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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
by
"A series of coincidences and mistaken beliefs led to the arrest of Laramie Hinkle for possessing a stolen trailer that was not even stolen. And things got worse from there." After investigation showed Hinkle innocent, he sued, alleging as unlawful his arrest, the press release, and the body-cavity strip search by the sheriff's office that arrested him. While the Tenth Circuit sympathized with Hinkle, it found the deputy sheriff had probable cause for the arrest, that the deputy arrested Hinkle based on that probable cause, and that the district court did not err in dismissing Hinkle’s claim that the sheriff issued the press release to retaliate against Hinkle. That said, the Court concluded the body-cavity strip search was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. And because this unlawful search was based on the County’s indiscriminate strip-search policy, the Court held the Beckham County, Oklahoma was directly liable. View "Hinkle v. Beckham County Board of County" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Jorge Corona was a backseat passenger in a car pulled over for a routine traffic stop by Clovis Police Officer Brent Aguilar. Plaintiff was arrested when he did not produce identification in response to the officer's demand for ID. Defendant Aguilar charged Plaintiff with: (1) resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer; and (2) concealing his identity. The district attorney’s office dismissed the concealing-identity charge, and a jury later acquitted Plaintiff of the charge against him for resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer. Plaintiff subsequently sued the arresting officers, Defendant Aguilar and police officer Travis Loomis; the City of Clovis; and the Clovis Police Department for, among other things, alleged constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983. As relevant here, Plaintiff alleged Defendant Aguilar violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest by arresting him without probable cause. Defendant Aguilar moved for partial summary judgment on Plaintiff’s unlawful-arrest claim based on qualified immunity, but the district court denied his motion. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with Officer Aguilar's contention that the district court erred in denying him qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit determined the officer arrested plaintiff without probable cause. "Additionally, clearly established law would have put a reasonable officer in Defendant Aguilar’s position on notice that his conduct violated Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest. Defendant Aguilar is therefore not entitled to qualified immunity." View "Corona v. City of Clovis" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Cody Cox sued Defendant Don Wilson, a deputy in the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Department, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Cox alleged that when Wilson shot him in his vehicle while stopped on Interstate 70, Wilson violated the constitutional prohibition against the use of excessive force by law-enforcement officers. Plaintiff appealed when the jury returned a verdict in favor of the deputy, arguing the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury to consider whether Wilson unreasonably created the need for the use of force by his own reckless conduct. The Tenth Circuit determined that although the district court incorrectly stated the Supreme Court had recently abrogated the Tenth Circuit's precedents requiring such an instruction in appropriate circumstances, the evidence in this case did not support the instruction. "No law, certainly no law clearly established at the time of the incident, suggests that Wilson acted unreasonably up to and including the time that he exited his vehicle and approached Cox’s vehicle." Therefore, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of Deputy Wilson. View "Cox v. Wilson" on Justia Law

by
In August 2017, Kansas law enforcement officers, after a traffic chase, pulled over Matthew Holmes for suspected vehicular burglary. The officers were from the City of Newton Police Department (“NPD”), McPherson County Sheriff’s Office (“MCSO”), and Harvey County Sheriff’s Office (“HCSO”). After Holmes stopped and exited the car, officers wrestled him to the ground. McPherson County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Somers shot Holmes in the back. He later died from the gunshot wound. Holmes' estate sued, alleging constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983 ad a state law claim. The district court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motions. In particular, it denied each sheriff’s motion to dismiss based on Eleventh Amendment immunity because, “with respect to local law enforcement activities, sheriffs are not arms of the state but rather of the county that they serve.” The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not err in denying the sheriffs' motions, and therefore affirmed. View "Couser v. Gay" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Board of Education of Gallup-McKinley County Schools (Gallup) successfully obtained summary judgment on certain Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) claims made by Mavis Yazzie in the administrative action below. Subsequently, Gallup sought attorneys’ fees from Yazzie and her