562 U.S. 521

SKINNER v . SWITZER, DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR 31 st JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF TEXAS

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit


No. 099000.Argued October 13, 2010Decided March 7, 2011

District Attorneys Office for Third Judicial Dist. v. Osborne , 557 U.S. ___, ___, left unresolved the question whether a convicted state prisoner seeking DNA testing of crime-scene evidence may assert that claim in a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 or may assert the claim in federal court only in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254.

A Texas jury convicted petitioner Skinner and sentenced him to death for murdering his girlfriend and her sons. He claimed that a potent alcohol and drug mix rendered him physically unable to commit the brutal murders, and he identified his girlfriends uncle as the likely perpetrator. In preparation for trial, the State tested some of the physical evidence, but left untested several items, including knives found on the premises, an axe handle, vaginal swabs, fingernail clippings, and certain hair samples. More than six years later, Texas enacted Article 64, which allows prisoners to gain postconviction DNA testing in limited circumstances. Invoking Article 64, Skinner twice moved in state court for DNA testing of the untested biological evidence. Both motions were denied. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) affirmed the first denial of relief on the ground that Skinner had not shown, as required by Article 64.03(a)(2), that he would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing. The CCA affirmed the second denial of relief on the ground that Skinner had not shown, as required by Article 64.01(b)(1)(B), that the evidence was not previously tested through no fault on his part.

Skinner next filed the instant federal action for injunctive relief under 1983, naming as defendant respondent Switzer, the District Attorney who has custody of the evidence that Skinner would like to have tested. Skinner alleged that Texas violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by refusing to provide for the DNA testing he requested. The Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim, reasoning that postconviction requests for DNA evidence are cognizable only in habeas corpus, not under 1983. Adopting that recommendation, the District Court dismissed Skinners suit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Held: There is federal-court subject-matter jurisdiction over Skinners complaint, and the claim he presses is cognizable under 1983. Pp.715.

(a)Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) generally requires only a plausible short and plain statement of the plaintiffs claim, not an exposition of his legal argument. Skinner stated his due process claim in a paragraph alleging that the States refusal to release the biological evidence for testing deprived [him] of his liberty interests in utilizing state procedures to obtain reversal of his conviction and/or to obtain a pardon or reduction of his sentence . His counsel has clarified that Skinner does not challenge the prosecutors conduct or the CCAs decisions; instead, he challenges Texas postconviction DNA statute as construed by the Texas courts. Pp.78.

(b)The Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar Skinners suit. This Court has applied the doctrine only in the two cases from which it takes its name, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co. , 263 U.S. 413, District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman , 460 U.S. 462. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp. , 544 U.S. 280. Given the narrow ground the doctrine occupies, id. , at 284, the Court has confined Rooker-Feldman to cases brought by state-court losers inviting district court review and rejection of [a state courts] judgments. Ibid. Skinners complaint encounters no Rooker-Feldman shoal. If a federal plaintiff present[s] [an] independent claim, it is not an impediment to the exercise of federal jurisdiction that the same or a related question was earlier aired between the parties in state court. Id., at 292293. A state-court decision is not reviewable by lower federal courts, but a statute or rule governing the decision may be challenged in a federal action. See, e.g., Feldman , 460 U.S., at 487. Because Skinners federal casewhich challenges not the adverse state-court decisions but the Texas statute they authoritatively construedfalls within the latter category, there was no lack of subject-matter jurisdiction over his federal suit. Pp.810.

(c)Measured against this Courts prior holdings, Skinner has properly invoked 1983. This Court has several times considered when a state prisoner, complaining of unconstitutional state action, may pursue a civil rights claim under 1983, and when habeas corpus is the prisoners sole remedy. The pathmarking decision, Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, concerned a state prisoner who brought a 1983 action for damages, alleging that he had been unlawfully investigated, arrested, tried, and convicted. This Court held that 1983 was not an available remedy because any award in the plaintiffs favor would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction. See id. , at 487. In contrast, in Wilkinson v. Dotson , 544 U.S. 74, the Court held that prisoners who challenged the constitutionality of administrative decisions denying them parole eligibility, could proceed under 1983, for they sought no injunction ordering immediate or speedier release into the community, id. , at 82, and a favorable judgment [would] not necessarily imply the invalidity of [their] conviction[s] or sentence[s], ibid . Here, success in Skinners suit for DNA testing would not necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction. Test results might prove exculpatory, but that outcome is hardly inevitable, for those results could also prove inconclusive or incriminating. Switzer argues that, although Skinners immediate aim is DNA testing, his ultimate aim is to use the test results as a platform for attacking his conviction. But she has found no case in which the Court has recognized habeas as the sole remedy where the relief sought would not terminate custody, accelerate the date of release, or reduce the custody level. Contrary to the fears of Switzer and her amici, in the Circuits that currently allow 1983 claims for DNA testing, there has been no flood of litigation seeking postconviction discovery of evidence associated with the questions of guilt or punishment. The projected toll on federal courts is all the more implausible regarding DNA testing claims, for Osborne has rejected substantive due process as a basis for such claims. More generally, in the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Congress has placed constraints on prisoner suits in order to prevent sportive federal-court filings. Nor is there cause for concern that the instant ruling will spill over to claims relying on Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83. Brady, which announced a constitutional requirement addressed to the prosecutions conduct pretrial, proscribes withholding evidence favorable to an accused and material to [his] guilt or to punishment. Cone v. Bell , 556 U.S. ___, ___. Unlike DNA testing, which may yield exculpatory, incriminating, or inconclusive results, a successful Brady claim necessarily yields evidence undermining a conviction: Brady claims therefore rank within the traditional core of habeas corpus and outside the province of 1983. Pp.1014.

