Submitted: January 16, 2019
from United States District Court for the Southern District
of Iowa - Des Moines
LOKEN, GRASZ, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
Thomas, an Iowa state prisoner, claims that prison officials
violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they
had him civilly committed and forcibly medicated. Because
Thomas's wrongful-commitment claim "is not
cognizable under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983," Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994), and his
forced-medication claim lacks evidentiary support, we affirm
the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing
prison officials successfully applied to have Thomas civilly
committed in 2013. See In re C.I.T. (Thomas
I), No. 14-0760, 2015 WL 576172, at *1-2 (Iowa Ct. App.
Feb. 11, 2015) (unpublished). Since then, Iowa courts have
repeatedly extended his civil commitment based on evidence
that he is "seriously mentally impaired" and poses
a danger to himself and others. See, e.g.,
id.; In re C.I.T. (Thomas II), 885
N.W.2d 830, 2016 WL 4036244, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. July 27,
2016) (unpublished); cf. In re C.T. (Thomas
III), No. 18-0320, 2018 WL 6706242, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App.
Dec. 19, 2018) (unpublished) (affirming on procedural
grounds). In particular, these decisions have emphasized
Thomas's misbehavior in prison, including incidents in
which he "stood up and pushed a table at a staff
member," Thomas I, 2015 WL 576172, at *1, and
"was involved in a physical altercation with another
inmate," Thomas II, 2016 WL 4036244, at *1.
in 2016, Thomas brought a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against several prison officials for "improperly civilly
committ[ing]" him. His theory was that they
misrepresented what he did in prison and, at certain points,
had actually "encouraged" him to misbehave, which
they then used to justify his civil commitment. Once he was
committed, Thomas alleges, the officials had him forcibly
medicated, which has "caused . . . significant emotional
and mental harm." The district court dismissed
Thomas's claims on summary judgment. Our review of its
decision is de novo. See Allard v. Baldwin, 779 F.3d
768, 771 (8th Cir. 2015).
principal claim is that civilly committing him violated his
constitutional rights. Although Thomas does not challenge the
constitutionality of Iowa's civil-commitment system in
the abstract, he complains that prison officials had him
wrongfully committed through deception and manipulation.
claim, however, collides with the rule from Heck v.
Humphrey. In Heck, the Supreme Court held that
a claim for damages is "not cognizable under §
1983" if it would undermine a still-valid state criminal
judgment. 512 U.S. at 486- 87. To be sure, Thomas's claim
involves a civil-commitment order, not a
criminal conviction, and neither this court nor the
Supreme Court has applied Heck in this particular
context, at least in a published decision. Cf. id.
at 486 (invoking "the hoary principle that civil tort
actions are not appropriate vehicles for challenging the
validity of outstanding criminal judgments"
(emphasis added)). Even so, Heck's logic reaches
Thomas's wrongful-commitment claim too.
addressed a state prisoner's allegations that officials
involved in his prosecution had conducted an unlawful
investigation, destroyed exculpatory materials, and
introduced illegal evidence at his trial. Id. at
479. Relying on the premise that "the common law of
torts . . . provide[s] the appropriate starting point for the
inquiry under [section 1983]," the Supreme Court
"analog[ized] [the prisoner's] claims" to the
closest "common-law cause of action" it could find:
malicious prosecution. Id. at 483-84 (citation
omitted); cf. Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 34 (1983)
(interpreting section 1983 in light of both modern tort law
and tort law as it existed in 1871-the year Congress enacted
the statute). It then reasoned that, because "[o]ne
element that must be alleged and proved in a malicious
prosecution action is termination of the prior criminal
proceeding in favor of the accused," the prisoner's
still-valid conviction meant that his claims were "not
cognizable under § 1983." Heck, 512 U.S.
at 484, 487. A contrary rule, the Court explained, posed the
risk of having "parallel litigation" leading to
"two conflicting resolutions arising out of the same or
identical transaction," which would undermine both
"finality and consistency." Id. at 484-85
same is true in this case. Iowa courts have extended
Thomas's commitment several times since he filed his
section 1983 action, so the risk of parallel litigation is
not just hypothetical here. See, e.g., Thomas
II, 2016 WL 4036244, at *1; Thomas III, 2018 WL
6706242, at *1. And as in Heck, Thomas is trying to
use section 1983 to bring what is essentially a
have long recognized that individuals like Thomas can sue
those who pursue "unfounded proceedings . . . to have
[them] declared insane" for malicious prosecution, even
if the proceedings are "not criminal in their
nature." Thomas M. Cooley, A Treatise on the Law of
Torts 188 (1879); accord 1 Fowler V. Harper et
al., Harper, James and Gray on Torts 525-26 (3d ed.
2006); W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the
Law of Torts 890 (5th ed. 1984); see also,
e.g., Lockenour v. Sides, 57 Ind. 360, 364-65
(1877) (authorizing an action against defendants who,
"maliciously and without probable cause," brought
"proceedings to procure the plaintiff to be found
insane"). Those who "institute and carr[y]
on" such proceedings are liable for any false
representations they make about the victim's competency.
Lockenour, 57 Ind. at 360, 364; accord
Keeton et al., supra, at 893 (explaining that the
victim may sue anyone who "play[ed] a major role in
instigating the [malicious] action"); see also,
e.g., Reade v. Halpin, 193 A.D. 566, 569-70