Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
Parker v. United Airlines
Plaintiff-appellant Jeannie Parker fielded calls for United Airliines, booking flight reservations. Parker took FMLA leave because she had a vision disorder and her father had cancer. About five months after approving the leave, Parker’s supervisor suspected Parker was avoiding new calls by telling customers that she would get additional information, putting the customers on hold, and chatting with coworkers about personal matters while the customers waited. The supervisor characterized Parker’s conduct as “call avoidance.” This suspicion led to a meeting between the supervisor, Parker, and a union representative. Following the meeting, United suspended Parker while investigating her performance. During this investigation, the supervisor reviewed more of Parker’s phone calls with customers and recommended that United fire Parker. United’s policies prohibited the supervisor from firing Parker; United had to select a manager to conduct a meeting and allow participation by Parker, her supervisor, and a union representative. All of them could present arguments and evidence, and the manager would decide whether to fire Parker. At the second meeting, the union representative asked United to apply its progressive discipline policy rather than terminate Parker's employment, to which United declined. Policy allowed Parker to appeal by filing a grievance; if she were to submit a grievance, another manager would conduct the appeal, wherein Parker could again be represented by the union, and present additional arguments. Parker filed a grievance but declined to participate, relying on her union representative. The union representative admitted in the conference call that Parker had “no excuse for the demonstrated behavior of call avoidance except for being under extreme mental duress.” With this admission, the union representative asked United to give Parker another chance. The senior manager declined and concluded that United hadn’t acted improperly in firing Parker. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether United's termination was made in retaliation for Parker's taking FMLA leave. Specifically, whether FMLA's prohibition against retaliation applied when the employee obtained consideration by independent decisionmakers. "Retaliation entails a causal link between an employee’s use of FMLA leave and the firing. That causal link is broken when an independent decisionmaker conducts her own investigation and decides to fire the employee." The Tenth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to United. View "Parker v. United Airlines" on Justia Law
Lewis, et al. v. City of Edmond, et al.
Officer Denton Scherman of the Edmond, Oklahoma Police Department shot an unarmed assailant, Isaiah Lewis, four times. Lewis died as a result of his wounds. Plaintiffs, the representatives of Lewis’s estate, brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Defendant Scherman used excessive force against the decedent in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Scherman appealed the district court’s decision denying his motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding its jurisdiction was limited because at this intermediate stage of the litigation, and controlling precedent generally precluded the Court from reviewing a district court’s factual findings if those findings have (as they did here) at least minimal support in the record. In such case, “[t]hose facts explicitly found by the district court, combined with those that it likely assumed, . . . form the universe of facts upon which we base our legal review of whether [a] defendant [is] entitled to qualified immunity.” The Tenth Circuit's review was de novo; Defendant Scherman did not dispute the facts recited by the district court, when viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs, sufficed to show a violation of the decedent’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. What Scherman did dispute was the district court’s holding that the law was clearly established at the time of the incident such “that every reasonable [officer] would have understood” Scherman’s actions, given the facts knowable to him, violated decedent’s constitutional right. The Tenth Circuit concluded Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of showing the law was clearly established such “that every reasonable [officer] would have understood” that the force Scherman used against Lewis was excessive under the facts presented at trial. The judgment of the district court denying Defendant Scherman qualified immunity is reversed and this case is remanded for entry of judgment in his favor. View "Lewis, et al. v. City of Edmond, et al." on Justia Law
Paugh, et al. v. Uintah County, et al.
Coby Lee Paugh died from complications related to alcohol withdrawal while being held in pretrial detention at Uintah County Jail in Vernal, Utah. His estate sued Uintah County and several of its jail officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of Paugh’s constitutional rights. The County and its jail officials moved for summary judgment, with the jail officials asserting qualified immunity. The district court granted qualified immunity for one but not all defendants. It also denied the County’s motion for summary judgment. The Individual Defendants and the County filed an interlocutory appeal, challenging the district court’s denial of qualified immunity, and the County asked the Tenth Circuit to exercise pendent appellate jurisdiction and reverse the court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment. We hold that the Individual Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the Individual Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and did not consider the County’s appeal, because it lacked jurisdiction to do so. View "Paugh, et al. v. Uintah County, et al." on Justia Law
Ford v. Jackson National Life, et al.
Plaintiff-appellant La’Tonya Ford worked at Jackson National Life Insurance (“Jackson”) for about four years. During her time there, Ford allegedly suffered sex- and race-based discrimination; faced retaliation for complaining about her treatment; endured a hostile work environment; and was constructively discharged. After she left Jackson for another job, Ford sued the company for (1) discrimination; (2) retaliation; (3) hostile work environment; and (4) constructive discharge. Jackson moved for summary judgment; the district court granted Jackson’s motion and dismissed all of Ford’s claims. Ford now appeals, urging us to reverse the court on each claim. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her discrimination claim. But it reversed in part the dismissal of her retaliation claim; her hostile-work-environment claim; and her constructive-discharge claim. View "Ford v. Jackson National Life, et al." on Justia Law
Cruz v. Farmers Insurance, et al.
