GARY EDWARDS AND TANA WOOD, PETITIONERS v. JERRY B. BALISOK

520 U.S. 641117 S. Ct. 1584137 L. Ed. 2d 906 (, )

GARY EDWARDS AND TANA WOOD, PETITIONERS v. JERRY B. BALISOK

No. 95-1352

Decided: May 19, 1997

Petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Kathleen D. Mix argued the cause for petitioners.

Thomas H. Speedy Rice argued the cause for respondent.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. GINSBURG, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which SOUTER and BREYER, JJ., joined.

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JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487, 129 L. Ed. 2d 383, 114 S. Ct. 2364 (1994), this Court held that a state prisoner's claim for damages is not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 if "a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence," unless the prisoner can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has previously been invalidated. This case presents the question whether a claim for damages and declaratory relief brought by a state prisoner challenging the validity of the procedures used to deprive him of good-time credits is cognizable under § 1983.

Respondent Jerry Balisok is an inmate at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. On August 16, 1993, he was charged with, and at a hearing on September 2 was found guilty of, four prison infractions. He was sentenced to 10 days in isolation, 20 days in segregation, and deprivation of 30 days' good-time credit he had previously earned toward his release. His appeal within the prison's appeal system was rejected for failure to comply with the applicable procedural requirements.

On January 26, 1994, respondent filed the present § 1983 action alleging that the procedures used in his disciplinary proceeding violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. His amended complaint requested a declaration that the procedures employed by state officials violated due process, compensatory and punitive damages for use of the unconstitutional procedures, an injunction to prevent future violations, and any other relief the court deems just and equitable. Taking account of our opinion in Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500, 36 L. Ed. 2d 439, 93 S. Ct. 1827 (1973), which held that the sole remedy in federal court for a prisoner seeking restoration of good-time credits is a writ of habeas corpus, Balisok's amended complaint did not request restoration of the lost credits. (As the District Court noted, however, he expressly reserved the right to seek that relief in an appropriate forum. App. to Pet. for Cert. F-4.)

The District Court, applying our opinion in Heck, held that a judgment in Balisok's favor "would necessarily imply the invalidity of the disciplinary hearing and the resulting sanctions." App. to Pet. for Cert. F-14. Rather than grant petitioners' motion to dismiss, however, the District Court stayed this action pending filing and resolution of a state-court action for restoration of the good-time credits. It authorized an immediate appeal of its ruling pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1292(b), and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that a claim challenging only the procedures employed in a disciplinary hearing is always cognizable under § 1983. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-2. We granted certiorari. 517 U.S. , 116 S. Ct. 1564, 134 L. Ed. 2d 664 (1996).

The violations of due process alleged by respondent are similar to those alleged by the plaintiff in Heck. There, the allegations were that the state officials had conducted an arbitrary investigation, had knowingly destroyed exculpatory evidence, and had caused an illegal voice identification procedure to be used at the plaintiff's criminal trial. 512 U.S. at 479. Here, respondent principally alleged that petitioner Edwards, who was the hearing officer at his disciplinary proceeding, concealed exculpatory witness statements and refused to ask specified questions of requested witnesses, App. to Pet. for Cert. I-3 to I-7, which prevented respondent from introducing extant exculpatory material and "intentionally denied" him the right to present evidence in his defense, Brief for Respondent 3. (Respondent also alleged that Edwards failed to provide a statement of the facts supporting the guilty finding against him, App. to Pet. for Cert. I-6 to I-7, and that petitioner Wood erroneously rejected his appeal as exceeding the page limitation, id., at I-7 to I-8.)

There is, however, this critical difference from Heck: Respondent, in his amended complaint, limited his request to damages for depriving him of good-time credits without due process, not for depriving him of good-time credits undeservedly as a substantive matter. * That is to say, his claim posited that the procedures were wrong, but not necessarily that the result was. The distinction between these two sorts of claims is clearly established in our case law, as is the plaintiff's entitlement to recover at least nominal damages under § 1983 if he proves the former one without also proving the latter one. See Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 266-267, 55 L. Ed. 2d 252, 98 S. Ct. 1042 (1978). The Court of Appeals was of the view that this difference from Heck was dispositive, following Circuit precedent to the effect that a claim challenging only the procedures employed in a disciplinary hearing is always cognizable under § 1983. See App. to Pet. for Cert. A-2, citing Gotcher v. Wood, 66 F.3d 1097, 1099 (CA9 1995), cert. pending, No. 95-1385.

That principle is incorrect, since it disregards the possibility, clearly envisioned by Heck, that the nature of the challenge to the procedures could be such as necessarily to imply the invalidity of the judgment. This possibility is alluded to in the very passage from Heck relied upon by the Court of Appeals, a passage that distinguished the earlier case of Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935, 94 S. Ct. 2963 (1974), as follows:"In light of the earlier language characterizing the claim as one of â

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