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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Petitioner Santos Raul Escobar-Hernandez has filed a petition for review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision affirming the immigration judge’s denial of his application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). The petition’s underlying facts rest on Petitioner’s testimony, which the immigration judge found to be credible. Petitioner is a native and citizen of El Salvador and entered the United States without a valid entry document. He fled El Salvador after he was assaulted by two men, resulting in injuries requiring medical treatment. The assault occurred when the men, one named "Nelson," noticed some graffiti critical of a political party on a fence near Petitioner’s home. Although Petitioner was not politically active and told the men he did not paint the graffiti, Nelson said Petitioner was responsible for it because it was on his house and demanded he remove it. When Petitioner responded that he could not pay for removal, the men hit him and threatened to kill him. Petitioner was unsure if the men assaulted him because of the political graffiti or if they used it as an excuse to assault him merely because he was a vulnerable youth. Petitioner later removed the graffiti, but Nelson attacked him twice more and continued to threaten him. Reports to local police went ignored; Petitioner averred he feared returning to his home town because of the threats, and he feared relocating elsewhere in El Salvador because other people could hurt him. In his petition for review, Petitioner contends the BIA should have granted him asylum and withheld his removal because he suffered past persecution and has a well- founded fear of suffering future persecution based on political opinions Nelson imputed to him. Petitioner also argues the BIA should have granted him protection under CAT because, if he returns to El Salvador, Nelson will likely torture him with the acquiescence of law enforcement. On the record before it, the Tenth Circuit could not say any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to reach conclusions contrary to those reached by BIA. The Court therefore affirmed denial of asylum and protection under CAT. View "Escobar-Hernandez v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Robert Harte (“Bob”) was a stay-at-home father; he kept a vegetable garden with his son as part of an education project. Plaintiff Adlynn Harte (“Addie”) enjoyed loose-leaf tea. Discards from Addie's tea would lead the family with no criminal history whatsoever (save a few parking tickets) to become embroiled in a marijuana sting. Armed with a battering ram, firearms, and a warrant, Sheriff’s Deputies detained Plaintiffs for over two hours early on an April 2012 morning after a SWAT-style raid. They found "wet marijuana plant material" discarded in the Hartes' garbage. Had police from the raid sent the discards to a crime lab, it would have been discovered the vegetation was not marijuana but loose-leaf tea. Deputies found the hydroponic tomato garden that was readily visible from the exterior of the home through a front-facing basement window. And after ninety minutes of extensive searching, a couple of the deputies claimed to smell the “faint odor of marijuana” at various places in the residence. A drug-detection dog showed up, but did not alert the officers to any other areas of the house requiring further searches. Before leaving the residence empty-handed, the deputies “strongly suggested” to the Hartes that their 13-year-old son was a drug user. Plaintiffs sued, challenging the original search warrant its allegedly negligent execution. The district court granted summary judgment to the deputy defendants. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-paragraph per curiam opinion followed by three separate opinions, affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding the case back to the district court. The lower court, Plaintiffs, and Defendants, all interpreted the Tenth Circuit's per curiam opinion differently. The issue presented in this case's second trip to the Tenth Circuit centered on how to proceed when two of the three panel judges shared some common rationale, yet ultimately reached different outcomes, and a different combination of two judges reached a common outcome by different rationales. The Court held that, in applying a fractured panel’s holding, the district court need only look to and adopt the result the panel reached. "To hold otherwise would be to go against the result expressed by two of the three panel members. That we cannot do." Accordingly, the matter was remanded again for further proceedings. View "Harte v. Board Comm'rs Cnty of Johnson" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 2009, Plaintiff Rajesh Singh worked as an untenured professor in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University (ESU). He was informed in February 2014 that his annual contract would not be renewed. He sued ESU and various administrators in their individual capacities, asserting several retaliation and discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Kansas Act Against Discrimination (KAAD); and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on every claim except one: a First Amendment retaliation claim under section 1983 against Provost David Cordle. Provost Cordle appealed the denial of summary judgment on the ground that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court then certified as final under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) its order granting summary judgment on all other claims, and Plaintiff filed a cross-appeal, challenging the grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims: (1) ESU and the individual Defendants discriminated against him by not renewing his contract; and (2) ESU and the individual Defendants retaliated against him for filing discrimination complaints with ESU’s human resources department and the Kansas Human Rights Commission (KHRC). The Tenth Circuit found the claims against ESU were brought under Title VII and the KAAD, and the claims against the individual Defendants were brought under section 1983. The Court reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment for Provost Cordle and affirmed grants of summary judgment on the remaining claims. Cordle was entitled to qualified immunity because he could have reasonably believed that the speech for which he allegedly punished Plaintiff was not on a matter of public concern. As for the discrimination claims, the district court properly granted summary judgment because Plaintiff did not establish a genuine issue of fact that ESU’s given reason for his nonrenewal, that he was noncollegial, was pretextual. “Although Plaintiff contends that these discrimination claims survive under the cat’s-paw theory of liability, he does not provide adequate evidence that the allegedly biased supervisor - his school’s dean - proximately caused the ultimate nonrenewal decision.” The Court affirmed summary judgment on Plaintiff’s retaliation claims because he failed to present adequate evidence that the ESU employees who allegedly retaliated against him knew that he had filed formal discrimination complaints. View "Singh v. Cordle" on Justia Law

