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Eleventh Circuit rules that plaintiff’s excessive force civil rights case was not barred by his criminal convictions for assault on a law enforcement officer and fleeing to elude during the same encounter with law enforcement

On October 13, 2020, in Harrigan v. Rodriguez, No. 17-11264, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a U.S. district court’s summary judgment in favor of the defendant Miami-Dade police officer in a 42 U.S.C. § 1988 civil rights excessive force case.  The plaintiff alleged that the defendant police officer used excessive force and shot him without provocation while his truck was stopped at a red light.  The district court entered the summary judgment after concluding that allowing the lawsuit to continue would imply that the plaintiff’s criminal convictions, including aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and fleeing to elude, which both related to conduct that the plaintiff alleged occurred immediately after the shooting, were invalid.  The district court relied on Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994), in which the U.S. Supreme Court barred a state prisoner’s suit seeking damages under § 1983 after concluding that success would necessarily imply the invalidity of his related criminal conviction or sentence. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the district court’s application of Heck, noting that is has previously held that for Heck to apply “it must be the case that a successful § 1983 suit and the underlying conviction be logically contradictory.”  Dyer v. Lee, 488 F.3d 876, 884 (11th Cir. 2007). Applying this standard, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the underlying criminal convictions did not “irrefutably” contradict the plaintiff’s claim that he was shot without provocation while sitting in his car at a red light before the other illegal conduct occurred.

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