two procedural grounds, by the
Circuit Court of Cook County. The Appellate Court affirmed
with respect to one of those grounds. Wilson v.
Department of Professional Regulation, 344 Ill.App.3d
897 (2003). Wilson remained subject to the summary suspension
of 1998. Without offering Wilson a new hearing, a state
administrative law judge made new findings in November 2006,
and the Department entered a new five-year suspension in July
2007. It did not explain why the five years hadn't
2008 the Circuit Court set aside this new suspension, again
on grounds of procedural irregularity. The Department did not
appeal, but at the new hearing the ALJ struck some testimony
that had previously been allowed. The Department's third
decision, dated July 2009, again suspended Wilson for five
years, without credit for the 11 years that he had already
been suspended. This third decision was set aside in July
2011; the Circuit Court found, for a third time, that
procedural irregularities vitiated the decision. The
Department did not appeal but entered a fourth suspension
decision in April 2013, yet again for five extra years.
Wilson's renewed contest in state court led to a
definitive decision in his favor. The Circuit Court held in
May 2014 that the evidence did not support suspension-that
Wilson should not have been suspended for even one day, let
alone more than 15 years. Indeed, in 2002 the deceased
patient's estate had abandoned a civil suit filed against
Wilson, so he was not determined to have committed
malpractice, let alone murder. The Department did not appeal.
ended the state litigation. But the Department did not
reinstate Wilson's license to practice medicine. In
January 2016 it sent him a letter stating that, because by
then he had not practiced during the last 17 years, he must
complete a "graduate medical education program of at
least 3 years in length" (emphasis added) before
submitting to tests to determine whether he is fit to
practice. In other words, the Department has taken the view
that the Circuit Court's decision did not restore Wilson
to practice, and that, even though he should not have been
suspended, he must go back to school pretty much as if he had
never had a medical education in the first place.
2014 Wilson returned to federal court, seeking damages under
42 U.S.C. §1983 for suspension without a hearing and the
ensuing lengthy inability to practice his profession. Because
state disciplinary proceedings and litigation have ended,
Younger no longer requires abstention. But
Wilson's second federal suit followed his first out the
door. In 1999 a district judge ruled that Wilson had
commenced suit too soon and must wait for the end of the
state's administrative proceedings. In 2016 a different
district judge ruled that Wilson had commenced suit too
late-that the two-year statute of limitations applicable to
§1983 suits in Illinois had been running since fall 1998
(when Wilson's license was suspended without a hearing)
and had expired in 2000. 2016 U.S. Dist. Lexis 35092 (N.D.
111. Mar. 18, 2016). The district court failed to enter a
proper final decision, but its order is appealable under the
rationale of Otis v. Chicago, 29 F.3d 1159 (7th Cir.
1994) (en banc).
at being told that no suit, whenever filed, is permissible,
Wilson's appellate lawyer contends that the doctrine of
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), comes to his
rescue. Heck holds that a prisoner cannot use
§1983 to challenge the validity of his conviction or to
obtain other relief that necessarily implies the
conviction's invalidity. Instead, the Court stated, any
§1983 litigation must be deferred until the conviction
has been set aside by appeal, collateral review, or pardon.
The Court added that as long as the custody lasts, the
statute of limitations does not run: "a §1983 cause
of action for damages attributable to an unconstitutional
conviction or sentence does not accrue until the conviction
or sentence has been invalidated." 512 U.S. at 489-90.
Heck was extended to prison disciplinary proceedings
in Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997). Wilson
contends that we should further extend Heck to
professional disciplinary proceedings.
problem with that proposal lies in the rationale of
Heck. The Court based its analysis on the doctrine
that damages actions cannot be used to contest custody. When
the writ of habeas corpus (or a statutory substitute such as
28 U.S.C. §§ 2254 and 2255) is available, it is
also exclusive. Preiser v. Rodriguez,411 U.S. 475
(1973). More: State prisoners who want collateral relief in
federal court must exhaust their state remedies. 28 U.S.C.
§2254(b)(1); Rose v. Lundy,455 U.S. 509
(1982). But a federal challenge to a decision by a
state's administrative agency is not subject to the
requirement that collateral remedies are exclusive or to an
exhaustion-of-remedies rule. Nonprisoners need not exhaust
state remedies before suing under §1983. Patsy v.
Board of Regents,457 U.S. 496 ...