Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Gary Clark was having a psychotic episode. His brother was having trouble subduing Clark, and called the Broken Arrow Policy to assist. When Clark charged at one of the officers with a knife, he was shot. Clark ultimately survived his gunshot wounds, but had not fully recovered. Clark sued, claiming a violation of a number of his constitutional, state-common-law, and federal-statutory rights. The district court granted summary judgment to Wagoner County Board of Commissioners, Wagoner County Sheriff Robert Colbert, and former Wagoner County Jail Nurse Vicki Holland on Clark’s claims against them. Given the undisputed facts, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded a reasonable jury could not find the officers violated Clark’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. In addition, Clark failed to adequately brief issues necessary to justify reversal on his Oklahoma-tort and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims. Therefore, the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the governmental officials. View "Clark v. Colbert" on Justia Law

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Michelle Renee Lamb was born a male, but from a young age, however, displayed feminine characteristics and identified as a female. Lamb was in state prison experiencing gender dysphoria. For this condition, she received medical treatment. However, she claimed the treatment was so poor that it violated the Eighth Amendment. The undisputed evidence showed Lamb received hormone treatment, testosterone-blocking medication, and weekly counseling sessions. A 1986 precedent, Supre v. Ricketts, 752 F.2d 958 (10th Cir. 1986), suggested these forms of treatment would preclude liability for an Eighth Amendment violation. Based partly on this precedent, the district court granted summary judgment to the prison officials. Lamb challenged the grant of summary judgment. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded no genuine issue of material fact existed: “In light of the prison’s treatment for Michelle’s gender dysphoria, no reasonable factfinder could infer deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials. And the district court did not improperly curtail Michelle’s opportunity to conduct discovery. Thus, we affirm the award of summary judgment to the prison officials.” View "Lamb v. Norwood" on Justia Law

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Silvan Warnick brought a malicious prosecution case and a number of state law tort claims against several Salt Lake County prosecutors and investigators. Warnick served as a constable in Salt Lake County. Daniel Herboldsheimer worked for Warnick as a deputy constable. In 2011, Herboldsheimer was serving as bailiff for the South Salt Lake City Justice Court when a criminal defendant attempted to flee. Herboldsheimer pursued, and eventually both Herboldsheimer and another deputy constable, Scott Hansen, another deputy constable, apprehended the defendant. After the fact, Herboldsheimer filed an incident report describing what had happened. According to the complaint, Warnick told Herboldsheimer that his report did not comport with county policy because it contained hearsay observations from others, and not Herboldsheimer’s direct observations. In particular, Herboldsheimer’s report made incorrect statements about Hansen’s use of force to subdue the fleeing defendant. Warnick alleged Herboldsheimer took offense to Warnick’s rebuke. Soon afterward, Herboldsheimer contacted the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office and falsely complained that Warnick and his staff member, Alanna Warnick (Silvan Warnick’s wife), had instructed him to falsify his incident report. In addition, Herboldsheimer told the prosecutors that Warnick had made changes to his report - something he took to be falsification. Warnick claimed he was falsely accused of tampering with evidence that led to the filing of criminal charges against him that were later dismissed. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and Warnick appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding, like the district court, that absolute prosecutorial immunity precluded Warnick from suing the prosecutors for filing charges, and that Warnick failed to plead the rest of his allegations with sufficient factual specificity. View "Warnick v. Cooley" on Justia Law

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Adrian Requena was an inmate housed by the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC). His initial 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint named eleven prison employees as defendants and alleged various violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Two months later, he amended that complaint, without leave to do so, again asserting various violations of his constitutional rights and adding nine defendants. The district judge screened that complaint, and after setting forth the claims, he decided they were “not linked by a common question of law or fact, involved different defendants, and arose from different transactions.” The court concluded Requena “may not present all of the claims in a single action” and directed him to decide which claims he wished to pursue and file a second amended complaint accordingly. The second amended complaint named 38 defendants and alleged myriad violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Attached to the complaint was over 450 pages of exhibits. The complaint fell far short of containing “a short and plain statement” of the claims showing entitlement to relief, nor did it provide any citations to the exhibits to aid any court in navigating them. The court again screened the complaint and concluded “many of [the] claims lack support or substance, and much of the material submitted as exhibits appears to be irrelevant and disorganized.” At the end, the judge identified two claims meriting discussion: (1) denial of hygiene supplies; and (2) denial of access to the courts. Both failed to state a claim for relief. The trial court then dismissed the entire complaint with prejudice, but did not first explicitly address whether amendment of the complaint would be futile, even though Requena’s complaint requested leave to amend if necessary to cure any deficiencies. Judgment was entered the same day. Requena filed a motion to alter or amend judgment, which the judge denied. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed dismissal with prejudice one of Requena's Eighth Amendment claims agains prison officials regarding their alleged failure to protect him from a beating; the Court affirmed dismissal of the second amended complaint in all other respects. View "Requena v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Taunya Perry was arrested and booked into the Ottawa County Jail on December 28, 2012. According to Perry, detention officer Daniel Clements raped her approximately two months later, on February 25, 2013. As a result of the alleged rape, Perry brought suit against the Ottawa County Sheriff, defendant Terry Durborow, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting that Durborow was responsible for the alleged rape under a theory of supervisory liability. In response, Durborow moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was entitled to qualified immunity. Durborow appealed the district court’s order denying his motion, arguing only that - even assuming he violated the Constitution - the district court erred in finding that the contours of the constitutional right at issue were clearly established. The Tenth Circuit agreed: “the clearly established law must be ‘particularized’ to the facts of the case. ... In reaching this conclusion, we do not mean to suggest that “[a] prior case” must have “identical facts” before it will put reasonable officials on notice that their specific conduct is unconstitutional." Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s order and remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in Durborow’s favor. View "Perry v. Durborow" on Justia Law

