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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiff-appellant Terri Baker appealed the dismissal of this putative class action for lack of standing. She sued on behalf of herself and her son, S.F.B., to challenge Kansas laws and school district policies that: (1) required children to be vaccinated to attend school and participate in child care programs; and (2) provided a religious exemption from these requirements. She claimed these immunization laws and policies violated various federal and state constitutional provisions and statutes. Baker argued she and S.F.B. had standing because the immunization requirements and religious exemptions injured them in two ways: (1) the District misapplied Kansas law when it granted a religious exemption for S.F.B. to attend preschool despite being unvaccinated - her fear that the District would revoke S.F.B.'s religious exemption was an injury in fact that established standing; and (2) Baker "would like the option" of placing S.F.B. in a non-accredited private school (i.e., home school), school programs, or licensed child care - she contended Kansas law inhibited her from exercising these options and caused an injury in fact because she would be unable to secure a religious exemption for S.F.B. if she tried. Finding no reversible error in the district court's dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Baker v. USD 229 Blue Valley" on Justia Law

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Marvin Rowell was arrested for public intoxication and brought to the Muskogee County Jail in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In response to Rowell’s uncooperative conduct during processing, Jail officials decided to move him from the intake room to another room to place him in a restraint chair. In escorting Rowell down a hallway, Officer Dakota West applied forward pressure to Rowell’s right arm. After taking a few steps, Rowell fell and hit his head, and died shortly after from multiple blunt impact injuries to his head, which caused an acute subdural hematoma. Rowell's estate (the “Estate”), through administrator Zachary Rowell, sued Officer West, alleging a Fourteenth Amendment excessive force violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Estate also brought claims for failure to intervene against Officer Jacob Slay, supervisory liability against Shift Supervisor Lacy Rosson, and municipal liability against Muskogee County Sheriff Rob Frazier in his official capacity and the Board of County Commissioners of Muskogee, Oklahoma (the “County”). The district court granted summary judgment for the Defendants because it found that Officer West had not committed a constitutional violation. The Estate appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment. View "Rowell v. Muskogee County Board" on Justia Law

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Pretrial detainee Thomas Pratt exhibited alcohol withdrawal symptoms while in a county jail. Healthcare providers diagnosed and treated Pratt’s symptoms, but their course of treatment proved ineffective. Plaintiff Faye Strain, as Pratt’s guardian, sued. "Disagreement about course of treatment or mere negligence in administering treatment do not amount to a constitutional violation." To state a claim for deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must allege that an official acted (or failed to act) in an objectively unreasonable manner and with subjective awareness of the risk. "Indeed, the word deliberate makes a subjective component inherent in the claim." The Tenth Circuit concluded Plaintiff's allegations did not rise to the "high level" of deliberate indifference, and affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's federal claims (in addition to the court's decision not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims). View "Strain v. Regalado" on Justia Law

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Delsa Brooke Sanderson brought three claims against her employer, Wyoming Highway Patrol (“WHP”), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two of those claims were brought before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for review: retaliation and hostile work environment based on sex. WHP moved for summary judgment on all claims. In ruling on WHP’s motion, the district court dismissed Sanderson’s retaliation claim without prejudice because Sanderson had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. The district court then granted WHP’s motion for summary judgment on Sanderson’s hostile work environment claim, concluding that Sanderson had not carried her burden of showing discrimination that was “sufficiently severe or pervasive.” Further, the court affirmed a magistrate's decision excluding Sanderson's designated expert witness, finding the witness' testimony was neither reliable nor relevant. Sanderson appealed both of those rulings, and the district court's order excluding her expert witness. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the retaliation claim and the order excluding Sanderson's designated expert witness. The Court reversed summary judgment as to the hostile work environment claim, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sanderson v. Wyoming Highway Patrol" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kimberly Aubrey worked for the Weld County, Colorado, Clerk and Recorder’s office. She became unable to work for a time due to posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (“PRES”), a rare condition characterized by fluctuating blood pressure that causes swelling in the brain, coma and sometimes death. Eventually Aubrey’s PRES resolved and she began to recover. The County allowed her to take several months off but eventually terminated her employment. By that time, Aubrey contended, she recovered sufficiently to be able to return to her job, with reasonable accommodation for her disability. Aubrey sued the County under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and several related statutes. The district court granted the County summary judgment on all claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part, finding Aubrey presented sufficient evidence that a jury could have found the County failed to engage in the collaborative interactive process that the ADA called for between an employer and an employee in order to determine whether there was a reasonable accommodation that would have permitted Aubrey to perform the essential functions of her job. In light of that evidence, Aubrey’s failure-to-accommodate and disability discrimination claims were sufficient to survive summary judgment. Summary judgment for the County was affirmed on Aubrey’s retaliation claims because she failed to present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the County terminated her employment in retaliation for her asking for an accommodation. View "Aubrey v. Koppes" on Justia Law

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Brittney Brown brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against Roger Flowers, who at the time was a jailer at the Pontotoc County Justice Center; she alleged he raped her while she was a pretrial detainee. Flowers moved for summary judgment, arguing that sex between him and Brown was consensual and that, regardless, he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court determined that a jury could have found that Flowers had coercive, nonconsensual sex with Brown and that such conduct would have violated her clearly established rights. Accordingly, it denied Flowers’s motion. Flowers appealed, arguing: (1) the district court erred in finding that the question of consent and coercion was a jury question and that it therefore erred in finding a constitutional violation; and (2) clearly established law did not put him on notice that the sex was coercive or nonconsensual. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded it lacked jurisdiction with respect to Flowers' first contention, "on this interlocutory appeal, we generally must accept the facts as the district court found them." With respect to his second, the Court determined existing caselaw on the sexual abuse of inmates clearly established the contours of Brown’s rights, and affirmed the denial of qualified immunity. View "Brown v. Flowers" on Justia Law

