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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiff-appellant Travis Greer, a Messianic Jew housed in an Oklahoma prison, informed prison officials that he kept kosher. At his request, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections agreed to provide Greer with kosher foods. In exchange, Greer agreed not to consume any non-kosher foods. Prison officials concluded that Greer had violated this agreement by consuming crackers and iced tea, which they considered non-kosher. As punishment, authorities denied Greer kosher foods for 120 days. Greer complained about this punishment. Soon afterward, officials saw Greer using a computer. Treating the computer use as an infraction, officials penalized Greer with a disciplinary sanction. The disciplinary sanction led officials to transfer Greer out of a preferred housing unit. Greer sued based on the suspension of kosher foods, the disciplinary sanction for using the computer, and the housing transfer. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on some causes of action based on Greer’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies and dismissed other causes of action for failure to state a claim. The district court then granted summary judgment to defendants on the remaining causes of action based on qualified immunity and the unavailability of declaratory or injunctive relief. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. In its first grant of summary judgment, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court correctly held that Greer had exhausted administrative remedies through a grievance addressing the suspension of his kosher foods. But the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court interpreted this grievance too narrowly, viewing it as pertinent only to Greer’s causes of action involving cruel and unusual punishment, conspiracy, retaliation, and deprivation of due process. "In our view, however, this grievance also encompassed Mr. Greer’s causes of action based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment. As a result, the district court should not have granted summary judgment for a failure to exhaust these two causes of action." Greer also asked the Tenth Circuit to review the district court’s second grant of summary judgment. The Court declined to do so because Greer waived appellate review of this ruling. View "Greer v. Dowling" on Justia Law

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Dr. Kevin Donahue was walking home one night when he saw a woman outside his neighbor’s house. Dr. Donahue thought she was trespassing, and he got into a heated conversation with her. They approached two police officers, Officer Shaun Wihongi and Officer Shawn Bennett, who were investigating an incident a few houses away. The officers questioned them separately. The woman told Officer Wihongi her name was “Amy LaRose,” which later turned out to be untraceable. She claimed Dr. Donahue was drunk and had insulted her. Dr. Donahue refused to provide his name but admitted he had been drinking and said the woman had hit him. The officers eventually arrested and handcuffed Dr. Donahue. Dr. Donahue sued Officer Wihongi, the Salt Lake City Police Department (“SLCPD”), and Salt Lake City Corporation (“SLC”). He alleged Officer Wihongi violated his Fourth Amendment rights by: (1) arresting him without probable cause; (2) using excessive force during the arrest; and (3) detaining him for too long. Officer Wihongi moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion on all three claims and dismissed the case. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Donahue v. Wihongi" on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, Defendant Mark Moralez, a Las Cruces, New Mexico police officer, challenged a district court’s decision to deny him summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity from two of Plaintiff Warren McCowan’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims. Those claims alleged that the officer: (1) used excessive force against McCowan while driving him to the police station after having arrested him for drunk driving; and (2) was deliberately indifferent to McCowan’s serious medical needs (his injured shoulders) while at the police station, before transporting McCowan to the county detention center where medical care was available. McCowan based his excessive-force claim on his assertion that Officer Moralez placed McCowan in the back seat of a patrol car, handcuffed behind his back and unrestrained by a seatbelt, and then drove recklessly to the police station, knowing his driving was violently tossing McCowan back and forth across the backseat. This rough ride, McCowan contended, injured his shoulders, after McCowan had advised the officer before the trip to the station that he had a previous shoulder injury. McCowan’s second claim alleged that Officer Moralez was deliberately indifferent to McCowan’s serious medical needs by delaying McCowan’s access to medical care until he arrived at the county detention center. The Tenth Circuit affirmed as to both counts; the allegations alleged a clearly established violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision to deny Officer Moralez qualified immunity. View "McCowan v. Morales" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the Tulsa, Oklahoma Police Department’s investigation into the murder of an infant. The police suspected the infant’s mother, plaintiff-appellant Michelle Murphy. She ultimately confessed, but later recanted and sued the City under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted summary judgment to the City, concluding that Murphy had not presented evidence that would trigger municipal liability. Finding no reversible error after review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Murphy v. City of Tulsa" on Justia Law