(d)Switzers several arguments why Skinners complaint should fail for lack of merit, unaddressed by the courts below, are ripe for consideration on remand. P. 14.

363 Fed. Appx. 302, reversed and remanded.

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.J., and Scalia, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy and Alito, JJ., joined.

HENRY W. SKINNER, PETITIONER v. LYNN
SWITZER, DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR THE <linebreak>31st JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF TEXAS

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit


[March 7, 2011]

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted review in this case to decide a question presented, but left unresolved, in District Attorneys Office for Third Judicial Dist. v. Osborne , 557 U.S. ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 1213): May a convicted state prisoner seeking DNA testing of crime-scene evidence assert that claim in a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, or is such a claim cognizable in federal court only when asserted in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254? The Courts of Appeals have returned diverse responses. Compare McKithen v. Brown , 481 F.3d 89, 99 (CA2 2007) (claim seeking DNA testing is cognizable under 1983); Savory v. Lyons , 469 F.3d 667, 669 (CA7 2006) (same); Bradley v. Pryor , 305 F.3d 1287, 12901291 (CA11 2002) (same), with Harvey v. Horan , 278 F.3d 370, 375 (CA4 2002) (claim is not cognizable under 1983) and Kutzner v. Montgomery County , 303 F.3d 339, 341 (CA5 2002) (per curiam) (same).

In Wilkinson v. Dotson , 544 U.S. 74 (2005) , we comprehensively surveyed this Courts decisions on the respective provinces of 1983 civil rights actions and 2254 federal habeas petitions. Habeas is the exclusive remedy, we reaffirmed, for the prisoner who seeks immediate or speedier release from confinement. Id. , at 82. Where the prisoners claim would not necessarily spell speedier release, however, suit may be brought under 1983. Ibid . Adhering to our opinion in Dotson , we hold that a postconviction claim for DNA testing is properly pursued in a 1983 action. Success in the suit gains for the prisoner only access to the DNA evidence, which may prove exculpatory, inculpatory, or inconclusive. In no event will a judgment that simply orders DNA tests necessarily impl[y] the unlawfulness of the States custody. Id. , at 81. We note, however, that the Courts decision in Osborne severely limits the federal action a state prisoner may bring for DNA testing. Osborne rejected the extension of substantive due process to this area, 557 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 19), and left slim room for the prisoner to show that the governing state law denies him procedural due process, see id. , at ___ (slip op., at 18).

I

In 1995, a Texas jury convicted petitioner Henry Skinner and sentenced him to death for murdering his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two sons. Busby was bludgeoned and choked with an axe handle and her sons were stabbed to death; the murders were committed in the house Busby shared with Skinner.

Skinner never denied his presence in the house when the killings occurred. He claimed, however, that he was incapacitated by large quantities of alcohol and codeine. The potent alcohol and drug mix, Skinner maintained at trial, rendered him physically unable to commit the brutal murders charged against him. Skinner identified, as a likely perpetrator, Busbys uncle, Robert Donnell (now deceased), an ex-convict with a history of physical and sexual abuse. 1 On direct appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) affirmed Skinners conviction and sentence. Skinner v. State , 956 S.W. 2d 532, 546 (1997). The CCAs opinion described the crime-scene evidence in detail:

As they approached the house , the police noticed a trail of blood spots on the ground running from the front porch to the fence line. There was a blood smear on the glass storm door and a knife on the front porch. Upon entering the residence, the police found Twilas dead body on the living room floor. An ax handle stained with blood and hair was leaning against the couch near her body and a black plastic trash bag containing a knife and a towel with wet brownish stains on it was laying between the couch and the coffee table.

[One officer] proceeded to the bedroom where [Busbys two sons] usually slept in bunk beds. [The officer] found [one] dead body laying face down on the upper bunk, covered by a blood spotted blanket.A door leading out of the bedroom and into a utility room yielded further evidence. [He] noticed a bloody handprint located about 24 inches off the floor on the frame of this door. He also noted a bloody handprint on the door knob of the door leading from the kitchen to the utility room and a handprint on the knob of the door exiting from the utility room into the backyard.

[When] police arrested [Skinner] [t]hey found him standing in a closet wearing blood-stained socks and blood-stained blue jeans. Id. , at 536.

Investigators also retained vaginal swabs taken from Busby.

