This is an appeal from the District Court's dismissal of Nelson Lora-Pena's civil complaint. For the following reasons, we will vacate the District Court's order and remand the case for further proceedings.
On July 20, 2006, Appellant, an inmate at United States Penitentiary-Canaan, initiated a pro se civil action against a Pennsylvania state trooper, various U.S. Marshals,
In this civil suit, Lora-Pena alleged that Leo used excessive force against him during the arrest in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Further, Lora-Pena claimed that officers violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process of law, "including the right to be free from unjustified and excessive force utilized by federal, state or local police." The District Court dismissed Appellant's complaint for failure to state a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
Our standard of review of the District Court's dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is plenary. Atkinson v. LaFayette College, 460 F.3d 447, 451 (3d Cir.2006). Plenary review requires us to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir.2005).
We begin by noting that the District Court properly analyzed Lora-Pena's excessive force claims under the Fourth Amendment. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 398-99, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) (Eighth Amendment standard applies only after the State has complied with constitutional guarantees traditionally associated with criminal prosecutions).
The Supreme Court has held that, if judgment in favor of a plaintiff in a civil suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 would necessarily imply the invalidity of a prior criminal conviction, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484-87, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994).
We cannot agree with the District Court that Lora-Pena's convictions for resisting arrest and assaulting federal officers bars his civil suit at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage. Despite the government's argument to the contrary, the question of whether the officers used excessive force was not put before the jury. The jury only determined whether the officers were acting within the scope of their official duties. Nowhere in the jury instructions did the trial judge state that the jury must determine whether the officers used excessive force against Lora-Pena. It is conceivable that a law enforcement officer, acting within the scope of his official duties, may use force that is excessive in effectuating a lawful arrest. See Nelson v. Jashurek, 109 F.3d 142, 145-146 (3d. Cir. 1997). In Nelson, the plaintiff had been convicted in state court of resisting arrest. Under Pennsylvania law, to convict the plaintiff, the jury had to find that the officer involved "was justified in using `substantial force.'" Nelson, 109 F.3d at 145. In reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment, we determined that "the fact that Jashurek was justified in using `substantial force' to arrest Nelson does not mean that he was justified in using an excessive amount of force and thus does not mean that his actions in effectuating the arrest necessarily were objectively unreasonable." Id. Unlike in Heck, Nelson was not arguing that Jashurek falsely arrested him but rather "that Jashurek effectuated a lawful arrest in an unlawful manner." Id. at 146 (emphasis added). Similarly, Lora-Pena's convictions for resisting arrest and assaulting officers would not be inconsistent with a holding that the officers, during a lawful arrest, used excessive (or unlawful) force in response to his own unlawful actions.
We are not suggesting that Lora-Pena will be able to recover damages, only that the rationale of Heck does not present an absolute bar to his claim. In order to succeed on his excessive force claim, Lora-Pena must still show that the officers' actions were unreasonable in light of the circumstances of the arrest. See Kopec v. Tate, 361 F.3d 772, 776-77 (3d Cir.2004). For the reasons stated above, we will vacate the District Court's order entered on July 16, 2007 and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.