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Anjela Greer, an employee for the City of Wichita who worked at the Wichita Art Museum, contended her employer denied her a promotion because of her military service in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. She applied for a promotion but didn’t get an interview. Greer simultaneously served in the Navy Reserves and worked as a security guard at the Wichita Art Museum. After about five years as a security guard Greer learned of a vacancy for the museum’s “Operations Supervisor.” She and one other person applied. A city employee screened the applications and decided not to advance Greer to the next stage, where she would have been interviewed. The Museum attributed the denial of an interview to Greer’s lack of qualifications: the new job required at least one year of prior supervisory work in particular fields. The application called for Greer to state how many people she supervised. She answered “2,” but identified her job title only as “Security” and didn’t list any supervisory duties. Based on the job title and the absence of any listed supervisory duties, the Museum maintained Greer’s application had shown a lack of supervisory experience. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on two grounds: (1) any reasonable factfinder would determine that the defendants had declined to advance Greer to the interview stage because her application showed a lack of supervisory experience; and (2) the defendants had proven that they wouldn’t have advanced Greer to an interview regardless of her military status. The Tenth Circuit rejected both grounds. The first was invalid because a factfinder could reasonably infer that Greer’s military status was a motivating factor in defendants’ denial of an interview. The second ground was also invalid because a factfinder could have reasonably found Greer would have obtained an interview if she had not been serving in the military. The Court thus reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants. View "Greer v. City of Wichita, Kansas" on Justia Law

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Amanda M. (“Parent”), the mother of Nathan M., a child with autism, challenged an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) developed with Harrison School District No. 2 (“the District”) that proposed removing Nathan from Alpine Autism Center (a private, autism-only facility) and placing him in Otero Elementary School (a public school). Nathan’s mother contended the school district did not comply with numerous procedural requirements in developing the IEP and that the IEP itself failed to offer Nathan a “free appropriate public education” as required by the Act. The Tenth Circuit determined that because the IEP at issue governed a schoolyear that has passed, and because the various IEP deficiencies alleged by Parent were not capable of repetition yet evading review, the case was moot. View "Nathan M. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

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Yusuf Awadir Abdi sued the directors of several federal agencies challenging his placement on a federal government’s terrorist watchlist. He alleged his being on the list subjected him to enhanced screening at the airport and requires the government to label him as a “known or suspected terrorist” and to disseminate that information to government and private entities. As a result of these alleged consequences, Abdi alleged placement on the Selectee List violated his Fifth Amendment rights to substantive and procedural due process and consequently the Administrative Procedure Act, for which he sought declarative and injunctive relief. The district court dismissed Abdi’s complaint with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal. View "Abdi v. Wray" on Justia Law

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Jonella Tesone claimed that Empire Marketing Strategies (“EMS”) discriminated against her under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) when it terminated her employment. The district court granted summary judgment to EMS. EMS hired Tesone as a Product Retail Sales Merchandiser. Her job duties included changing or “resetting” retail displays in grocery stores. When she was hired, Tesone informed EMS that she had back problems and could not lift more than 15 pounds. On appeal, Tesone alleged the district court erred when it denIed her motions: (1) to amend the scheduling order to extend the time for her to designate an expert; and (2) amend her complaint. She also contended the district court erred in granting summary judgment to EMS. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not err with respect to denying Tesone’s motions, but did err in granting summary judgment in favor of EMS. “Whether Ms. Tesone can make a prima facile case of a disability, and whether her doctor’s note can be considered at summary judgment, is open to the district court’s further consideration.” View "Tesone v. Empire Marketing Strategies" on Justia Law

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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