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Micheal Baca, Polly Baca, and Robert Nemanich (collectively, the Presidential Electors) were appointed as three of Colorado’s nine presidential electors for the 2016 general election. Colorado law required the state’s presidential electors to cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in the state for President and Vice President. Although Colorado law required the Presidential Electors to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, Mr. Baca cast his vote for John Kasich. In response, Colorado’s Secretary of State removed Mr. Baca as an elector and discarded his vote. The state then replaced Mr. Baca with an elector who cast her vote for Hillary Clinton. After witnessing Baca’s removal from office, Ms. Baca and Mr. Nemanich voted for Hillary Clinton despite their desire to vote for John Kasich. After the vote, the Presidential Electors sued the Colorado Department of State (the Department), alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Department moved to dismiss the complaint. The district court granted the motion, concluding the Presidential Electors lacked standing, and, in the alternative, the Presidential Electors had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Tenth Circuit concluded Mr. Baca had standing to challenge his removal from office and cancellation of his vote, but that none of the Presidential Electors had standing to challenge the institutional injury: a general diminution of their power as electors. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Ms. Baca’s and Mr. Nemanich’s claims but reversed the district court’s standing determination as to Mr. Baca. On the merits of Mr. Baca’s claim, the Court concluded the state’s removal of Mr. Baca and nullification of his vote were unconstitutional. As a result, Mr. Baca stated a claim upon which relief could be granted, and we reversed dismissal of his claim under rule 12(b)(6). The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Baca v. Colorado Department of State" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Elliott Williams was jailed at the Tulsa Oklahoma County Jail. Shortly after his booking, he severely injured his neck, causing lower body paralysis. No one treated his injury. Despite his frequent complaints of pain and paralysis, no one transported him to a hospital. He remained immobile for five days, lying on his back in various cells at the jail, and died of complications from the neck injury. The administrator of Mr. Williams’s estate, Robbie Emery Burke, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging detention officers and medical providers at the jail violated Mr. Williams’s Fourteenth Amendment right by acting with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. It further alleged Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz was liable in his individual supervisory capacity and in his official capacity for his subordinates’ violations. During pretrial litigation, Sheriff Glanz resigned and his successor, Sheriff Vic Regalado, was substituted as the defendant on the official-capacity claim. By the time of trial, Sheriffs Glanz and Regalado (“the Sheriffs”) were the only defendants remaining. A jury awarded Burke $10 million in compensatory damages against Sheriff Glanz and Sheriff Regalado and $250,000 in punitive damages against Sheriff Glanz in his individual supervisory capacity. On appeal, the Sheriffs challenged the verdict, various evidentiary rulings, and several pre- and post-trial decisions of the district court. After careful consideration of all issues raised, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court on all grounds except for its denial of the Sheriffs’ motion for a setoff. The Court reversed and remanded for further consideration of that issue. View "Burke v. Regalado" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Anthony Waller appealed a district court’s Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of his municipal liability claim against the City and County of Denver for a Denver deputy sheriff’s use of excessive force against him In 2012, while in pretrial detention, Waller was escorted in handcuffs and other restraints to a courtroom located within the Denver City Jail for a first advisement hearing. After the judge finished the advisement, Waller “politely address[ed] the Court in a normal and subdued voice,” stating that he thought the investigation should have come before his arrest. The judge began to respond, but while she was speaking, Deputy Sheriff Brady Lovingier, who had been standing directly behind Waller, suddenly and “without warning, justification[,] or provocation” grabbed Waller, spun him around, and threw him face first into a nearby glass wall and metal post, causing him to sustain “serious and permanent injuries.” Deputy Lovingier’s assault on Waller was captured on video recorded by the courtroom cameras. Approximately one year later, Deputy Lovingier received a thirty-day suspension for his assault on Waller. In 2014, Waller filed this federal lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging: a claim of excessive force against Deputy Lovingier, and a claim of municipal liability against Denver premised on Deputy Lovingier’s use of force. Arguing against the district court’s dismissal, Waller argued broadly he could prevail because the allegations in his complaint in general established “that Denver has a custom, policy, or practice of tolerating and ratifying the use of excessive force.” Assuming without deciding that this argument was properly preserved and supported on appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no error: “Deputy Lovingier’s actions, no matter how egregious, cannot in themselves give rise to an inference that the city must have been at fault, ‘for the officer’s shortcomings may have resulted from factors other than a faulty training program’ or other municipal deficiency. ‘To adopt lesser standards of fault and causation would open municipalities to unprecedented liability under [section] 1983.’” View "Waller v. City and County of Denver" on Justia Law