In preparation for trial, the State tested the blood on [Skinners] clothing, blood and hair from a blanket that partially covered one of the victims, and hairs on one of the victims back and cheeks. Skinner v. State , 122 S.W.3d 808, 810 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003). The State also tested fingerprint evidence. Some of this evidenceincluding bloody palm prints in the room where one victim was killedimplicated Skinner, but fingerprints on a bag containing one of the knives did not. Ibid. Items left untested included the knives found on the premises, the axe handle, vaginal swabs, fingernail clippings, and additional hair samples. See ibid. 2

In the decade following his conviction, Skinner unsuccessfully sought state and federal postconviction relief. See Skinner v. Quarterman , 576 F.3d 214 (CA5 2009), cert. denied, 559 U.S. ___ (2010). He also pursued informal efforts to gain access to untested biological evidence the police had collected at the scene of the crime. 3

In 2001, more than six years after Skinners conviction, Texas enacted Article 64, a statute allowing prisoners to gain postconviction DNA testing in limited circumstances. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann., Art. 64.01(a) (Vernon Supp. 2010). To obtain DNA testing under Article 64, a prisoner must meet one of two threshold criteria. He may show that, at trial, testing either was not available or was available, but not technologically capable of providing probative results. Art. 64.01(b)(1)(A). Alternatively, he may show that the evidence was not previously tested through no fault on his part, and that the interests of justice require a postconviction order for testing. Art. 64.01(b)(1)(B). To grant a motion for postconviction testing, a court must make further findings, prime among them, the movant would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing, and the [Article 64] request [was] not made to unreasonably delay the execution of sentence or administration of justice. Art. 64.03(a)(2).

Invoking Article 64, Skinner twice moved in state court, first in 2001 and again in 2007, for DNA testing of yet untested biological evidence. See supra , at 4, n.3. Both motions were denied. Affirming the denial of Skinners first motion, the CCA held that he had failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability that he would not have been convicted if the DNA test results were exculpatory. Skinner v. State , 122 S.W. 3d, at 813.

Skinners second motion was bolstered by discovery he had obtained in the interim. 4 The CCA again affirmed the denial of relief under Article 64, this time on the ground that Skinner failed to meet the no fault requirement. See Skinner v. State , 293 S.W. 3d 196, 200 (2009). 5 During postconviction proceedings, the CCA noted, trial counsel testified that he had not ask[ed] for testing because he was afraid the DNA would turn out to be [Skinners]. Id. , at 202. That decision, the CCA concluded, constituted a reasonable trial strategy that the court had no cause to second-guess. Id ., at 209.

Skinner next filed the instant federal action for injunctive relief under 1983, naming as defendant respondent Lynn Switzer, the District Attorney whose office prosecuted Skinner and has custody of the evidence Skinner would like to have DNA tested. Skinners federal-court complaint alleged that Texas violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by refusing to provide for the DNA testing he requested. Complaint 33, App. 2021. The Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. App. 2441. Under the governing Circuit precedent, Kutzner v. Montgomery County , 303 F.3d 339, the Magistrate Judge observed, postconviction requests for DNA evidence are cognizable only in habeas corpus, not under 1983. App. 39. Adopting the Magistrate Judges recommendation, the District Court dismissed Skinners suit. Id., at 4445.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed, 363 Fed. Appx. 302 (2010) (per curiam), reiterating that an action by a prisoner for post-conviction DNA testing is not cognizable under 1983 and must instead be brought as a petition for writ of habeas corpus, id., at 303. On Skinners petition, 6 we granted certiorari, 560 U.S. ___ (2010), and now reverse the Fifth Circuits judgment.

II

A

Because this case was resolved on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the question below was not whether [Skinner] will ultimately prevail on his procedural due process claim, see Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) , but whether his complaint was sufficient to cross the federal courts threshold, see Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A. , 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) . Skinners complaint is not a model of the careful drafters art, but under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint need not pin plaintiffs claim for relief to a precise legal theory. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally requires only a plausible short and plain statement of the plaintiffs claim, not an exposition of his legal argument. See 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure 1219, pp. 277278 (3d ed. 2004 and Supp. 2010).

Skinner stated his due process claim in a paragraph alleging that the States refusal to release the biological evidence for testing has deprived [him] of his liberty interests in utilizing state procedures to obtain reversal of his conviction and/or to obtain a pardon or reduction of his sentence . Complaint 33, App. 2021. As earlier recounted, see supra , at 56, Skinner had twice requested and failed to obtain DNA testing under the only state-law procedure then available to him. See Complaint 2231, App. 1420. 7 At oral argument in this Court, Skinners counsel clarified the gist of Skinners due process claim: He does not challenge the prosecutors conduct or the decisions reached by the CCA in applying Article 64 to his motions; instead, he challenges, as denying him procedural due process, Texas postconviction DNA statute as construed by the Texas courts. Tr. of Oral Arg. 56. See also id. , at 52 (Texas courts, Skinners counsel argued, have construed the statute to completely foreclose any prisoner who could have sought DNA testing prior to trial[,] but did not[,] from seeking testing postconviction). 8

The merits of Skinners federal-court complaint assailing the Texas statute as authoritatively construed, and particularly the vitality of his claim in light of Osborne , see supra , at 2unaddressed by the District Court or the Fifth Circuitare not ripe for review. We take up here only the questions whether there is federal-court subject-matter jurisdiction over Skinners complaint, and whether the claim he presses is cognizable under 1983.

