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Dixon v. Hodges

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 23, 2018

KIRK DIXON, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
CAPTAIN JAMES HODGES, Everglades Correctional Institution, et al., Defendants, NATHAN S. POLLOCK, Everglades Correctional Institution, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 1:15-cv-22910-UU

          Before TJOFLAT, MARCUS, and ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM

         Kirk Dixon, a Florida prisoner proceeding pro se, appeals from the District Court's grant of a motion to dismiss his civil rights complaint (filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364 (1994). The Heck rule, as extended by Edwards v. Balisok, strips a district court of jurisdiction in a § 1983 suit brought by an imprisoned plaintiff "if 'a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity'" of a punishment that "deprive[d] him of good-time credits, " also referred to as gain time. 520 U.S. 641, 643, 117 S.Ct. 1584, 1586 (1997) (quoting Heck, 512 U.S. at 487, 114 S.Ct. at 2372).

         Dixon was punished and lost gain time, but his § 1983 suit, if successful, would not necessarily imply that his punishment is invalid. Because success in this § 1983 suit would not necessarily be "logically contradictory" with the underlying punishment, this suit is not barred by Heck. See Dyer v. Lee, 488 F.3d 876, 884 (11th Cir. 2007). The District Court erred by concluding otherwise and dismissing the complaint. We accordingly vacate the judgment and remand.

         I.

         A district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction presents a legal question that we review de novo. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 619 F.3d 1289, 1296 (11th Cir. 2010). On review, the allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Maradiaga v. United States, 679 F.3d 1286, 1291 (11th Cir. 2012). We also construe pro se pleadings liberally. Timson v. Sampson, 518 F.3d 870, 874 (11th Cir. 2008). Therefore, we state the facts as alleged in Dixon's liberally-construed complaint, viewed in the light most favorable to him.

         II.

         In 2013, prison officials at Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami assigned an elderly, handicapped inmate to the top bunk in Dixon's cell. This inmate was unable to reach the top bunk due to his disability. Dixon went to the officers' station to discuss this issue on August 12, 2013. Officer Nathan Pollock was present, among others.

         Dixon tried to explain the problem to the officers, but they refused to listen to him. As Dixon continued to speak, Pollock began to shout at him. Dixon asked Pollock why he was shouting, and Pollock leapt out of his chair, approached Dixon threateningly, and told him to return to his assigned dormitory. Dixon turned to leave. After that, Pollock stepped on his right heel, tripping him. Pollock then picked Dixon up from the cement floor and slammed him down into it. Pollock proceeded to kick Dixon in his face and body for about two minutes before other officers approached and handcuffed Dixon. Dixon suffered serious injuries as a result. His shirt was soaked in blood and his face became unrecognizable from swelling. He fractured his ribs, bruised his sternum, lost eyesight and was unable to walk for a time, and suffered a concussion.

         Pollock's version of events differs significantly from Dixon's. Pollock claims that Dixon ignored several orders to leave the officers' station. After Dixon finally did turn to leave, he made a fist with his hand and turned back to lunge at Pollock. Pollock contends that he used appropriate force in a manner necessary to subdue Dixon and that no medical professional ever found evidence of any trauma or injury suffered by Dixon as a result of this incident.[1] On August 23, 2013, Dixon received a disciplinary report including one charge of Battery or Attempted Battery on a Correctional Officer. He was found guilty, and his punishment included a loss of gain time.

         On August 4, 2015, Dixon filed a lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983 alleging, inter alia, that Pollock used excessive force against him on August 12, 2013, in violation of his constitutional rights. Pollock moved to dismiss the complaint for a failure to exhaust administrative remedies and for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Heck, and Pollock further moved for summary judgment. The Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending that Pollock's motion to dismiss be granted on the basis of Heck (but that it was due to be denied on exhaustion grounds) and recommending that Pollock's motion for summary judgment be denied as moot. The District Court adopted the R&R and dismissed the complaint, and Dixon filed this appeal.

         III.

         "[A]s long as it is possible that a § 1983 suit would not negate the underlying [punishment], then the suit is not Heck-barred." Dyer, 488 F.3d at 879- 80. Heck bars a § 1983 suit only when it is a "logical necessity" that judgment for the plaintiff in that suit would contradict the existing punishment. Id. at 879. So long as "there would still exist a construction of the facts that would allow ...


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