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Prisoner's Excessive Force LawSuit Proceeds

Gabbi Lemos v. County Of Sonoma Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Docket: 19-15222, Opinion Date: July 19, 2022. Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s dismissal of her claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging that a sheriff’s deputy used excessive force in arresting her. The district court held that Plaintiff’s claim was barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), because Plaintiff was convicted of willfully resisting, delaying, or obstructing the deputy during the same interaction in violation of Cal. Penal Code section 148(a)(1). The en banc Ninth Circuit court reversed the district court’s summary judgment for Defendants. The court held that because the record did not show that Plaintiff’s section 1983 action necessarily rested on the same event as her criminal conviction, success in the former would not necessarily imply the invalidity of the latter. Heck would bar Plaintiff from bringing an excessive force claim under section 1983 if that claim were based on force used during the conduct that was the basis for her section 148(a)(1) conviction. Crucially, the criminal jury was told that it could find Plaintiff guilty based on any one of four acts she committed during the course of her interaction with the Deputy. Because the jury returned a general verdict, it is not known which act it thought constituted an offense. Although any of the four acts could be the basis for the guilty verdict, Plaintiff’s section 1983 action was based on an allegation that the Deputy used excessive force during only the last one. The court held that if Plaintiff were to prevail in her civil action, it would not necessarily mean that her conviction was invalid; and the action was therefore not barred by Heck.

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