B

Respondent Switzer asserts that Skinners challenge is [j]urisdictionally [b]arred by what has come to be known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Brief for Respondent 4849 (boldface deleted). In line with the courts below, we conclude that Rooker - Feldman does not bar Skinners suit.

As we explained in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp. , 544 U.S. 280 (2005) , the Rooker-Feldman doctrine has been applied by this Court only twice, i.e. , only in the two cases from which the doctrine takes its name: first, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co. , 263 U.S. 413 (1923) , then 60 years later, District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman , 460 U.S. 462 (1983) . Both cases fit this pattern: The losing party in state court 9 filed suit in a U.S. District Court after the state proceedings ended, complaining of an injury caused by the state-court judgment and seeking federal-court review and rejection of that judgment. Alleging federal-question jurisdiction, the plaintiffs in Rooker and Feldman asked the District Court to overturn the injurious state-court judgment. We held, in both cases, that the District Courts lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over such claims, for 28 U.S.C. 1257 vests authority to review a state courts judgment solely in this Court. See Exxon , 544 U.S., at 292.

We observed in Exxon that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine had been construed by some federal courts to extend far beyond the contours of the Rooker and Feldman cases. Id. , at 283. Emphasizing the narrow ground occupied by the doctrine, id. , at 284, we clarified in Exxon that Rooker-Feldman is confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by state-court losers . . . inviting district court review and rejection of [the state courts] judgments. Ibid .

Skinners litigation, in light of Exxon , encounters no Rooker-Feldman shoal. If a federal plaintiff present[s] [an] independent claim, it is not an impediment to the exercise of federal jurisdiction that the same or a related question was earlier aired between the parties in state court. id. , at 292293 (quoting GASH Assocs. v. Rosemont , 995 F.2d 726, 728 (CA7 1993); first alteration in original); see Inre Smith , 349 Fed. Appx. 12, 18 (CA6 2009) (Sutton, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (a defendants federal challenge to the adequacy of state-law procedures for postconviction DNA testing is not within the limited grasp of Rooker-Feldman ).

As earlier noted, see supra , at 78, Skinner does not challenge the adverse CCA decisions themselves; instead, he targets as unconstitutional the Texas statute they authoritatively construed. As the Court explained in Feldman , 460 U.S., at 487, and reiterated in Exxon , 544 U.S., at 286, a state-court decision is not reviewable by lower federal courts, but a statute or rule governing the decision may be challenged in a federal action. 10 Skinners federal case falls within the latter category. There was, therefore, no lack of subject-matter jurisdiction over Skinners federal suit. 11

C

When may a state prisoner, complaining of unconstitutional state action, pursue a civil rights claim under 1983, and when is habeas corpus the prisoners sole remedy? This Court has several times considered that question. Pathmarking here is Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477 (1994) . Plaintiff in that litigation was a state prisoner serving time for manslaughter. He brought a 1983 action for damages, alleging that he had been unlawfully investigated, arrested, tried, and convicted. Although the complaint in Heck sought monetary damages only, not release from confinement, we ruled that the plaintiff could not proceed under 1983. Any award in his favor, we observed, would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction. See id. , at 487. When a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence, the Court held, 1983 is not an available remedy. Ibid. But if . . . the plaintiffs action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of [his conviction or sentence], the [1983] action should be allowed to proceed . Ibid.

We summarized the relevant case law most recently in Wilkinson v. Dotson , 544 U.S. 74 (2005) . That case involved prisoners who challenged the constitutionality of administrative decisions denying them parole eligibility. They could proceed under 1983, the Court held, for they sought no injunction ordering immediate or speedier release into the community, id. , at 82, and a favorable judgment [would] not necessarily imply the invalidity of [their] conviction[s] or sentence[s], ibid . (quoting Heck , 512 U.S., at 487; first alteration added).

Measured against our prior holdings, Skinner has properly invoked 1983. Success in his suit for DNA testing would not necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction. While test results might prove exculpatory, that outcome is hardly inevitable; as earlier observed, see supra , at 2, results might prove inconclusive or they might further incriminate Skinner. See Nelson v. Campbell , 541 U.S. 637, 647 (2004) ([W]e were careful in Heck to stress the importance of the term necessarily.). 12

Respondent Switzer nevertheless argues, in line with Fifth Circuit precedent, see Kutzner , 303 F.3d, at 341, that Skinners request for DNA testing must be pursued, if at all, in an application for habeas corpus, not in a 1983 action. The dissent echoes Switzers argument. See post , at 3. Although Skinners immediate plea is simply for an order requiring DNA testing, his ultimate aim, Switzer urges, is to use the test results as a platform for attacking his conviction. It suffices to point out that Switzer has found no case, nor has the dissent, in which the Court has recognized habeas as the sole remedy, or even an available one, where the relief sought would neither terminat[e] custody, accelerat[e] the future date of release from custody, nor reduc[e] the level of custody. Dotson , 544 U.S., at 86 ( Scalia , J., concurring).

