United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
Aiken United States District Judge
an inmate at Oregon State Penitentiary, brings this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges violations of
his constitutional rights arising from defendants'
refusal to produce evidence logs during plaintiffs
post-conviction proceedings. Defendants move to dismiss on
grounds that plaintiffs claims implicate the validity of his
criminal convictions and cannot be brought in a § 1983
action. For the reasons explained below, defendant's
motion is granted.
being convicted of burglary, kidnapping, robbery, felon in
possession of a firearm, and unauthorized use of a vehicle,
plaintiff was sentenced to 320 months' imprisonment.
Plaintiff remains confined pursuant to those convictions.
action, plaintiff alleges that during his state
post-conviction proceedings, Multnomah County prosecutor Rees
or an unidentified Multnomah County administrator refused to
produce chain-of-custody records related to a cap plaintiff
allegedly wore during his crimes. Sec. Am. Compl. at 7 (ECF
No. II). Plaintiff contends that defendants'
refusal to provide the custody records violated his
Fourteenth Amendment "Right to Access Evidence" and
his First and Fourteenth Amendment right to "Access the
Court." Id. at 25-41 (Claims
1-6). Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of
$2, 000, 000.
crux of plaintiff s claims is the contention that his cap was
physically altered to look like a mask while in State custody
during his criminal proceedings. At plaintiffs trial, a law
enforcement officer testified that plaintiffs cap had mouth
and eye holes cut into it, like a mask, when it was first
seized. However, a forensic expert later testified that the
cap did not have mouth and eye holes when she examined it,
and that she took four smaller cuttings from the cap for DNA
analysis. Plaintiff maintains that Rees did not take measures
to correct the officer's testimony, knowing that it was
incorrect or false.
his post-conviction relief (PCR) proceedings in 2013 and
2014, plaintiff sought to obtain the cap and any relevant
custody logs "in order to prove several newly discovered
evidence claims of prosecutorial misconduct" arising
from the alteration of his cap and Rees's failure to
disclose the alteration. Sec. Am. Compl. at 6. The State
produced custody logs for the the cap until 2002 but it was
unable to locate the cap. Eventually, the State informed
plaintiffs PCR counsel that the cap likely had been
destroyed. Id. at 8.
alleges that Rees's refusal to produce post-2002 custody
logs for the cap prevented plaintiff from establishing a
viable Brady claim in his PCR proceedings. See
Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963) (requiring the
disclosure of favorable, material evidence to an accused).
Specifically, plaintiff alleges that
defendants['] refusal to give me their true and accurate
Chain of Custody Records after 2002 has caused me to suffer
actual injury and has prejudiced me because I could not name
the state agency and agent who had Custody of my cap when it
mysteriously disappeared, therefore, I could not raise any
lost or destruction of evidence claims during my 2014
Sec. Am. Compl. at 10. Plaintiff contends that he now needs
the custody logs to determine which agency had custody of the
cap after his trial to support a potential Brady
move for dismissal on grounds that plaintiffs claims
necessarily implicate the validity of his convictions and
must be dismissed under the Heck doctrine. See
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Under
Heck and its progeny, "a prisoner in state
custody cannot use a § 1983 action to challenge 'the
fact or duration of his confinement'" unless the
conviction or sentence has been reversed or otherwise
invalidated. Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 78
(2005) (citing cases); Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87.
More specifically, "a state prisoner's § 1983
action is barred (absent prior invalidation) - no matter the
relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the
target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to
conviction or internal prison proceedings) - if
success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the
invalidity of confinement or its duration." Id.
at 81-82. Generally, a § 1983 claim under Brady
implicates confinement and is subject to the Heck
rule. See Skinnder v. Switzer, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1300
(2011) ("Brady claims have ranked within the
traditional core of habeas corpus and outside the province of
§ 1983."). Defendants maintain that a ruling in
plaintiffs favor, based on defendants' failure to
disclose favorable evidence under Brady, would
necessarily place in question the validity of plaintiff s
response, plaintiff argues that his claims are not barred by
Heck because success on his claims "would only
guarantee access to evidence the results of which are not
known" and he '"would still have to file a
separate action in a separate Court to get any relief."
Pl.'s Response at 8 (ECF No. 22). Plaintiff emphasizes
that he is "arguing that success in my case would only
yield access to evidence, (i.e chain of custody records),
nothing more." Id. at 8. Plaintiff maintains
that he cannot raise a Brady claim against the State
for tampering with evidence without access to the custody
records to determine what agency or department possessed the
cap when it disappeared. Id. at 6. Accordingly,
plaintiff files this § 1983 action only to obtain
evidence that could enable him to challenge his
convictions. Id. at 7-9.
claims are premised on his asserted Fourteenth Amendment
"right to access evidence." However, the right
claimed by plaintiff derives from Brady and the
State's duty to disclose "favorable" evidence
to a criminal defendant "where the evidence is
material" to guilt or innocence. Brady, 373
U.S. at 87. Under Brady, evidence is material
"if there is a reasonable probability that, had the
evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the
proceeding would have been different. A 'reasonable
probability' is a probability sufficient to undermine
confidence in the outcome." United States v.
Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 682 (1985).
Court found that plaintiffs constitutional right to
"access" Brady evidence had been violated
and granted the injunctive relief requested, that finding
would necessarily implicate the fact of his convictions.
Plaintiff possesses no constitutional right to production of
the custody records independent of the right established in
Brady. Fox v. Cty. of Tulare, 672 Fed.App'x 767,
768 (9th Cir. 2017) ("The district court correctly
concluded that there was no specific procedural due process
right to access evidence."); Thames v. Los Angeles
Police Dep't, 2008 WL 2641361, at *4 (CD. Cal. June
30, 2008) (finding that plaintiff had no due process right to
access police investigative records absent showing that the
records were favorable and material under Brady).
Thus, in order to grant the injunctive relief requested by
plaintiff, I must find that favorable evidence
material to plaintiffs guilt or innocence - evidence
that likely would have ...