United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division
ORDER ADOPTING AND REJECTING FINDINGS AND
MORRIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
Robert Crawford, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a
Complaint alleging violations of his constitutional rights
under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on January 17, 2017. (Doc. 2.) Crawford
named the following Defendants in his Complaint: Casey
Couture, Flathead Tribal Police Officer; the United States
for the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes; Flathead Police
Department; others unknown; the Montana Twentieth Judicial
District Court; and the Supreme Court of the Montana.
Id. Crawford alleges that Defendants violated
various constitutional rights in connection with his
interactions with Flathead Tribal Police Officer Couture on
March 13, 2012, and March 17, 2012. Id.
States Magistrate Judge John Johnston entered Findings and
Recommendations in this matter on January 20, 2017. (Doc. 4.)
Judge Johnston recommended that the Court dismiss the case on
the basis that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477,
486-87 (1994), bars all of Crawford's claims.
Id. at 5, 7. Crawford filed an objection to the
Findings and Recommendations on January 30, 2017. (Doc. 6.)
The Court reviews de novo findings and recommendations to
which parties make objections. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
Johnston acknowledged that the Court must screen
Crawford's Complaint and dismiss it or portions thereof
if the complaint is “frivolous, ” “fails to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” or
“seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune.” Doc. 4 at 3, citing 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and
28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Judge Johnston has recommended that
the Court dismiss the entire action on the basis that the
doctrine espoused in Heck bars all claims.
(Doc. 4 at 6.)
bars all § 1983 claims that, if successful, would
invalidate the plaintiff's conviction, unless the
conviction or sentence already has been reversed on direct
appeal. Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87. Judge Johnston
correctly noted this doctrine and applied it to
Crawford's Complaint. Judge Johnston determined that
“all of the claims raised in Mr. Crawford's
Complaint arise out of [the same events that resulted in his
conviction] and the subsequent criminal proceedings. (Doc. 4
at 6.) Judge Johnston then concluded that Heck
barred all of Crawford's claims in light of the fact that
his conviction otherwise had not been reversed, declared
invalid, expunged, or called into question. Id.
Court agrees that Heck bars many of Crawford's
claims. The Court disagrees, however, as to Crawford's
claims of excessive force that are directed at Officer
Couture. The Ninth Circuit has determined that claims of
excessive force and other similar claims can survive the
Heck bar on the grounds that these claims do not
necessarily invalidate the conviction. The Ninth Circuit in
Smith v. City of Hemet, 394 F.3d 689, 696-99 (9th
Cir. 2005), analyzed whether the Heck doctrine
barred a Plaintiff's excessive force § 1983 claim.
The plaintiff had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor resisting
arrest charge, but subsequently brought a § 1983 suit
alleging that defendant police officers had wielded excessive
force by pepper spraying the plaintiff and ordering dogs to
attack him. Id. at 694. The Court reasoned that
Heck did not serve as a bar to the Plaintiff's
§ 1983 excessive force claim because the claim did
“not necessarily render invalid” the underlying
conviction of resisting arrest. Id. at 696.
claims of excessive force likewise need not invalidate his
conviction on drug-related charges. The facts underlying
Crawford's excessive force claims and the facts
underlying his drug crime conviction prove separate, despite
all facts occurring during the same two interactions.
Crawford could be guilty of the crime of conviction, while
Officer Couture could face civil liability having used
excessive force. The civil excessive force claim, if
successful, and the criminal conviction can coexist. The
Court's reasoning in Smith counsels, therefore,
that Heck does not bar Crawford's excessive
Court notes that there may be issues with Crawford's
excessive force claim outside of the Heck bar raised
in Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations. The
Court remains aware, for instance, that the Court must
dismiss a claim at the screening process juncture if the
complaint seeks money damages from a person or entity cloaked
with immunity. Doc. 4 at 3, citing 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and
28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Crawford has named a
federally-recognized tribe and a tribal law enforcement
officer as defendants. (Doc. 2.) Sovereign immunity and
qualified immunity issues related to these Defendants may
prevent Crawford's excessive force claim from going
forward. Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations
declined to address these issues in light of his application
of Heck to all of Crawford's claims. The Court
deems it best for Judge Johnston to resolve these potential
issues with regards to Crawford's excessive force claim
in a forthcoming findings and recommendations, consistent
with this Order.
Court has reviewed Judge Johnston's Findings and
Recommendations for clear error. The Court adopts in part and
rejects in part. The Court rejects the Findings and
Recommendations to the extent that they recommend to dismiss
Crawford's excessive force claim. The Court otherwise
adopts the Findings and Recommendations.
1. Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations (Doc. 4)
is ADOPTED IN PART AND REJECTED IN PART. The Court rejects
the Findings and Recommendations to the extent that they
recommend to dismiss Crawford's excessive force claim.
The Court otherwise adopts the Findings and Recommendations.
2. Further screening of Crawford's excessive force claim
shall be referred to Judge Johnston for analysis in a