Cameron Obioha

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At the very beginning of the opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit expressed that this was “one Heck of an appeal.” Patrick Valencia, Wendall Hall’s appointed lawyer on appeal, seemed to think so, too. Hall represented himself pro sefor years while incarcerated in Florida’s state prison system, and knew his case “backwards, forwards, sideways, upwards, downwards, in the dark.” Nonetheless, after he filed the initial briefs for his own appeal, the Eleventh Circuit determined it best for Hall to take second chair. When asked about his appointment to represent Hall, Valencia stated that “[he] realized: the court didn’t appoint counsel for no reason . . . [Hall] didn’t raise the Heck issues . . . because sometimes those are impossible to win.” Well somehow, Hall did.

In Hall v. Merola, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit was tasked with deciding whether resolution of Plaintiff‑Appellant Wendall Hall’s lawsuit under § 1983 of the United States Code would necessarily require a determination against the validity of a prison disciplinary action against Hall. The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in holding that Heck v. Humphrey barred Hall’s excessive force claim because the success of Hall’s suit did not necessarily require the trial court to imply the invalidity of Hall’s prison disciplinary finding. Moreover, the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in denying Hall leave to amend because even if Heck applied to Hall’s First Amendment retaliation claim, Hall was entitled to amend his complaint at least once. The Eleventh Circuit also found that the district court erred in dismissing Hall’s claims for compensatory and punitive damages because the Prison Litigation Reform Act does not apply to actions removed from state court. Most importantly, the Eleventh Circuit’s holding that Hall’s excessive force claim was not barred by Heck creates a blueprint for pro se litigants to follow, and it clarifies how to successfully bring constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and ultimately, avoid the Heck bar.