Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Defendant James Woods, a detective in the Cottonwood Heights Police Department, was informed by Utah’s Unified Fire Authority (“UFA”) that medications, including opioids and sedatives, were missing from several UFA ambulances. Detective Woods accessed a state database and searched the prescription drug records of 480 UFA employees in an effort to “develop suspect leads of those who have the appearance of Opioid dependencies.” Consistent with Utah law at the time, Woods did not obtain a search warrant before accessing the Database. Based on the information Woods obtained from the Database search, he developed suspicions about Plaintiffs Ryan Pyle and Marlon Jones. Neither Plaintiff, however, was ever prosecuted for the thefts from the ambulances. Plaintiffs brought separate lawsuits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, each challenging Defendants’ conduct as violative of the Fourth Amendment and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). In both suits, the district court dismissed the claims against Defendant Woods, concluding Woods was entitled to qualified immunity because the law governing warrantless access to prescription drug information by law enforcement was not clearly established. The district court also dismissed the FCRA claims because Defendants’ actions fit within an exemption set out in the Act. In Jones’s suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against the city of Cottonwood Heights with prejudice because Jones’s complaint failed to state a claim for municipal liability plausible on its face. In Pyle’s suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against Cottonwood Heights without prejudice, concluding Pyle failed to notify the Utah Attorney General of those claims as required by Rule 5.1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Pyle and Jones each appealed. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1291, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgments. View "Pyle v. Woods" on Justia Law

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While reading a daily report aloud to his colleagues, Sigiefredo Sanchez mixed up the order of words and numbers, skipped over sections, and gave briefing points out of order. Sanchez was unaware he had a reading disorder. Because his job required him to provide transportation information to nuclear convoys, his reading disorder presented a potential threat to national safety. Once diagnosed, Sanchez lost his safety-and-security clearance. Then, after unsuccessfully requesting accommodations, Sanchez was fired. Sanchez sued his former employer for due-process and Rehabilitation Act violations. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings and dismissed Sanchez’s claims, relying in part on the Supreme Court’s decision in Department of the Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988). District courts lack jurisdiction to review the merits or motives of a decision to revoke or deny a security clearance. Egan applies when an agency has made (1) a security-clearance decision that (2) a plaintiff attempts to challenge. Sanchez argued the district court: (1) abused its discretion by denying Sanchez’s Motion to Supplement; (2) failed to accept Sanchez’s well-pleaded allegations and made findings of fact contrary to the complaint’s allegations; (3) erred in holding that Egan prohibited the court from reviewing Claim 1, the failure-to-accommodate claim; (4) erred in holding that the Department isn’t required to reassign disabled employees; and (5) improperly dismissed Claim 4, Sanchez’s procedural-due-process claim. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part the district court's order, vacating the district court's judgment on the pleadings as to Claim 1 (failure-to-accommodate), but affirmed with respect to dismissal of claims 2-4 (the retaliation, disparate treatment, and procedural-due- process claims) as well as the district court’s order denying Sanchez’s Motion to Supplement. View "Sanchez v. Moniz" on Justia Law

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Kelcey Patton, a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (“DDHS”), was one of those responsible for removing T.D., a minor at the time, from his mother’s home, placing him into DDHS’s custody, and recommending T.D. be placed and remain in the temporary custody of his father, Tiercel Duerson. T.D. eventually was removed from his father’s home after DDHS received reports that T.D. had sexual contact with his half-brother, also Mr. Duerson’s son. DDHS later determined that during T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson, T.D. had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. T.D. sued Patton under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating his right to substantive due process, relying on a “danger-creation theory,” which provided that “state officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials created the danger that caused the harm.” Patton moved for summary judgment on the ground that she is entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "T.D. v. Patton" on Justia Law

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Kelcey Patton, a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (“DDHS”), was one of those responsible for removing T.D., a minor at the time, from his mother’s home, placing him into DDHS’s custody, and recommending T.D. be placed and remain in the temporary custody of his father, Tiercel Duerson. T.D. eventually was removed from his father’s home after DDHS received reports that T.D. had sexual contact with his half-brother, also Mr. Duerson’s son. DDHS later determined that during T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson, T.D. had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. T.D. sued Patton under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating his right to substantive due process, relying on a “danger-creation theory,” which provided that “state officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials created the danger that caused the harm.” Patton moved for summary judgment on the ground that she is entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "T.D. v. Patton" on Justia Law