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Correct Care Solutions, LLC (CCS) terminated Alena Fassbender’s employment for violating CCS policy. Fassbender, who was pregnant at the time of her termination, argued she was terminated because CCS had one too many pregnant workers in Fassbender’s unit, which posed a problem for her supervisor. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded a reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s version of events. Accordingly, the Court reversed the portion of the district court’s order granting CCS summary judgment on Fassbender’s pregnancy discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. secs. 2000e–2000e-17. However, the Court affirmed in part, finding no reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s alternative claim that CCS terminated her in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. View "Fassbender v. Correct Care Solutions" on Justia Law

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Mariano Moya and Lonnie Petry were arrested based on outstanding warrants and detained in a county jail for 30 days or more prior to their arraignments. These arraignment delays violated New Mexico law, which required arraignment of a defendant within 15 days of arrest. Both men sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for deprivation of due process. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a valid claim. The Tenth Circuit affirmed because Moya and Petry failed to plausibly allege a factual basis for liability. View "Moya v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Hutchinson, Kansas police officers responded to a reported armed hostage situation and arrested DeRon McCoy, Jr. The officers brought him to the ground, struck him, and rendered him unconscious with a carotid restraint maneuver. While unconscious, the officers handcuffed McCoy’s arms behind his back, zip-tied his legs together, and moved him into a seated position. As McCoy regained consciousness, the officers resumed striking him and placed him into a second carotid restraint, rendering him unconscious a second time. Based on this incident, McCoy sued three of the arresting officers who participated in his arrest under 42 U.S.C. 1983. He alleged that they violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. The Appellees-officers moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. The district court granted the motion, determining: (1) Appellees acted reasonably under the circumstances; and (2) the relevant law was not clearly established at the time of the Appellees’ alleged conduct. McCoy appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed in part, finding Appellees were entitled to qualified immunity (1) for their conduct before McCoy’s arms and legs were bound while he was unconscious, but (2) not for their conduct after this point. View "McCoy v. Meyers" on Justia Law

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Denver Detention Center (“DDC”) prisoner Craig Ralston filed a 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 civil rights suit against Hosea Cannon. Ralston alleged Cannon, the official charged with “coordinating, directing[,] and monitoring the religious activities” of DDC inmates, violated his First Amendment right to free exercise by denying his request for a kosher diet. Cannon moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, asserting his conduct was, at most, negligent and, thus, did not rise to the level of a First Amendment violation. The district court denied Cannon’s request for qualified immunity. The district court concluded it was clearly established that a kosher-meal accommodation was necessary if Ralston had an honest belief the accommodation was important to his free exercise of religion. Importantly, the district court further concluded the record, read in the light most favorable to Ralston, was sufficient to allow a reasonable juror to find Cannon consciously or intentionally interfered with Ralston’s right to free exercise by denying the kosher-diet request. Cannon appealed. The Tenth Circuit determined that each aspect of Cannon’s appeal amounted to a challenge of the district court’s determinations of evidentiary sufficiency. Accordingly, the Court lacked jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal, and dismissed Cannon’s appeal. View "Ralston v. Cannon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Sherida Felders, Elijah Madyun and Delarryon Hansend filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging, among other things, that Defendant Brian Bairett and other law enforcement officers violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights during a traffic stop. In February 2009, before Plaintiffs served Bairett (or any other defendant) with a summons and the complaint, Bairett offered to settle the case by paying the driver, Felders, $20,000 and passengers Madyun and Hansend $2,500 each. Plaintiffs did not accept Bairett’s offer. Two months later, Plaintiffs timely sent Bairett’s counsel a request to waive service of the summons and complaint, which Bairett’s attorney executed. Six years later, a jury found Defendant Bairett liable for unlawfully searching Plaintiffs’ car and awarded the driver, Felders, $15,000, and her two passengers, Madyun and Hansend, nominal damages of $1 each. After the jury’s verdict, Plaintiffs moved “To Strike and/or Deem Ineffective Bairett’s Alleged ‘Offer of Judgment.’” The district court granted that motion, ruling that Bairett’s February 2009 offer to settle the case did not qualify as a Fed. R. Civ. P. 68 offer to allow judgment against Bairett because he made that settlement offer before he became a party to this litigation. Ordinarily prevailing parties can recover litigation costs from their opponent. Bairett argued on appeal that he effectively invoked Rule 68 to limit his liability for Plaintiffs’ costs. But the district court ruled that Bairett’s Rule 68 offer of judgment was premature, and thus ineffective, because Bairett made it before he had become a party to this litigation. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed: because Rule 68 required the “party defending against a claim” to make an “offer to allow judgment” against him, and because a court cannot enter judgment against the offeror until he has first been made a party to the litigation, Bairett’s offer, filed before Plaintiffs served him with the summons and complaint or obtained his waiver of service, was too early to be effective. View "Felders v. Bairett" on Justia Law