United States District Court, N.D. California
July 26, 2004.
BRIAN JAMES SCHRODT, Plaintiff,
JOHN C. MINNEY; et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge
This action is dismissed without prejudice to plaintiff
challenging his conviction in a habeas petition and without
prejudice to him filing a new civil rights action if his
conviction is set aside.
IT IS SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED. ORDER OF DISMISSAL
Brian James Schrodt, an inmate at the Pleasant Valley State
Prison, filed this pro se civil rights action under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Schrodt alleges in his complaint that several defendants
"conspired to deprive [him] or [his] legal, constitutional right
to an appeal, or at the very least render an appeal
unsuccessful." Complaint, p. 5. He seeks damages, an
investigation of the state court system, review of his case, and
a fair trial. The complaint is now before the court for review of
the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any
case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity
or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any cognizable
claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious,
fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such
relief. See id. at 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must
be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police
Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution
or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the
violation was committed by a person acting under the color of
state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Schrodt's complaint must be dismissed. As explained below, it
is too early for him to file a civil rights action for damages
and to the extent he wants to challenge his conviction, he must
do so in a habeas petition.
This civil rights action is premature insofar as it seeks
damages. The case of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994),
held that a plaintiff cannot bring a civil rights action for
damages for a wrongful conviction unless that conviction already
has been determined to be wrongful. See id. at 486-87. A
conviction may be determined to be wrongful by, for example,
being reversed on appeal or being set aside when a state or
federal court issues a writ of habeas corpus. See id. The
Heck rule also prevents a person from bringing an action that
even if it does not directly challenge the conviction would
imply that the conviction was invalid. The practical importance
of this rule is that plaintiffs cannot attack their convictions
in a civil rights action for damages; the conviction must have
been successfully attacked before the civil rights action for
damages is filed. Heck bars Schrodt's action because his claim
that his right to appeal has been deprived or infringed
implicates the validity of the conviction he suffered. No cause
of action accrues unless and until the conviction is set aside.
To the extent Schrodt requests an investigation of the state
court system or part thereof, the complaint must be dismissed
because this court is not in the business of investigating a
state court system.
Finally, Schrodt may not challenge his conviction in a civil
rights action. To the extent he wants to have his conviction set
aside (as suggested by his request for a fair trial and a review
of his entire case and appeal) so that he might have a new trial,
he must file a petition for writ of habeas corpus rather than a civil rights action. A petition
for writ of habeas corpus is the exclusive method by which
Schrodt may challenge his state court conviction in this court.
Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973). Before he may
file such a federal habeas petition, however, he must exhaust
state judicial remedies, either on direct appeal or through
collateral proceedings, by presenting the highest state court
available with a fair opportunity to rule on the merits of each
and every issue she seeks to raise in federal court. See
28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A), (c); Duckworth v. Serrano, 454 U.S. 1, 3
(1981). The court will not construe the civil rights complaint to
be a petition for writ of habeas corpus. See Trimble v. City
of Santa Rosa, 49 F.3d 583, 586 (9th Cir. 1995). The portion of
the complaint challenging the conviction is dismissed without
prejudice to Schrodt filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus.
Schrodt should act diligently in filing a federal petition for
writ of habeas corpus because there is a one-year statute of
limitations that limits the time within which he may file a
federal habeas petition. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).
For the foregoing reasons, the complaint is dismissed. The
dismissal is without prejudice to Schrodt challenging his
conviction in a habeas petition and without prejudice to him
filing a new civil rights action if his conviction is set aside.
The clerk shall close the file.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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