counsel, the Native American Disability Law Center (NADLC). The question presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether the controlling provision of the New Mexico Administrative Code (NMAC) permitted Gallup to pursue attorneys’ fees within 30 days of the final decision relating to any party in the administrative action, or did the NMAC limit Gallup to seeking fees within 30 days of obtaining summary judgment, which Gallup failed to do. The Tenth Circuit concluded the plain meaning of the regulatory language permitted petitions for attorneys’ fees made within 30 days of the final decision in the administrative action regardless of whether that decision related to the party seeking fees. Accordingly, Gallup’s petition was timely. The Court therefore reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Board of Education of Gallup v. Native American Disability Law" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-appellee Dana Zzyym did not identify as either male or female, rather intersex. The United States State Department refused Zzyym's application for a passport. Zzyym sued, alleging that the State Department's reliance on a binary sex policy: (1) exceeded its statutory authority; (2) was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act; and (3) violated the federal Constitution. The district court concluded that as a matter of law, the State Department violated the APA on Zzyym's first two grounds; the court did not reach the constitutional claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the State Department acted within its authority. but exercised this authority in an arbitrary and capricious manner. The State Department gave five reasons for denying Zzyym’s request for a passport. Two of the reasons were supported by the administrative record, but three others weren’t. "Given the State Department’s partial reliance on three unsupported reasons, we don’t know whether the State Department would have denied Zzyym’s request if limited to the two supported reasons. The district court thus should have remanded to the State Department to reconsider the policy based only on the two reasons supported by the record." View "Zzyym v. Pompeo" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-appellant Nancy Marks was serving a prison term in Colorado when she obtained entry into a community corrections program operated by Intervention Community Corrections Services (Intervention). To stay in the program, plaintiff needed to remain employed. But while participating in the program, she aggravated a previous disability and Intervention deemed her unable to work. So Intervention terminated plaintiff from the program and returned her to prison. Plaintiff sued, blaming her regression on two Colorado agencies,: the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) and the Colorado Department of Criminal Justice (CDCJ). In the suit, plaintiff sought damages and prospective relief based on: (1) a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act; and (2) a denial of equal protection. The district court dismissed the claims for prospective relief and granted summary judgment to the CDOC and CDCJ on the remaining claims, holding: (1) the Rehabilitation Act did not apply because Intervention had not received federal funding; (2) neither the CDOC nor the CDCJ could incur liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Rehabilitation Act for Intervention’s decision to regress plaintiff; and (3) plaintiff did not show the regression decision lacked a rational basis. After review, the Tenth Circuit agreed that (1) claims for prospective relief were moot and (2) neither the CDOC nor CDCJ violated plaintiff's right to equal protection. However, the Court reversed on the award of summary judgment on claims involving the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, finding the trial court mistakenly concluded the Rehabilitation Act did not apply because Intervention had not received federal funding, and mistakenly focused on whether the CDOC and CDCJ could incur liability under the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act for a regression decision unilaterally made by Intervention, "This focus reflects a misunderstanding of Ms. Marks’s claim and the statutes." The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Marks v. Colorado Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
In consolidated appeals, the issue presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether a Kansas law requiring documentary proof of citizenship ("DPOC") for voter registration was preempted by the federal National Voter Registration Act, or violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. In a previous decision in this case, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting a preliminary injunction against the documentary proof law because the National Voter Registration Act preempted Kansas's law as enforced against those applying to vote while obtaining or renewing a driver's license. The matter was remanded for trial on the merits in which Kansas' Secretary of State had an opportunity to demonstrate the Kansas law's requirement was not more than the minimum amount of information necessary to perform an eligibility assessment and registration duty. On remand, the district court consolidated that statutory challenge with a related case that raised the question of whether the DPOC unconstitutionally burdened the right to vote because the the Secretary of State's interests were insufficient to justify the burden it imposed. After a bench trial, the district court entered a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the DPOC requirement under both the National Voter Registration law and the Equal Protection Clause. The Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court's judgment and affirmed. View "Fish v. Schwab" on Justia Law

