STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS-CIVIL RIGHTS-CONVICTION-CRIMINAL TRIAL

August 22nd, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Statute of Limitations

Coello v. Dileo, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 21820 (3rd Cir. August 8, 2022) (Ambro, C.J.)  Yasmine Coello, convicted of harassment in 2007, succeeded over a decade later in having that conviction vacated. Only then did she file this civil rights action to recover for various abuses suffered during her criminal proceedings. The District Court dismissed most of her claims, concluding that Coello waited too long to bring them. In this appeal we decide when Coello’s filing clock began to run. The District Court held that it started at the time of her criminal trial and sentencing, when Coello first had reason to know of her alleged injuries. If so, her over-ten-year delay in bringing suit bars this action. According to Coello, however, that holding ignores the special timeliness rules governing her precise claims. Relying on Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S. Ct. 2364, 129 L. Ed. 2d 383 (1994), she argues that her claims all imply the invalidity of her criminal prosecution, such that she could not file suit until her conviction was vacated. If she is right, then her lawsuit was timely. Because we agree with Coello that Heck controls, we reverse the dismissal and remand for further proceedings.

We hold that, in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983. Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87 (footnotes omitted) (emphasis in original). Put simply, if judgment in the § 1983 plaintiff’s favor “would necessarily imply the invalidity of [her] conviction or sentence,” the action must be dismissed unless that conviction or sentence “has already been invalidated.” Id. at 487. And because these § 1983 plaintiffs must wait to bring their civil claims until the underlying criminal proceedings are favorably resolved, the Court held that they are not governed by the same claim accrual rules that apply in other federal cases. Instead, a § 1983 claim that attacks the validity of a plaintiff’s conviction or sentence does not accrue for statute of limitations purposes until the underlying criminal case is favorably terminated. Id. at 489-90; see Wallace, 549 U.S. at 393 (Heck “delays what would otherwise be the accrual date of a tort action until the setting aside of an extant conviction which success in that tort action would impugn” (emphasis removed)); McDonough, 139 S. Ct. at 2156-57 (a § 1983 claim alleging that the plaintiff’s conviction was obtained with fabricated evidence was akin to a malicious prosecution claim and thus did not accrue until favorable termination). To the extent the successful resolution of Coello’s claims would necessarily undermine her state criminal conviction and sentence, they are subject to this deferred-accrual rule. Accordingly, because Coello’s § 1983 claims sound in malicious prosecution, we hold that the favorable termination requirement was met on February 26, 2018, when the state court vacated her criminal conviction. We make no inquiry into whether her post-conviction proceedings suggest her innocence of the underlying charges. Coello brought this suit within two years of that date; so, under Heck’s deferred-accrual rule, her § 1983 claims were timely.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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