Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

By
Plaintiff Chetan Patel appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants in this 42 U.S.C. 1983 federal civil rights case, in which Plaintiff raised numerous claims against various police officers and other governmental officials involved in his arrest on charges of felony VIN fraud and the related search and seizure of his property in Basin, Wyoming. In granting summary judgment, the court refused to consider a purported affidavit produced by Plaintiff’s counsel. The court also disregarded Plaintiff’s attorneys’ affidavits based on its conclusion that relying on the attorneys’ affidavits would make them material witnesses to this case in violation of Rule 3.7 of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct. The court then concluded that the purported affidavit should have been disregarded both because it was irrelevant and because, without Plaintiff’s counsel’s affidavits, there was no admissible evidence that it was in fact signed by the person making the statement in the affidavit. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment as to the seizure of certain items and remanded for further proceedings on this claim. The Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of all Defendants on the remainder of Plaintiff’s federal claims, and affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of Plaintiff’s state law claims against Defendant Frentheway. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings dismissal of the state claims as to all other Defendants. View "Patel v. Hall" on Justia Law

By
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a subpoena to TriCore Reference Laboratories (“TriCore”) seeking information relating to an individual’s charge of disability and pregnancy discrimination. After TriCore refused to comply, the EEOC asked the New Mexico federal district court to enforce the subpoena. The court denied the request, and the EEOC appealed. Although the Tenth Circuit disagreed with some of the district court’s analysis, it could not say it abused its discretion. View "EEOC v. TriCore Reference Laboratories" on Justia Law

By
Steven Williams alleged that his former employer, FedEx Corporate Services, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against him based on his actual and perceived disabilities, and by requiring his enrollment in the company’s substance abuse and drug testing program. Williams further alleges that Aetna Life Insurance Company, the administrator of FedEx’s short-term disability plan, breached its fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) when it reported to FedEx that Williams filed a disability claim for substance abuse. Both FedEx and Aetna filed motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed and remanded. An employer is liable for an improper medical examination or inquiry, “unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” FedEx argued that it satisfied the business necessity exception because its employee testing program “ensure[] that employees who seek assistance for drug abuse or dependencies are no longer abusing the drug if they return to FedEx.” The Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not address this argument. As a result, the Court did not have an adequate record from which it could decide this issue on appeal. The Court reversed for the district court to decide that issue, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Williams v. FedEx Corporate" on Justia Law

By
In 2009, as part of a federal law-enforcement investigation, FBI and Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) agents arrested twenty-three people and searched twelve properties in and near three Utah cities. The operation targeted persons possessing and trafficking in Native American artifacts illegally taken from the Four Corners region of the United States. One day after agents searched Dr. James D. Redd’s home, arrested him as part of this operation, and released him on bond, Dr. Redd committed suicide. Dr. Redd’s Estate (“the Estate”) sued sixteen named FBI and BLM agents and twenty-one unnamed agents under “Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics,” (403 U.S. 388 (1971)), claiming that the agents had violated Dr. Redd’s Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss all of the Estate’s claims except one: a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim against the lead BLM agent, Daniel Love. Later, on qualified-immunity grounds, the district court granted Agent Love summary judgment on that final claim. The Estate appealed the district court’s dismissal of the excessive-force claim. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Estate of James Redd v. Love" on Justia Law

By
This appeal stems from an officer-involved shooting in the early morning hours of September 19, 2011. At approximately 3:50 a.m., plaintiff Matthew Carabajal was driving a vehicle containing three other individuals, including his infant son V.M.C., when he noticed that he was being followed by a police vehicle with its lights and siren activated. Plaintiff drove for several blocks. Other officers were notified and reported to the scene. Plaintiff pulled over, the officers exited their police cars, and one officer stepped in front of plaintiff’s vehicle. Soon thereafter, plaintiff’s vehicle began to move forward. The officer fired two rounds from his shotgun at plaintiff, severely injuring him. At that time, V.M.C. was still in the vehicle, secured in a car seat behind the front passenger. V.M.C., through Mathew and V.M.C.’s mother, Arianna Martinez, appealed the district court’s judgment in favor of defendants-appellees Officers Joshua Thornton and Michael Sutton, and Defendant-Appellee City of Cheyenne (“the City”). On appeal, plaintiffs challenged: (1) the district court’s grant of a motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment claim of unlawful seizure of V.M.C. by Officer Thornton when he shot into the vehicle that V.M.C. occupied; (2) the grant of summary judgment in favor of the officers based upon qualified immunity as to Carabajal’s excessive force claims; and (3) the district court’s initial dismissal of, and later grant of summary judgment in favor of the City on, Plaintiffs’ claims of negligent hiring of Officer Thornton. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Carabajal v. City of Cheyenne" on Justia Law

By
Roberick Washington was employed as a lieutenant at the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center in Kansas City, Kansas. After a random drug test, he was fired for testing positive for cocaine. Washington filed a civil rights action against the County and several of his co-workers, alleging that the drug test was an illegal search that violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as breached his employment contract. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding that County’s random drug test did not violate the Fourth Amendment, since the test furthered the County’s need to ensure the safety and welfare of the juvenile residents. Nor did the termination violate any other constitutional or statutory right. View "Washington v. Unified Gov't of Wyandotte Co." on Justia Law

