Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiffs Richard Tabura and Guadalupe Diaz were Seventh Day Adventists. Their religious practice of not working Saturdays conflicted with their job schedules at a food production plant operated by Defendant Kellogg USA, Inc. (“Kellogg”). Eventually Kellogg terminated each Plaintiff for not working their Saturday shifts. Plaintiffs alleged that in doing so, Kellogg violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by failing to accommodate their Sabbath observance. Both sides moved for summary judgment. The district court denied Plaintiffs’ motion and granted Kellogg summary judgment, concluding as a matter of law both that Kellogg did reasonably accommodate Plaintiffs’ religious practice and, alternatively, that Kellogg could not further accommodate their Sabbath observance without incurring undue hardship. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review of the district court record that the district court erred in granting Kellogg summary judgment; however, on the same record, the district court did not err in denying Plaintiffs summary judgment. View "Tabura v. Kellogg USA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellees, Nazli McDonnell and Eric Verlo, sought a preliminary injunction against Defendants, arguing policies and regulations governing protests and demonstrations at Denver International Airport (“DIA”) violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. On January 28, 2017, an unpermitted protest was held at DIA in an interior area colloquially known as the “Great Hall.” The protest was in response to Executive Order 13769 which, inter alia, temporarily suspended entry into the United States of nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. A second unpermitted protest, which was organized and attended by the Plaintiffs, was held on January 29, 2017. The January 28th protest was allowed to continue without a permit but protestors were eventually moved from the Great Hall to an outdoor plaza. The January 29th protest took place near the international arrival area at the north end of the Great Hall and continued for several hours. Although protestors on both days were warned they could be arrested for continuing to demonstrate without a permit, no arrests were made. The district court granted the injunction in part, concluding Plaintiffs made the necessary showing with respect to their claim that the challenged regulations were unreasonable because they did not contain a formal process for expediting permit applications in exigent circumstances. The district court also enjoined Defendants from enforcing certain regulations governing the location of permitted protests and picketing restrictions, including the size of signage. The Tenth Circuit reversed, primarily because it applied the wrong legal standard in resolving whether the elements for granting a preliminary injunction were met: “[t]he district court’s flawed analysis and clearly erroneous factual finding led it to conclude that Plaintiffs demonstrated a strong likelihood of succeeding in their challenge to the lack of an exigency provision in [the Denver Municipal Code]. The court abused its discretion in so concluding.” View "McDonnell v. City and County of Denver" on Justia Law

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A jury rejected an employment-discrimination claim against JetStream Ground Services, Inc. filed by several Muslim women and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who alleged that JetStream discriminated against the women on religious grounds by refusing to hire them because they wore hijabs. Plaintiffs’ sole argument on appeal was that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to impose a sanction on JetStream (either excluding evidence or instructing the jury that it must draw an adverse inference) because it disposed of records contrary to a federal regulation purportedly requiring their preservation. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion: plaintiffs’ argument that the exclusion sanction should have been applied was waived in their opening statement at trial. And the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give an adverse-inference instruction after Plaintiffs conceded that destruction of the records was not in bad faith. View "EEOC v. JetStream Ground Services" on Justia Law

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Oriana Lee Farrell and her five children claimed that Defendant Elias Montoya, while on duty as a New Mexico state police officer, violated their Fourth Amendment rights when he fired three shots at their minivan as it drove away from officers trying to effect a traffic stop. Officer Tony DeTavis pulled Farrell over for speeding. A few minutes after initiating the stop, DeTavis approached the minivan parked on the right shoulder of the highway and explained to Farrell that he was going to give her a citation. He gave her two options: pay the penalty of $126 within 30 days or see a Taos magistrate within 30 days. After an argument with the officer, Farrell refused to make a decision because she did not know where she would be in 30 days. As the officer went back to his car to call for help, Farrell drove off. After the officer pulled Farrell over again, things got chaotic: Farrell got in a scuffle with the officer who tried to arrest her. When the officer tried to pull Farrell out of the car, Farrell’s 14-year old son tried to fight off the officer, who then pulled out his taser. The officer then bashed out the windows on Farrell’s van after her family ran back into the van and locked the doors. The van began to drive away again. As the incident unfolded, Officer Montoya showed up and fired three shots at the van as Farrell sped off. Farrell was later arrested and charged. Three officers returned to their vehicles and pursued the Farrells down Highway 518, reaching speeds of 100 mph during the chase. When Farrell approached a more congested area, she weaved through traffic, driving on the wrong side of the road on several occasions. According to affidavits by Farrell and one of her younger children, 911 was called during the chase, and the family looked for a police station at which to pull over because they were afraid that the three officers would harm or kill them. More than four minutes after the chase began, the Farrells drove into a hotel parking lot and surrendered. On appeal it was undisputed that no bullet hit the minivan or the Farrells inside; Montoya’s affidavit states that he was aiming at the left rear tire. The Tenth Circuit held the district court should have granted Defendant summary judgment because the shots did not halt the Farrells’ departure and, because they were fleeing, they were not seized at the time Montoya fired his weapon, even if they had a subjective intent to submit to authority. View "Farrell v. Montoya" on Justia Law

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Colorado state prisoner Terrance Wilson was stabbed eleven times by a fellow inmate while incarcerated at a correctional Facility in Limon, Colorado. Having survived the attack, Wilson sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that Frances Falk, James Fox, Steven Frank, and Sherwyn Phillip, each an employee of the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”), violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from the assault. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Falk served as an associate warden; the other defendants were correctional officers. Finding that Falk may have only one encounter with Wilson since his incarceration there, the Tenth Circuit found summary judgment proper as to Falk’s claims. However, the Court could not agree that the remaining defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, and reversed summary judgment as to Wilson’s claims involving their involvement in his attack. View "Wilson v. Falk" on Justia Law

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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