Respondent Switzer and her amici forecast that a vast expansion of federal jurisdiction would ensue were we to hold that Skinners complaint can be initiated under 1983. See Brief for National District Attorneys Association as Amicus Curiae 8. In particular, they predict a proliferation of federal civil actions seeking postconviction discovery of evidence [and] other relief inescapably associated with the central questions of guilt or punishment. Id. , at 6. These fears, shared by the dissent, post , at 6, are unwarranted. 13

In the Circuits that currently allow 1983 claims for DNA testing, see supra , at 1, no evidence tendered by Switzer shows any litigation flood or even rainfall. The projected toll on federal courts is all the more implausible regarding DNA testing claims, for Osborne has rejected substantive due process as a basis for such claims. See supra , at 2.

More generally, in the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), 110 Stat. 132166, Congress has placed a series of controls on prisoner suits, constraints designed to prevent sportive filings in federal court. See, e.g. , PLRA 803(d) (adding 42 U.S.C. 1997e to create new procedures and penalties for prisoner lawsuits under 1983); PLRA 804(a)(3) (adding 28 U.S.C. 1915(b)(1) to require any prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis to pay the full filing fee out of a percentage of his prison trust account); PLRA 804(c)(3) (adding 28 U.S.C. 1915(f) to require prisoners to pay the full amount of any cost assessed against them out of their prison trust account); PLRA 804(d) (adding 28 U.S.C. 1915(g) to revoke, with limited exception, in forma pauperis privileges for any prisoner who has filed three or more lawsuits that fail to state a claim, or are malicious or frivolous). See also Crawford-El v. Britton , 523 U.S. 574, 596597 (1998) (PLRA aims to discourage prisoners from filing claims that are unlikely to succeed, and statistics suggest that the Act is having its intended effect).

Nor do we see any cause for concern that todays ruling will spill over to claims relying on Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83 (1963) ; indeed, Switzer makes no such assertion. Brady announced a constitutional requirement addressed first and foremost to the prosecutions conduct pretrial. Brady proscribes withholding evidence favorable to an accused and material to [his] guilt or to punishment. Cone v. Bell , 556 U.S. ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 1). To establish that a Brady violation undermines a conviction, a convicted defendant must make each of three showings: (1) the evidence at issue is favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory, or because it is impeaching; (2) the State suppressed the evidence, either willfully or inadvertently; and (3) prejudice ensued. Strickler v. Greene , 527 U.S. 263, 281282 (1999) ; see Banks v. Dretke , 540 U.S. 668, 691 (2004) .

Unlike DNA testing, which may yield exculpatory, incriminating, or inconclusive results, a Brady claim, when successful postconviction, necessarily yields evidence undermining a conviction: Brady evidence is, by definition, always favorable to the defendant and material to his guilt or punishment. See Strickler , 527 U.S., at 296. And parties asserting Brady violations postconviction generally do seek a judgment qualifying them for immediate or speedier release from imprisonment. See Dotson , 544 U.S., at 82. Accordingly, Brady claims have ranked within the traditional core of habeas corpus and outside the province of 1983. See Heck , 512 U.S., at 479, 490 (claim that prosecutors and an investigator had knowingly destroyed evidence which was exculpatory in nature and could have proved [petitioners] innocence cannot be maintained under 1983); Amaker v. Weiner , 179 F.3d 48, 51 (CA2 1999) (claim [that] sounds under Brady v. Maryland does indeed call into question the validity of [the] conviction); Beck v. Muskogee Police Dept. , 195 F.3d 553, 560 (CA10 1999) (same).

III

Finally, Switzer presents several reasons why Skinners complaint should fail for lack of merit. Those arguments, unaddressed by the courts below, are ripe for consideration on remand. [M]indful that we are a court of review, not of first view, Cutter v. Wilkinson , 544 U.S. 709, n.7 (2005), we confine this opinion to the matter on which we granted certiorari and express no opinion on the ultimate disposition of Skinners federal action.

***

For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.


Notes

1 At trial, a defense witness testified that, on the evening of the killings, Busby had spurned Donnells rude sexual advances. Skinner v. State, 956 S.W. 2d 532, 535 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). A neighbor related at a federal postconviction hearing that she observed Donnell, a day or two after the murders, thoroughly cleaning the carpets and inside of his pickup truck. See Skinner v. Quarterman, 528 F.3d 336, 345 (CA5 2008).

2 After Skinners conviction, the State performed DNA tests on certain additional materials, but Skinner took no part in the selectionof those materials or their testing. Skinner maintains that theseex parte tests were inconclusive. See Complaint 19, App. 12 (this testing raised more questions than it answered). But see Skinner v. State, 122 S.W. 3d 808, 811 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003) (some findings were inculpatory).

