United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
DePaola, Pro Se Plaintiff;
Grace Miller, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the
Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for
Defendants Clarke, Barksdale, Mullins, Robinson, and Elam.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Jones United States District Judge
plaintiff, Eric DePaola, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se,
alleges in his Amended Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
that he was denied due process protections in disciplinary
proceedings in which he was found guilty and fined. The
defendants, by counsel, have filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment, asserting that they are entitled to absolute or
qualified immunity and, in the alternative, that
DePaola's claims are without merit. The defendants have
also moved to stay discovery until the threshold issue of
qualified immunity is decided. After review of the record,
the court concludes that the requested stay is not
doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials
from liability for civil damages where “their conduct
does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800,
818 (1982). Qualified immunity, as a threshold issue, can
operate to protect government officials from the burdens of
discovery and trial. See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S.
226, 231-32 (1991). An officer is entitled to qualified
immunity if the court finds that either: (1) the facts, taken
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, do not present
the elements necessary to state a violation of a
constitutional right; or (2) the right was not clearly
established such that it would not have been “clear to
a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the
situation he confronted.” Henry v. Purnell,
501 F.3d 374, 377 (4th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted); see Pearson v. Callahan, 555
U.S. 223, 236 (2009) (holding that court may determine which
facet of qualified immunity analysis to consider first).
defendants first argue that DePaola's § 1983 claims
about his disciplinary proceedings are barred under Heck
v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), and that as such, they
were entitled to qualified immunity. I cannot agree.
the ruling in Heck, “a state prisoner's
§ 1983 action is barred . . . if success in that action
would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of [that
prisoner's] confinement or its duration, ” unless
the prisoner proves that the challenged criminal or
disciplinary conviction has been terminated in his favor.
Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005)
(interpreting Heck holding); see also Edwards v.
Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 647-48 (1997) (applying Heck to
§ 1983 claim seeking restoration of good conduct time
forfeited as penalty for prison disciplinary conviction). The
favorable termination requirement in Heck and
Balisok does not apply, however, to disciplinary
conviction challenges that do not call into question the fact
or length of the inmate's term of confinement. See,
e.g., Balisok, 520 U.S. at 648; Muhammad v.
Close, 540 U.S. 749, 751 (2004) (per curiam) (finding
Heck requirement to overturn disciplinary conviction
by other means before filing a § 1983 does not apply
where success in § 1983 action “threatens no
consequence for his conviction or the duration of
[inmate's] sentence”). The fine imposed on DePaola
had no effect on the length of his confinement. Thus, his
success in this § 1983 action would not imply the
invalidity of that term of confinement, and his current
claims are not barred under Heck.
defendants also argue that compared to expected prison
conditions, the fine imposed on DePaola was not an atypical
and significant hardship that triggered federal
constitutional protections. See Sandin v. Conner,
515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). In the alternative, they argue that
because DePaola had adequate post-deprivation remedies under
state law, he has no constitutional claim regarding the fine
as a property loss. See Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S.
517, 533 (1984). I reached similar conclusions when I
summarily dismissed DePaola's Complaint under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(b)(1). See DePaola v. Clarke, No.
7:17CV00028, 2017 WL 2984144, at *5-6 (W.D. Va. July 13,
2017), appeal dismissed and remanded, 708 Fed.Appx.
792 (4th Cir. 2018) (unpublished).
in dismissing DePaola's appeal as a nonfinal order, the
court of appeals did not find these defenses to be
determinative of DePaola's due process claims.
DePaola, 708 Fed.Appx. at 793. Rather, the court of
appeals noted that DePaola might be able to cure the defects
in his claims by amending the facts about the disciplinary
proceedings, id., and DePaola has filed an Amended
Complaint. In light of the court of appeals' findings and
remand, I intend to address the merits of DePaola's due
process claims under Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S.
539, 556 (1974), and Superintendent, Massachusetts
Correctional Institution, Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445,
addition to the previously referenced legal defenses, the
defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment
on the merits of DePaola's claims. In so doing, however,
they submit extensive evidence that contradicts DePaola's
allegations in the Amended Complaint. I find that
DePaola's allegations state potential due process and/or
state law claims against one or more of the defendants, and
that the due process principles at issue are clearly
established. Moreover, DePaola requests not only monetary
damages, but also injunctive relief to expunge his
disciplinary conviction from his record. For these reasons, I
conclude that a stay of discovery pending a separate ruling
only on qualified immunity is not warranted.
reasons stated, it is now ORDERED as
defendants' motion to stay discovery (ECF No. 32) is
defendants are DIRECTED to respond within 30 days from entry
of this Opinion and Order, to plaintiff's discovery
DePaola is DIRECTED to submit his response to defendants'
motion for summary judgment within 60 days ...