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Seventh Circuit allows suit to proceed against DOC personnel for mistakes in calculating probation term

Robert W. Huber v. Gloria Anderson, et al., 7th Circuit Court of Appeals No. 17-1302 (Nov. 26, 2018)

Though not directly related to the day-to-day practice of criminal law, this decision may be of interest, if only for its holding regarding the time limits for a person to sue DOC based on claims it improperly kept the person in prison or on supervision.

In 1988 Huber was placed on four years of probation for making fraudulent credit card charges in the amount of $800. His probation was extended for three years because he was not finished paying restitution, so he was told by his agent at the time that his probation was going to discharge in November 1995. But then his agent (backed by another subaltern DOC functionary) decided his probation had been tolled for absconding and that he was still on paper. He was eventually revoked and sent to prison, paroled, and revoked again, though throughout Huber complained over and again that DOC didn’t have jurisdiction over him after November 1995 because DOC didn’t take the steps required under § 304.072 to toll his supervision. It took the state until 2014 to recognize that Huber was right and to vacate his ongoing sentence. (Slip op. at 2-7).

So Huber sued various DOC employees in federal district court, alleging, among other things, that they violated the Eighth Amendment and denied Huber access to the courts. The district court dismissed most of Huber’s claims as untimely, a ruling the state now concedes was erroneous, except with respect to Huber’s Eighth Amendment claims, which the state still insists are time barred. But those, too, are timely, the Seventh Circuit holds, under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), which holds that any § 1983 action challenging the fact or length of confinement does not accrue until the underlying confinement has been invalidated through a direct appeal, post-conviction relief, or some other means; until that happens–that is, so long as the person remains in custody or on supervision under the sentence—the person’s remedy is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. (Slip op. at 7-11). Thus:

This case calls for no more than a simple application of Heck’s rule. Invoking the Eighth Amendment, Huber alleges that defendants, through their deliberate indifference, unlawfully prolonged his custody. Had Huber tried to file this action before January 2014, he would have been blocked by Heck. His claim did not accrue until the Circuit Court invalidated his sentence. Huber filed this action in 2016, well within Wisconsin’s six-year statute of limitations (and also within its new three-year period).

(Slip op. at 9).

There’s much more detail in the decision, including some rather curt criticism of the state’s attempts to get around Heck. Also, the district court granted summary judgment on some of Huber’s other claims, but the court holds that was premature in a fact-intensive discussion that describes Huber’s diligent efforts to get DOC to listen and how DOC fobbed off his efforts with its head-in-the-sand (and sometimes obstructionist) handling of his claims. (Slip op. at 11-15).

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