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When a state fails to protect a foster child from harm, the foster child can sue the state under the special-relationship doctrine, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. The special-relationship doctrine provides an exception to the general rule that states aren’t liable for harm caused by private actors. This case is about the geographical reach of the special-relationship doctrine: whether the special relationship (and its accompanying duty to protect)—crosses state lines. James Dahn, a foster child, sued two Colorado social workers responsible for investigating reports that he was being abused, along with others involved with his adoption. Dahn had been in Oklahoma’s custody until, with Oklahoma’s approval, a Colorado-based private adoption agency placed him for adoption with a foster father in Colorado. The foster father physically abused Dahn before and after adopting him. The private adoption agency was responsible for monitoring Dahn’s placement. Together with Colorado, it recommended approval of his adoption by the abusive foster father. Dahn eventually escaped his abusive foster father by running away. Dahn then sued the private adoption agency, its employees, and the Colorado caseworkers who were assigned to investigate reports of abuse from officials at Dahn’s public school. The district court dismissed all of Dahn’s claims except a section 1983 claim against the two Colorado caseworkers and two state-law claims against the agency and its employees, concluding the special-relationship doctrine allowed Dahn to move forward with the 1983 claim, and it exercised supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims. The Colorado caseworkers appealed. Though the Tenth Circuit condemned their efforts to protect the vulnerable child, the Court concluded, under the controlling precedents, that the Colorado caseworkers were entitled to qualified immunity, and reversed. View "Dahn v. Amedei" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a state prisoner’s alleged deprivation of outdoor exercise for two years and one month. The alleged deprivation led the prisoner, plaintiff-appellee Donnie Lowe, to sue two senior prison officials, invoking 42 U.S.C. 1983 and alleging violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court declined to dismiss the personal liability claims against the two officials, and they appeal. For the sake of argument, the Tenth Circuit assumed a violation of the Eighth Amendment, but nevertheless found the two officials would enjoy qualified immunity unless the denial of outdoor exercise for two years and one month had violated a clearly established constitutional right. In the Court’s view, the right was not clearly established. View "Lowe v. Raemisch" on Justia Law

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This case arose from two state prisoners’ alleged deprivation of outdoor exercise. The inmates were kept in administrative segregation at a Colorado prison for roughly eleven months. During that time, the inmates were allegedly prohibited from exercising outdoors, although they were brought to a “recreation room” five times each week. The alleged prohibition on outdoor exercise led the two inmates to sue the prison warden and the director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, invoking 42 U.S.C. 1983 and claiming violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, reasoning that the two inmates had stated a plausible claim for relief. The Tenth Circuit found, however, the warden and director enjoyed qualified immunity, and accordingly reversed: even if the alleged prohibition on outdoor exercise had violated the Eighth Amendment, the underlying constitutional right would not have been clearly established. View "Apodaca v. Raemisch" on Justia Law

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Robert Harte and his two children visited a garden store where they purchased a small bag of supplies to grow tomatoes and other vegetables in the basement of the family home as an educational project with his 13-year-old son. Unbeknownst to Harte, Sergeant James Wingo of the Missouri State Highway Patrol was parked nearby in an unmarked car, watching the store as part of a ‘pet project’ where he would spend three or four hours per day surveilling the garden store, keeping meticulous notes on all of the customers: their sex, age, vehicle description, license plate number, and what they purchased. More than five months later, a sergeant in the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (“JCSO”), emailed Wingo about the possibility of conducting a joint operation on April 20; the idea stemmed from a multi-agency raid on indoor marijuana growers that was conducted on the same date the previous year. That raid, known as “Operation Constant Gardener,” was spearheaded by Wingo on the basis of several hundred tips he had amassed from his garden store surveillance. The raid would end with police searching the Harte's trash and finding loose tea leaves, suspecting a marijuana grow operation in the Harte house. A SWAT team descended on the family home (complete with battering ram, bulletproof vests, and assault rifles), keeping the entire family under armed guard for two and a half hours. In this appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants-officers. The court affirmed the grant of summary judgment on all claims asserted against defendant Jim Wingo, and affirmed as to the plaintiffs’ excessive force and Monell liability claims. However, the Court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the unlawful search and seizure claims asserted against the remaining defendants. On remand, plaintiffs’ claim under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978), was limited to their theory that one or more of the remaining defendants lied about the results of the field tests conducted in April 2012 on the tea leaves collected from the plaintiffs’ trash. The Court further reversed summary judgment as to the four state-law claims raised on appeal. View "Harte v. Board Comm'rs Cnty of Johnson" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a grant of summary judgment against Plaintiff-Appellant Parker Excavating, Inc. (“PEI”) on its civil rights claim against Defendants-Appellees Lafarge West, Inc. (“Lafarge”), Martin Marietta Minerals, Inc. (“MMM”), and Nick Guerra, an employee of Lafarge and MMM. Lafarge, a construction company, was the primary contractor on a paving project for Pueblo County, Colorado (“the County”). PEI, a Native American-owned construction company, was a subcontractor for Lafarge. MMM replaced Lafarge as the primary contractor. PEI’s participation in the project was terminated before it entered into a new subcontract with MMM. PEI alleged Lafarge retaliated against it with a letter of reprimand and a demand to sign letters of apology after PEI Vice President Greg Parker complained that County employees discriminated against PEI on the basis of its Native American ownership. In separate orders, the district court granted summary judgment on PEI’s 42 U.S.C 1981 retaliation claim to: (1) MMM and Guerra, because PEI could not show its opposition to County employees’ discrimination was “protected” opposition under section 1981; and (2) Lafarge, because PEI could not show Lafarge took an adverse action against it. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Parker Excavating v. LaFarge West" on Justia Law

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This case involved claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) by a temporary employee whose assignment by a staffing agency to work as the receptionist for another business was terminated after she missed a significant amount of work while being tested for breast cancer and informed the agency that, due to her cancer, she needed to take a full week plus an additional unknown amount of time off for more tests, appointments, and radiation treatments. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the staffing agency and the business on both of these claims. The employee appealed that ruling, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Punt v. Kelly Services" on Justia Law