3 Skinners trial counsel, although aware that biological evidence remained untested, did not request further testing. Postconviction, Skinner sought DNA testing of vaginal swabs and finger nail clippings taken from Busby, blood and hairs on a jacket found next to Busbys body, and biological material on knives and a dish towel recovered at the crime scene. Complaint 22, App. 1415.

4 On the basis of discovery in a federal postconviction proceeding, an expert retained by Skinner concluded that Skinner, Busby, and her two sons could be excluded as sources of a hair collected from Busbys right hand after the killings. See Record 190. See also Complaint 27, App. 18.

5 The District Attorney, in response to Skinners second motion, informed the Texas district court that [t]o the best of the States information, knowledge, and belief, the items sought to be tested are still available for testing, the chain of custody is intact, and the items are in a condition to be tested although the State has not sought expert opinion in that regard. Record 202. See also Complaint 29, App. 19.

6 The State of Texas scheduled Skinners execution for March 24, 2010. We granted Skinners application to stay his execution until further action of this Court. 559 U.S. ___ (2010).

7 He also persistently sought the States voluntary testing of the materials he identified. See Complaint 31, App. 20.

8 Unlike the petitioner in District Attorneys Office for Third Judicial Dist. v. Osborne, 557 U.S. ___ (2009), who attempt[ed] to sidestep state process through a federal lawsuit, id., at ___ (slip op., at 17), Skinner first resorted to state court, see supra, at 56. In this respect, Skinner is better positioned to urge in federal court the inadequacy of the state-law procedures available to him in state postconviction relief. Osborne, 557 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 18).

9 The judgment assailed in Feldman was rendered by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, equivalent for this purpose to a states highest court.

10 The Court further observed in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 292293 (2005) , that [w]hen there is parallel state and federal litigation, state preclusion law may become decisive, but [p]reclusion is not a jurisdictional matter.

11 Switzer asserts that Skinner could have raised his federal claim in the Article 64 proceeding. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 48. Even if that were so, Rooker-Feldman is not simply preclusion by another name, Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 466 (2006) (per curiam), and questions of preclusion unresolved below are best left for full airing and decision on remand, id., at 467 (Ginsburg, J., concurring).

12 The dissent would muddle the clear line Heck and Dotson drew, and instead would instruct district courts to resort to first principles each time a state prisoner files a 1983 claim in federal court. Post, at 2, 7.

13 Unlike the parole determinations at issue in Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005) , Switzer urges, claims like Skinners require inquiry into the States proof at trial and therefore lie at the core of the criminal proceeding itself. Tr. of Oral 41; see id., at 3334. Dotson declared, however, in no uncertain terms, that when a prisoners claim would not necessarily spell speedier release, that claim does not lie at the core of habeas corpus, and may be brought, if at all, under 1983. 544 U.S., at 82 (majority opinion) (internal quotation marks omitted); see id., at 8586 (Scalia, J., concurring). Whatever might be said of Switzers argument were we to recast our doctrine, Switzers position cannot be reconciled with the line our precedent currently draws. Nor can the dissents advocacy of a retur[n] to first principles. Post, at 7. Given the importance of providing clear guidance to the lower courts, we again see no reason for moving the line our cases draw. Dotson, 544 U.S., at 84.

HENRY W. SKINNER, PETITIONER v. LYNN
SWITZER, DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR THE <linebreak>31st JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF TEXAS

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit


[March 7, 2011]

Justice Thomas , with whom Justice Kennedy and Justice Alito join, dissenting.

The Court holds that Skinner may bring under 42 U.S.C. 1983 his procedural due process claim challenging Texas postconviction DNA statute. Ante , at 8. I disagree. 1 I accept the majoritys characterization of the issue here as the question left open in District Attorneys Office for Third Judicial Dist. v. Osborne, 557 U.S. ___ (2009), ante , at 1, where a prisoner challenged the constitutional adequacy of the access to DNA evidence provided by Alaskas general postconviction relief statute, 557 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 10). Like Osborne, Skinner seeks to challenge state collateral review procedures. 2 I would now hold that these claims are not cognizable under 1983.

I

The Court has recognized that 1983 does not reach to the full extent of its broad language. Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475, 489 (1973) ; see, e.g., Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, 485 (1994) (1983 should not expand opportunities for collateral attack). But this Court has never purported to fully circumscribe the boundaries of 1983. Cf. id. , at 482. Rather, we have evaluated each claim as it has come before us, reasoning from first principles and our prior decisions.