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Because Stella Padilla’s nominating petition for Albuquerque mayor lacked the required number of valid signatures, the Albuquerque City Clerk, Natalie Howard, rejected her request to appear on the ballot as a candidate in the city’s 2017 mayoral election. Padilla promptly sued Howard in her official capacity in state court for a declaration that she had satisfied the nominating petition requirements to be a candidate for mayor. Less than a month later, Howard, represented by the city attorney’s office in the state action, filed a “Motion for a Protective Order Against Harassment of the Defendant by any Volunteer or Other Person Associated with Plaintiff’s Campaign Organization,” and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In her affidavit, Howard complained specifically about harassing conduct that Padilla’s daughter, Vanessa Benavidez, had exhibited toward her on two recent occasions. The federal district court held that all Defendants were absolutely immune from Plaintiffs’ section 1983 action, because in submitting the motion for a protective order to the state court they were participating as advocates in the judicial process. In her motion, Howard asked the state court to prohibit Plaintiffs and others “from engaging in conduct directed at [Howard’s] person, which a reasonable person would find to be annoying, alarming, hostile or menacing in nature.” Though the state court never ruled on the motion, Plaintiffs argued the mere filing of the motion created a chilling effect. The federal district court granted summary judgment to the city, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that “being properly named as a defendant in a declaratory judgment suit, however styled, would not chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in constitutionally protected activity.” The Tenth Circuit found Plaintiffs did not allege a violation of the First Amendment, "and the absence of such an allegation entitles Howard to qualified immunity." View "Benavidez v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Former federal prisoner, plaintiff-appellant Billy May, filed suit under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), claiming he was denied his due process rights as a prisoner when he was quarantined without a hearing during a scabies infestation at the prison. The magistrate judge granted camp administrator Juan Segovia summary judgment on two issues: (1) the exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) applied to May; and (2) there was no genuine issue of material fact as to the availability of administrative remedies. May appealed to contest both conclusions. Segovia opposed May’s appeal, raising two alternative grounds for affirmance that Segovia raised before the magistrate judge, but the judge did not reach. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the magistrate judge’s conclusions that the PLRA exhaustion requirement applied to May and that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether administrative remedies were available to him. Because the Court affirmed the judgment below, it did not reach Segovia’s alternative arguments. View "May v. Segovia" on Justia Law

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Believing that Utah state law required the Utah Department of Corrections ("UDOC") to pay interest on prison accounts, plaintiff-appellant Reginald Williams investigated the relationship between UDOC and Zions First National Bank (Zions Bank). Based on his investigation, he concluded that Zions Bank had a contract with UDOC to hold prisoner funds in an account administered by UDOC, and that the interest earned on the funds was illegally retained by the bank, when it should have been paid to the prisoners who owned the funds. Williams believed that, in response to this investigation, UDOC retaliated against him by, among other things, seizing his legal papers and giving him a negative parole report, which resulted in the denial of parole. He claimed that he was a model prisoner who was similarly situated to other prisoners who had been granted parole. Proceeding pro se, Williams filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 against UDOC, numerous prison officials, Zions Bank, and several Zions Bank employees, alleging takings and due-process constitutional violations for withholding interest on inmate funds, and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment for raising these issues. After the district court appointed counsel for Williams, all defendants moved to dismiss. The district court dismissed all claims except the retaliation claim, and dismissed all defendants except five prison officials. The remaining defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment on the retaliation claim, which the district court granted. In their motion to dismiss, UDOC and the prison-official defendants asserted Eleventh Amendment immunity, claiming that as an arm of the State of Utah, UDOC was immune from suit, and that the prison personnel were similarly immune from suit for claims against them in their official capacities. Williams presented no argument regarding the Eleventh Amendment, and the district court did not address Eleventh Amendment immunity in any of its rulings. On appeal, the UDOC Defendants renewed their argument that they were immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Finding that the Supreme Court’s recent holding in Knick v. Twp. of Scott, No. 17-647, 2019 WL 2552486 (U.S. June 21, 2019) that a property owner could bring a federal suit claiming a Fifth Amendment taking without first bringing suit in state court, the Tenth Circuit concluded Knick did not involve Eleventh Amendment immunity, which was the basis of its holding in this case. Therefore, the Court held the takings claim against the UDOC Defendants had to be dismissed based on Eleventh Amendment immunity; the matter was remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss it without prejudice. View "Williams v. Utah Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Defendants Keith Daron Syling, Roger Schoolcraft, David Kunihiro and Audra Smith were officers or employees of the Alamogordo Police Department (APD) who were allegedly responsible for the public release of information regarding the arrest of a juvenile, A.N, in violation of New Mexico law. Plaintiffs A.N. and her mother, Katherine Ponder brought this action against Defendants and others, asserting claims under federal and state law. Defendants appealed the district court’s denial of their motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 based on qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit concluded Defendants were on notice they would violate A.N.’s right to equal protection under the law if they intentionally and without a rational basis differentiated between her and similarly situated juvenile arrestees in applying New Mexico’s laws against the disclosure of juvenile arrest and delinquency records. As a result, “any reasonable official in [Defendants’] shoes would have understood that he was violating” Plaintiffs’ equal protection rights by these actions. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court's judgment denying them qualified immunity on Plaintiffs' equal protection claim. View "A.N. v. Alamogordo Police Department" on Justia Law