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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiff David Hansen filed suit against his former employer, Defendant SkyWest Airlines, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. sections 2000e–2000e–17, for sex-based hostile work environment, disparate treatment, quid pro quo harassment, coworker harassment, retaliation, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law. The district court granted summary judgment for SkyWest with respect to all of his claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded. The Court found that viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Tenth Circuit found that reasonable persons could differ with respect to Plaintiff's claims for sexual harassment, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. View "Hansen v. Skywest Airlines" on Justia Law

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Big Cats of Serenity Springs was a Colorado-based non-profit that provided housing, food, and veterinary care for exotic animals. The facility was regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Three APHIS inspectors accompanied by sheriff’s deputies broke into the Big Cats facility without its permission to perform an unannounced inspection of two tiger cubs. But at the time the inspectors entered the facility, the cubs were at a veterinarian’s office receiving treatment, just as Big Cats had promised the APHIS inspectors the previous day. Big Cats and its directors sued the APHIS inspectors for the unauthorized entry pursuant to "Bivens v. Six Unknown Narcotics Agents," (403 U.S. 388 (1971)) and 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting the entry was an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied the APHIS inspectors’ motion to dismiss the complaint and they filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the court’s failure to grant qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Big Cats’ complaint stated a claim for relief under "Bivens." No APHIS inspector would reasonably have believed unauthorized forcible entry of the Big Cats facility was permissible, and therefore Big Cats and its directors could have a claim for violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search. But the Court reversed on Big Cats’ civil rights claim because the federal inspectors were not liable under section 1983 in the circumstances here. View "Big Cats of Serenity Springs v. Vilsack" on Justia Law

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While incarcerated at the Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF - an all-female state prison), Plaintiff-Appellant Tracy Keith was raped by a prison maintenance employee. Plaintiff filed a section 1983 suit alleging that prison officials, including Warden Richard Koerner, violated her Eighth Amendment rights by creating an environment in which sexual misconduct was likely to occur. The Warden defended primarily on qualified immunity grounds. The district court granted summary judgment to Warden Koerner on qualified immunity. Plaintiff appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit found that a reasonable jury could have concluded that Warden Koerner created an atmosphere where “policies were honored only in the breach, and, as a result, he failed to take reasonable measures to ensure inmates were safe from the risk of sexual misconduct by TCF employees.” Because plaintiff possessed “a clearly established constitutional right” and presented evidence of a constitutional violation by Warden Koerner, the Tenth Circuit concluded summary judgment was inappropriate on qualified-immunity grounds. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Keith v. Koerner" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Luna County Deputy Sheriff Gabriel Maynes attempted to pull over plaintiff Anna Gutierrez for running a stop sign. Instead of pulling over, Gutierrez sped up, driving to an apartment complex where her mother, plaintiff Patsy Flores, lived. The deputy managed to taser Gutierrez as she exited her vehicle. When the deputy caught up with her, a scuffle ensued. Flores came out of her apartment and pleaded for the deputy to stop hitting her daughter, but she too was tasered. The State of New Mexico would later charge Gutierrez with several offenses, but those charges were dismissed. Because of the traffic stop and later scuffle, Gutierrez suffered multiple injuries, including two fractured ribs. Plaintiffs Gutierrez and Flores appealed a district court’s grant of summary judgment (based on qualified immunity) to Deputy Maynes on three of their 42 U.S.C. 1982 claims: excessive force, unlawful entry, and unlawful seizure. The district court concluded plaintiffs failed to meet their burden to overcome the qualified immunity defense. They appealed the district court’s judgment, but after careful consideration of the arguments the parties made at trial and on appeal, the Tenth Circuit agreed plaintiffs failed to meet their burden, and affirmed judgment in favor of the deputy. View "Gutierrez v. Luna County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee James Durkee sued defendants Sheriff John Minor, Sheriff, and Sergeant Ron Hochmuth, both of Summit County Sheriff’s Department, in their individual capacities. Plaintiff argued defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when he was attacked by Ricky Michael Ray Ramos, a fellow inmate, at the Summit County Detention Center. In a written order, the district court denied defendants qualified immunity in the context of their motion for summary judgment, and they appealed. Ramos had a history of aggressive behavior at the jail, and had been charged with several violations of jail rules on several occasions for threatening behavior towards jail staff, including a threat to stab a deputy in the neck, and toward other inmates, including the Plaintiff. Ramos had threatened Plaintiff shortly after Plaintiff’s arrival at the jail, and Plaintiff requested that he be reassigned to another housing pod away from Ramos. After an argument between Ramos and Plaintiff, Plaintiff again expressed concern about Ramos’ aggression toward him. In 2012, Ramos was being escorted back from a court proceeding by Defendant Hochmuth, and was unshackled in the booking area of the jail, which was adjacent to the professional visitation room. At that time, Plaintiff was in the visitation room, meeting with a mental health counselor. Defendant Hochmuth proceeded to unshackle Ramos in the booking area, and instructed him to return to his housing pod. After taking one or two steps toward the housing pod door, Ramos suddenly turned around and ran into the visitation room through its unlocked door and assaulted Plaintiff. Although the altercation was brief, Plaintiff suffered a facial fracture from the assault. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial of immunity as to Defendant Hochmuth and reversed as to Defendant Minor. View "Durkee v. Minor" on Justia Law