In Preiser v. Rodriguez , the Court began with the undisputed proposition that a state prisoner may not use 1983 to challeng[e] his underlying conviction and sentence on federal constitutional grounds. 411 U.S., at 489. This included attacks on the trial procedures. See id. , at 486 (den[ial] [of] constitutional rights at trial). From there, the Court reasoned that immediate release from [physical] confinement or the shortening of its duration also cannot be sought under 1983. Id. , at 489; see also Wolff v. McDonnell , 418 U.S. 539 (1974) (refusing to allow a 1983 suit for restoration of good-time credits); Edwards v. Balisok , 520 U.S. 641 (1997) (refusing to allow a 1983 procedural challenge to the process used to revoke good-time credits). Then, in Heck v. Humphrey , we addressed 1983 actions seeking damages. 512 U.S., at 483. Determining that such actions were not covered by Preiser , we returned to the hoary principle that civil tort actions are not appropriate vehicles for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments, 512 U.S., at 486, and concluded that a complaint must be dismissed where a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence, id. , at 487. Most recently, in Wilkinson v. Dotson , 544 U.S. 74, 82 (2005) , we applied the principles from these prior decisions and found cognizable under 1983 a claim that sought to render invalid the state procedures used to deny parole eligibility and parole suitability.

II

We have not previously addressed whether due process challenges to state collateral review procedures may be brought under 1983, and I would hold that they may not. Challenges to all state procedures for reviewing the validity of a conviction should be treated the same as challenges to state trial procedures, which we have already recognized may not be brought under 1983. Moreover, allowing such challenges under 1983 would undermine Congress strict limitations on federal review of state habeas decisions. If cognizable at all, Skinners claim sounds in habeas corpus.

First, for the purposes of the Due Process Clause, the process of law for the deprivation of liberty comprises all proceduresincluding collateral review proceduresthat establish and review the validity of a conviction. This has long been recognized for direct appellate review:

And while the Fourteenth Amendment does not require that a State shall provide for an appellate review in criminal cases, it is perfectly obvious that where such an appeal is provided for, and the prisoner has had the benefit of it, the proceedings in the appellate tribunal are to be regarded as part of the process of law under which he is held in custody by the State, and to be considered in determining any question of alleged deprivation of his life or liberty contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment . Frank v. Mangum , 237 U.S. 309, 327 (1915) (citations omitted).

Similarly, although a State is not required to provide procedures for postconviction review, it seems clear that when state collateral review procedures are provided for, they too are part of the process of law under which [a prisoner] is held in custody by the State. Ibid. As this Court has explained, when considering whether the State has provided all the process that is due in depriving an individual of life, liberty, or property, we must look at both pre- and post-deprivation process. See Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. Loudermill , 470 U.S. 532, n.12 (1985) ([T]he existence of post-termination procedures is relevant to the necessary scope of pretermination procedures); see also National Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Oklahoma Tax Commn , 515 U.S. 582, 587 (1995) ; Mathews v. Eldridge , 424 U.S. 319, 349 (1976) . There is no principled reason this Court should refuse to allow 1983 suits to challenge part of this processthe trial proceedingsbut bless the use of 1983 to challenge other parts.

Collateral review procedures are, of course, not part of the criminal proceeding itself. Pennsylvania v. Finley , 481 U.S. 551, 557 (1987) . But like trial and direct appellate procedures, they concern the validity of the conviction. Trial procedures are used to initially convict a prisoner; appellate procedures review the validity of that conviction before it becomes final; and collateral review procedures permit challenge to the conviction after it is final. For purposes of deciding which claims fall within the bounds of 1983, I think it makes sense to treat similarly all constitutional challenges to procedures concerning the validity of a conviction. See Heck , supra , at 491 ( Thomas , J., concurring) ([I]t is proper for the Court to devise limitations aimed at ameliorating the conflict [between habeas and 1983], provided that it does so in a principled fashion).

Second, principles of federalism and comity [are] at stake when federal courts review state collateral review procedures, just as when they review state trial procedures. Osborne , 557 U.S., at ___ ( Alito , J., concurring) (slip op., at 2). An attack in federal court on any state judicial action concerning a state conviction must proceed with proper respect for state functions, because the federal courts are being asked to tr[y] the regularity of proceedings had in courts of coordinate jurisdiction. Preiser , 411 U.S., at 491 (internal quotation marks and emphasis omitted).

Because of these concerns for federal-state comity, Congress has strictly limited the procedures for federal habeas challenges to state convictions and state habeas decisions. Congress requires that before a state prisoner may seek relief in federal court, he must exhaus[t] the remedies available in the courts of the State. 28 U.S.C. 2254(b)(1)(A). And state habeas determinations receive significant deference in subsequent federal habeas proceedings. 2254(d). These requirements ensure that the state courts have the first opportunity to correct any error with a state conviction and that their rulings receive due respect in subsequent federal challenges.

By bringing a procedural challenge under 1983, Skinner undermines these restrictions. For example, Skinner has never presented his current challenge to Texas procedures for postconviction relief to the Texas courts. Allowing Skinner to artfully plead an attack on state habeas procedures instead of an attack on state habeas results undercuts the restrictions Congress and this Court have placed on federal review of state convictions. See Osborne , supra , at ___ ( Alito , J., concurring) (slip op., at 3). To allege that the Texas courts erred in denying him relief on collateral review, Skinner could only file a federal habeas petition, with its accompanying procedural restrictions and deferential review. But a successful challenge to Texas collateral review procedures under 1983 would impeach the result of collateral review without complying with any of the restrictions for relief in federal habeas.