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A Garfield County, Utah, sheriff’s deputy, defendant Raymond Gardner, challenged the district court’s decision to deny him qualified immunity from Plaintiff Matthew Mglej’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims stemming from Gardner’s arresting Mglej in August 2011. Mglej was on a cross-country trip when his motorcycle broke down. Chuck Gurle, a mechanic in Boulder, let Mglej stay with him for a few days while Gurle waited for parts needed to repair the motorcycle. The deputy first met Mglej when he stopped Mglej for speeding on his motorcycle. A few days later, Gardner received a report from a local convenience store/gas station that $20 was missing from the store's register, and they suspected someone matching Mglej's description took the money. When the deputy asked about the missing money, Mglej denied taking it. Deputy Gardner explained to Mglej that, although Mglej denied taking the money, he still needed to complete a report, which would require some information from Mglej, the information usually contained on an ID or driver's license. When Mglej declined to give the deputy his ID before consulting with an attorney, Gardner arrested him. Deputy Gardner then handcuffed Mglej behind his back and placed him in the front seat of the deputy’s patrol car. Mglej complained that the handcuffs were too tight; when Gardner tried to loosen them, the handcuffs malfunctioned and the deputy could not loosen or remove them. Using tools from his garage, Deputy Gardner was eventually able to pry the handcuffs off Mglej’s wrists after twenty minutes of work, causing Mglej significant pain and injury in the process. Mglej was released on bail three days after he was arrested. He then had to hitchhike the ninety-five miles back to Boulder, where he found that his motorcycle had been vandalized and his possessions stolen. The charges against Mglej were later dropped. Mglej alleged that Gardner violated the Fourth Amendment when he arrested Mglej without probable cause, used excessive force in doing so, and then initiated a malicious prosecution against Mglej. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err in denying Gardner qualified immunity on all of Mglej's claims. View "Mglej v. Garfield County" on Justia Law

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While responding to a report of a fight at an Elks Club in Greybull, Wyoming, Officer Shannon Armstrong arrested Morgan Emmett for interfering with a peace officer. To effectuate the arrest, Armstrong tackled Emmett then tased him. Emmett brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, claiming that Armstrong violated his Fourth Amendment rights by unreasonably seizing him when arresting him without probable cause and by using excessive force when using his taser to effectuate the arrest. Emmett also brought a failure-to-train claim against Police Chief Bill Brenner, in his official capacity. The district court granted summary judgment to Armstrong on the basis of qualified immunity on all claims and to the city for lack of a constitutional violation. Emmett’s unreasonable seizure claim was based entirely on Officer Armstrong’s failure verbally to identify himself as a police officer before seizing Emmett, thus precluding probable cause to believe Emmett knowingly interfered with a peace officer. The Tenth Circuit found that because there were significant indicia from the circumstances that Armstrong was a police officer, it was objectively reasonable for Armstrong to believe that Emmett knew he was a police officer. Thus, because the arrest was not a constitutional violation, Armstrong was entitled to qualified immunity. With regard to Emmett’s second claim of excessive force, the Tenth Circuit agreed with Emmett that a jury could have found tasing him after he was no longer actively resisting constituted excessive force. Armstrong was not entitled to qualified immunity on that claim. With regard to claims against Chief Brenner, because the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s finding that no constitutional violation occurred insofar as the excessive force claim was involved, it also reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Emmett’s failure-to-train claim against Chief Brenner in his official capacity to the extent that it related to Armstrong’s use of force. Judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Emmett v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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Ricardo Ortiz died in 2016 while in the custody of the Sante Fe Adult Detention Facility (ADF). Ortiz’s personal representatives sued multiple individual ADF affiliates, alleging state claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act and violations of his Fourteenth Amendment right to medical treatment under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The defendants moved to dismiss the first amended complaint, and the plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to include a claim for municipal liability that was not in any prior complaint. In an order addressing both motions, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claims, denied the plaintiffs leave to amend to include that municipal liability claim, and remanded the state-law claims. On appeal, the plaintiffs-appellants argued the district court erred in dismissing the section 1983 claims against individual prison employees and in denying leave to amend. The Tenth Circuit agreed that plaintiffs-appellants plausibly alleged Officer Chavez violated Ortiz’s clearly established constitutional right to medical care for acute symptoms related to his withdrawal from heroin. But the Court could not conclude they plausibly alleged the other individual defendants violated Ortiz’s clearly established constitutional right to medical care under these circumstances. Therefore, the Court vacated the district court’s dismissal with regard to Officer Chavez but affirmed with regard to the other individual defendants. Separately, the Court concluded the district court should not have denied the plaintiff leave to amend for reasons of futility: the district court determined that the plaintiff could not state a claim for municipal liability without first properly stating a claim against an individual, but Tenth Circuit precedent allowed municipal liability even where no individual liability existed. Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court's denial of leave to amend. View "Quintana v. Santa Fe County Board of Comm." on Justia Law

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Jane Doe appealed the dismissal of her Title IX claim against School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado (the District or DPS) for failure to state a claim. According to the complaint, a group of students began sexually harassing Ms. Doe after she was sexually assaulted by another student in March of her freshman year at East High School (EHS). She alleged that despite her numerous reports of the harassment to school personnel, as well as reports from teachers and a counselor, the school administration never investigated her complaints and little if anything was done to prevent the harassment from continuing. She stopped attending regularly scheduled classes about 14 months after the assault, and she transferred to a different school after completing her sophomore year. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding Ms. Doe's complaint contained sufficient allegations to support an inference of deliberate indifference. View "Doe v. School District Number 1" on Justia Law