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George Rouse hanged himself shortly after defendants, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Agents Francia Thompson and Marvin Akers transported him to the Grady County Law Enforcement Center (GCLEC) for booking. Rouse’s mother, Regina Williams, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. She alleged the defendants knew Rouse was suicidal when they delivered him to GCLEC but failed to inform GCLEC’s booking staff of that fact. Defendants appealed, arguing the district court erred in its order denying their motion to reconsider its denial of their motion to dismiss on grounds of qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, finding that defendants didn’t expressly designate the district court's order in their notice of appeal. "And we can’t fairly infer an intent to appeal that order from any of the other relevant documents before us." View "Williams v. Akers" on Justia Law

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Defendant Shannon Armstrong was standing alongside his patrol car conversing with Dusti Mowrey, a local resident and, by happenstance, a friend of Plaintiff Thomas Culver, when he witnessed a Chevrolet pickup with two individuals inside approach the Maverick Country Store without headlights and then disappear behind the store. The dash camera on Defendant’s patrol car revealed that shortly after 2:26 a.m., the white Chevrolet pickup deactivated its headlights before moving left off the public thoroughfare and over the sidewalk adjacent to a delivery area at the back of the store. The dash camera indicated Defendant activated his flashing lights at 2:27:06 a.m. and proceeded south on 6th Street in pursuit of the pickup. The pickup was approximately three blocks ahead of the patrol car when it turned right or south on North 3rd Street. The morning ended with Plaintiff being arrested for public intoxication. The charges would ultimately be dropped, but Plaintiff sued Defendant for unlawful arrest based on the exchange between him, his passenger and Defendant the night of his arrest. On Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the district court held probable cause supported Plaintiff’s arrest and granted Defendant qualified immunity. Plaintiff appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected Plaintiff’s claim and affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to Defendant. View "Culver v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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In 2011, city officials of West Valley City terminated Plaintiff Karen Bird from her position as manager of the city’s Animal Shelter. During the latter half of Plaintiff’s employment, the environment of the Animal Shelter was toxic. Plaintiff was one of the biggest contributors to this tumultuous environment. During the high point of what staffers at the shelter dubbed "the little war," the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about a cat that had survived two euthanization attempts in the Animal Shelter’s gas chamber. A reporter called a West Valley City official and informed the official that he (the reporter) had received an anonymous telephone call alleging that the shelter had ordered a mass execution of animals due to overpopulation. Other shelter managers were under the impression that Plaintiff, who was notoriously against using the gas chamber to euthanize animals and who was one of the few individuals privy to the meeting discussing the shelter’s overpopulation, was the source of these leaks. Around the same time as the anonymous phone call to the press, Plaintiff finally decided she "had enough" and filed the formal complaint that belied this lawsuit before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit could not find that Plaintiff had been fired because of her gender, any hostile work environment she experienced, and West Valley City did not form any contract with her that mandated it would protect her from workplace violence or prevent her from being retaliated against. The Court did find, however, that the district court did not determine whether Plaintiff raised a genuine issue of material fact that this belief substantially motivated West Valley City officials’ decision to terminate Plaintiff. Nor did it determine whether the leaks to the press qualified as “constitutionally protected activity.” The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bird v. West Valley City" on Justia Law

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Eugene Foster appeals from a district-court order granting summary judgment in favor of Mountain Coal Company, LLC (Mountain Coal) on his retaliation claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Foster injured his neck while working for Mountain Coal. Mountain Coal terminated Foster several months after the injury, citing that Foster “gave false information as to a credible Return To Work Slip.” After Mountain Coal terminated his employment, Foster filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Colorado Civil Rights Division. Ultimately, the EEOC issued Foster a right-to-sue notice; armed with the notice, Foster filed a complaint against Mountain Coal, seeking relief under the ADA and Colorado law. On the briefs, the district court entered summary judgment for Mountain Coal on Foster’s ADA and state-law discrimination claims and on Foster’s ADA retaliation claims. Foster appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding that the district court erred in granting Mountain Coal’s motion for summary judgment with respect to Foster’s ADA retaliation claims. "We conclude that a reasonable jury could find that Foster established a prima facie case of retaliation with respect to both his April 3 and April 11 purported requests for accommodation." The Court further concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Mountain Coal’s asserted basis for terminating Foster’s employment was pretext. Therefore the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s order granting Mountain Coal’s motion for summary judgment with respect to Foster’s ADA retaliation claims and remanded for further proceedings. View "Foster v. Mountain Coal Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant A.M. filed this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on behalf of her minor child, F.M., against two employees of the Albuquerque Public Schools: Cleveland Middle School (“CMS”) Principal Susan LaBarge and Assistant Principal Ann Holmes. A.M. also filed suit against Officer Arthur Acosta of the Albuquerque Police Department (“APD”). A.M. brought several claims stemming from two school-related events: (1) the May 2011 arrest of F.M. for allegedly disrupting his physical-education class, and (2) the November 2011 search of F.M. for contraband. Holmes and LaBarge sought summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, and the district court granted their respective motions. The court also denied A.M.’s motion for summary judgment on her claims pertaining to Officer Acosta after determining that Officer Acosta was entitled to prevail on qualified-immunity grounds too. On appeal, A.M. argued that the district court erred in awarding qualified immunity to all of the defendants. The Tenth Circuit consolidated these matters for review, and found o reversible error in the district court's grant of qualified immunity. View "A.M. v. Holmes" on Justia Law