by
The residential community of Cordillera in Eagle County, Colorado, featured a private lodge and spa (the “Lodge”) and a village center (the “Village”). For many years, the Lodge offered its dues-paying members certain amenities, including a golf course and spa. The Village offered “open space: tennis courts and hiking paths, which all residents and their guests could use. In 2013, after years of monetary losses, the owner of both parcels listed them for sale. In 2016, CSMN Investments, LLC (CSMN) emerged to purchase both properties. CSMN's plan for the properties would have closed the properties to other uses. Before closing on the sale, CSMN sought confirmation from Eagle County’s Planning Director that its planned use, operating an inpatient addiction-treatment center, was an allowed use under the “Cordillera Subdivision Eleventh Amended and Restated Planned Unit Development Control Document” (PUD). The Director issued a written interpretation of the PUD, concluding CSMN could operate a clinic including inpatient, non-critical care, for treatment of a variety of conditions. In response to the Director’s interpretation, community members unhappy with the change to the Lodge and Village, formed the Cordillera Property Owners Association (CPOA) and Cordillera Metropolitan District (CMD), to jointly appeal the Director's PUD interpretation to the Board of county Commissioners. The Board affirmed the Director on all but one point, concluding the PUD permitted outpatient-only clinical uses. Still aggrieved, the CMD and CPOA took their case to Colorado state court; the district court affirmed the Board's decision. CPOA appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which likewise affirmed the Board's decision. With the state-court appeals pending, CSMN filed a civil-rights action in Colorado federal district court against CPOA, CMD, and various associated people (the CMD board members, the CMD district manager, and the Legal Committee members). In response, Appellees moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss all claims, arguing that the right to petition immunized their conduct. CSMN countered that Appellees’ claim of immunity was unfounded because the petitioning had sought an unlawful outcome, and that even if the immunity somehow did apply, the petitioning fell within an exception to that immunity, that is, the petitioning was a “sham.” The district court sided with Appellees, dismissing all but one of the claims on the ground that their conduct was protected by Noerr-Pennington immunity. CSMN appealed. But the Tenth Circuit concurred with the finding that Appellees engaged in objectively reasonable litigation, thus immunity applied to their conduct. View "CSMN Investments v. Cordillera Metropolitan" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Christopher Barnett appealed the dismissal with prejudice his federal civil-rights claims for failure to state a claim and dismissing with prejudice his state-law claims because they did not survive the restrictions imposed by the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act (OCPA), Okla. Stat. tit. 12, sections 1430–40 . Defendants cross-appealed the district court’s denial of attorney fees under the OCPA, contending that an award of attorney fees was mandatory. Barnett’s complaint bases his claims on an incident on January 4, 2018, related to a hearing in Oklahoma state court on an open-records case he had brought against Tulsa Community College. According to Barnett, two lawyers in the firm of Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable, Golden & Nelson, P.C., (Hall Estill) falsely reported to the office of the state attorney general (AG) that Barnett had made a threat. The AG’s office then relayed this report to the county sheriff. When Barnett arrived at the courtroom for the hearing, the state-court judge instructed him to speak with a deputy sheriff. After Barnett denied making any threat, the deputy told him to stay inside the courtroom until he received permission to leave. At some point the AG’s office arrived with its own security detail. When the proceedings began, the state-court judge discussed the report in open court. Barnett filed suit in state court the next day against Hall Estill, and Tulsa University (TU), alleging federal civil-rights claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state tort claims because he had been unlawfully seized when he was forbidden to leave the courtroom, had been cast in a false light by the public airing of the alleged threat, and had been retaliated against by Defendants for his exercise of his rights to free speech and access to the courts. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the federal-law claims, agreeing with the district court that the complaint did not adequately allege that any of the Defendants acted under color of state law. But the Court reversed judgment on the state-law claims and remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss the claims without prejudice or remand them to the state court. View "Barnett v. Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable" on Justia Law