The majority contends that its decision will not spill over to claims relying on Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83 (1963) . Ante , at 13; but cf. Osborne , supra , at ______ ( Alito, J. , concurring) (slip op., at 35). In truth, the majority provides a roadmap for any unsuccessful state habeas petitioner to relitigate his claim under 1983: After state habeas is denied, file a 1983 suit challenging the state habeas process rather than the result. What prisoner would not avail himself of this additional bite at the apple? 3

III

The majority relies on Dotson to reach its conclusion. In that case, the plaintiffs alleged due process violations in state parole adjudications and sought injunctive relief and a new parole hearing conducted under constitutionally proper procedures. 544 U.S., at 77. We found the claims cognizable under 1983.

Dotson does not control this case. Unlike state collateral review, parole does not evaluate the validity of the underlying state conviction or sentence. Collateral review permits prisoners to attack their final convictions. Osborne , supra , at ___ ( Alito, J. , concurring) (slip op., at 2). In contrast, parole may provide release, but whether or not a prisoner is paroled in no way relates to the validity of the underlying conviction or sentence. Whatever the correctness of Dotson , parole procedures do not review the validity of a conviction or sentence. For that reason, permitting review of parole procedures does not similarly risk transforming 1983 into a vehicle for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments. Heck , 512 U.S., at 486.

Contrary to the majoritys contention, Dotson did not reduce the question whether a claim is cognizable under 1983 to a single inquiry into whether the prisoners claim would necessarily spell speedier release. See ante , at 11, 12, n.12 (internal quotation marks omitted). 4 As we recognized in Heck , evaluating the boundaries of 1983 is not a narrow, mechanical inquiry. Even when the relief sought was not speedier release, we inquired further and returned to first principles to determine that the chal-lenge in that case was not cognizable under 1983. 5 See 512 U.S., at 486. Dotson does not suggest that the Heck approach, which I would continue to follow here, was incorrect.

***

This Court has struggled to limit 1983 and prevent it from intruding into the boundaries of habeas corpus. In crafting these limits, we have recognized that suits seeking immediate or speedier release from confinement fall outside its scope. Dotson , supra , at 82. We found another limit when faced with a civil action in which a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence. Heck , supra , at 487. This case calls for yet another: due process challenges to state procedures used to review the validity of a conviction or sentence. Under that rule, Skinners claim is not cognizable under 1983, and the judgment of the Court of Appeals should be affirmed. I respectfully dissent.


Notes

1 I adopt the majoritys view that Skinner has alleged a violation of procedural due process despite the fact that his complaint is more naturally read as alleging a violation of substantive due process. I also ignore the questionable premise that the requested reliefDNA testingwould be available in a procedural due process challenge. Compare Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 77 (2005) (seeking a new parole hearing conducted under constitutionally proper procedures), with Osborne, 557 U.S., at ___, n.1 (Alito, J., concurring) (slip op., at 4, n.1) (distinguishing Dotson because Osborne sought exculpatory evidence).

2 Skinner challenges Texas Article 64, Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann., Art. 64.01 et seq. (Vernon 2006 and Supp. 2010), which provides for postconviction discovery of DNA evidence that can then be used in a state habeas proceeding to challenge the validity of a conviction. See Ard v. State, 191 S.W. 3d 342, 344 (Tex. App. 2006). Article 64 does not itself provide a vehicle for obtaining relief, Ex parte Tuley, 109 S.W. 3d 388, 391 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002), but rather is by design andby nature part of Texas collateral review procedures. See Reply Brief for Petitioner 8 (Because [Article 64] does not give the convicting court authority to overturn a conviction, the prisoner still must bring a habeas proceeding to challenge the conviction). Although Article 64 is, for the purposes of Skinners due process challenge, part of the state collateral review process, I do not suggest that a motion under Article 64 is an application for collateral review under 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(2). See Wall v. Kholi, post, at 10, n.4 (noting that an application for review must provide a state court with authority to order relief from a judgment). Texas has divided postconviction discovery of DNA evidence and the application for state habeas into separate proceedings, but both remain parts of the States collateral review process.

3 Nor is there any reason to believe that the Courts holding will be cabined to collateral review procedures. The Court does not discuss whether a States direct review process may be subject to challenge under 1983, but it suggests no principled distinction between direct and collateral review. This risks transforming 1983 into a vehicle for direct criminal appeals. Cf. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486 (1994) . Just as any unsuccessful state habeas petitioner will now resort to 1983 and challenge state collateral review procedures, so, too, will unsuccessful appellants turn to 1983 to challenge the state appellate procedures.

4 Because parole procedures are unrelated to the validity of a con-viction, a necessarily spell speedier release test may sufficiently summarize the analysis of 1983 challenges to parole procedures. But necessarily spell speedier release cannot be the only limit when a prisoner challenges procedures used to review the validity of the underlying conviction.

5 As respondent argued, our existing formulations are not the end of the test. Tr. of Oral Arg. 3233.