By
This case began with plaintiff Clyde Rife, sitting on a motorcycle next to a road, unable to recall the date, the time, or even what he had been doing in a town he had just visited. When approached by a state trooper, Rife said that he was fine. Nonetheless, the trooper questioned Rife and concluded that he was intoxicated on pain medication and had been in a motorcycle accident. These conclusions led the trooper to arrest Rife for public intoxication. After the arrest, the trooper drove Rife to jail. Rife groaned and complained of pain in his heart and chest. Upon arriving at the jail, Rife was put in a holding cell. The scene was observed by a cellmate, who said that Rife had repeatedly complained about pain. Nonetheless, Rife was not provided medical attention. The arrest itself and the later lack of medical care led Rife to sue: (1) the trooper, two jail officials, and the entity operating the jail for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs; and (2) the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety for negligent failure to provide medical care. As a threshold question, the Tenth Circuit concluded probable cause existed to arrest Rife. With regard to his other claims, the Court found that the district court thought no one could reasonably infer either deliberate indifference or negligence. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, concluding that both could have been reasonably inferred from the evidence. The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rife v. McCurtain County Jail Trust" on Justia Law

By
Janna DeWitt appealed a district court’s order granting summary judgment to her former employer, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (SWBTC) on her claims of disability discrimination and failure to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). In 2009 and early 2010, DeWitt used FMLA leave intermittently for health issues related to her diabetes. DeWitt only took FMLA leave when vacation days were not available because DeWitt believed that SWBTC “frowned upon” employees taking FMLA leave. DwWitt's employment was terminated in 2010 when she allegedly hung up on two customers during a low blood sugar episode. DeWitt explained that she did not remember taking the calls due to a severe drop in her blood sugar. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that SWBTC was entitled to summary judgment because: (1) it advanced a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for taking adverse employment action against DeWitt (i.e., DeWitt’s hanging up on customers while on a Last Chance Agreement); and (2) DeWitt failed to demonstrate that SWBTC’s stated reason for its disciplinary action was pretextual. Finding that DeWitt failed to otherwise meet her burden to overcome summary judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "DeWitt v. Southwestern Bell Telephone" on Justia Law

By
Firma Helget worked for the City of Hays, Kansas, as the administrative secretary for the Hays Police Department. In 2012, the City terminated Helget, and she initiated this 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the City, City Manager Toby Dougherty, and Police Chief Donald Scheibler, alleging they violated her First Amendment rights. Helget claims they terminated her in retaliation for her voluntarily providing an affidavit in support of a former police officer's wrongful-termination litigation against the City. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Helget's First Amendment retaliation claims, concluding the City's interest as a public employer outweighed Helget's interest in her speech regarding a former employee's litigation. The court also granted qualified immunity to Dougherty and Scheibler. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Helget v. City of Hays" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiff-appellant Matthew Vogt was employed as a police officer with the City of Hays. In late 2013, Vogt applied for a position with the City of Haysville's police department. During Haysville's hiring process, Vogt disclosed that he had kept a knife obtained in the course of his work as a Hays police officer. Notwithstanding this disclosure, Haysville conditionally offered Vogt the job only if he reported his acquisition of the knife and returned it to the Hays police department. Vogt satisfied the condition, reporting to the Hays police department that he had kept the knife. The Hays police chief ordered Vogt to submit a written report concerning his possession of the knife. Vogt complied, submitting a vague one sentence report. He then provided Hays with a two-week notice of resignation, intending to accept the new job with Haysville. In the meantime, the Hays police chief began an internal investigation into Vogt's possession of the knife, including requiring a more detailed statement to supplement the report. Vogt complied, and the Hays police used the additional statement to locate additional evidence. Based on Vogt's statements and the additional evidence, the Hays police chief asked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to start a criminal investigation, supplying Vogt's statements and the additional evidence. The criminal investigation led the Haysville police department to withdraw its job offer. Vogt was ultimately charged in Kansas state court with two felony counts related to his possession of the knife. Following a probable cause hearing, the state district court determined that probable cause was lacking and dismissed the charges. This suit followed, with Vogt alleging his constitutional rights were violated because his statements were used: (1) to start an investigation leading to the discovery of additional evidence concerning the knife; (2) to initiate a criminal investigation; (3) to bring criminal charges; and (4) to support the prosecution during the probable cause hearing. Vogt argued that these uses of compelled statements violated his right against self-incrimination. Based on the alleged Fifth Amendment violation, Vogt also invoked 42 U.S.C. 1983, suing: (1) the City of Hays; (2) the City of Haysville; and (3) four police officers. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, reasoning that: the right against self-incrimination was only a trial right, and Vogt's statements were used in pretrial proceedings, not in a trial. The Tenth Circuit, after review, concluded: (1) the Fifth Amendment is violated when criminal defendants are compelled to incriminate themselves and the incriminating statement is used in a probable cause hearing; (2) the individual officers were entitled to qualified immunity; (3) the City of Haysville did not compel Vogt to incriminate himself; (4) Vogt stated a plausible claim for relief against the City of Hays. The Court therefore affirmed dismissal of claims against the four officers and Haysville, and reversed dismissal against the City of Hays. View "Vogt v. City of Hays" on Justia Law