Michael Cruz sued defendant insurance companies alleging they terminated his contract, under which he sold defendants’ insurance products, on the basis of race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. In support, Cruz relied on a statement allegedly made by his district manager, which Cruz argued represented direct evidence of discrimination, as well as circumstantial evidence. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants, ruling that the district manager’s statement was inadmissible hearsay and that Cruz’s circumstantial evidence did not otherwise demonstrate discriminatory intent. Without considering Cruz’s circumstantial evidence, the Tenth Circuit reversed because the district manager’s alleged comment was not inadmissible hearsay; it was admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(D) as a party-opponent admission made by an agent within the scope of the agency relationship. And because that admission constituted direct evidence of discrimination, the grant of summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Cruz v. Farmers Insurance, et al." on Justia Law
Dansie v. Union Pacific Railroad
Plaintiff Kelly Dansie sued Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company for terminating his employment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant on Plaintiff’s ADA claim but allowed the case to proceed to trial on Plaintiff’s FMLA claim. The jury then returned a verdict in Defendant’s favor. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part, finding plaintiff presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find that defendant failed to engage in the ADA mandated good-faith communications with respect to reasonable accommodations of plaintiff's disability. Given that evidence, summary judgment for Defendant was reversed on plaintiff’s ADA claim, and the issue was remanded to the district court for a trial. But the Tenth Circuit affirmed the verdict for defendant on plaintiff’s FMLA claim. View "Dansie v. Union Pacific Railroad" on Justia Law
Frey v. Town of Jackson, WY, et al.
As Plaintiff William Frey proceeded through the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) checkpoint at Jackson Hole Airport in Teton County, Wyoming, the body scanner alerted TSA screeners to a potentially suspicious area on Plaintiff’s person. When the security screeners informed Plaintiff that they would have to conduct a pat down, Plaintiff became agitated and repeatedly refused to cooperate. So the security screeners summoned a police officer, Defendant Nathan Karnes, who arrested Plaintiff. After being transported to the Teton County Jail for booking, Plaintiff continued his noncooperation, refusing to participate in the booking process and demanding that jail officials allow him to have an attorney present. Jail officials detained Plaintiff for about three hours before releasing him. Plaintiff sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, alleging many violations of his rights. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s federal claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, denied leave to file a second amended complaint, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims, awarded attorney’s fees to the Municipal Defendants, and sanctioned Plaintiff’s attorneys. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that some of his claims should have survived dismissal, that the district court should have permitted him to add some of his new proposed claims in a second amended complaint, and that the district court should not have awarded any attorney’s fees. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Frey v. Town of Jackson, WY, et al." on Justia Law
Chilcoat v. San Juan County, et al.
Cattle rancher Zane Odell was a cattle rancher who had a permit to graze his cattle in parts of San Juan County, Utah on land held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration. On the morning of April 1, 2017, Odell left his corral gate open so his cattle could graze on state and federal public land and then return home to get water on his property. That same evening, Odell noticed that his corral gate had been shut and latched. Odell called the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department and reported the situation, explaining that but for a 10-foot gap in his fence, the closure of the corral gate risked depriving his cattle of water. Odell and Sergeant Wilcox reviewed video footage from Odell’s trail camera which showed part of a SUV’s license plate number. The SUV belonged to plaintiff Rosalie Chilcoat and her husband. A few days after Odell reported the gate closure, Chilcoat and her husband were driving on the county road near Odell’s property. Odell and two other ranchers caught up to the couple and detained them by blocking the public roadway. Odell called the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department and was told Chilcoat and her husband should not be allowed to leave until the deputy arrived. While waiting for the deputy, Odell accused Chilcoat and her husband of criminal activity and threatened them with jail time. Chilcoat was ultimately held on criminal charges relating to the initial gate closure. The State of Utah elected not to defend the state court’s ruling. The Utah Court of Appeals reversed the state court’s probable cause determination, ultimately resulting in the dismissal with prejudice of all remaining criminal charges pending against Chilcoat. Chilcoat then sued Odell, Prosecutor Laws, and San Juan County in federal district court in Utah, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants, and a state-law assault claim against Odell. Considering the allegations in Chilcoat's proposed amended complaint, and viewing all non-conclusory allegations in the light most favorable to Chilcoat, the Tenth Circuit concluded she stated a plausible municipal liability claim against San Juan County. The district court erred by denying her proposed amended complaint as futile under Rule 15(a)(2). The district court's denial of her request for leave to amend was reversed. View "Chilcoat v. San Juan County, et al." on Justia Law
McWilliams v. Dinapoli, et al.
A federal district court concluded that a reasonable factfinder could determine that a law-enforcement officer, Officer Michael DiNapoli, had punched, tackled, and used a chokehold on plaintiff-appellee Greg McWilliams. At the time, McWilliams was suspected only of trespassing on a marina by riding in a golf cart. McWilliams sued DiNapoli under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In response, DiNapoli moved for summary judgment, arguing that: (1) his use of force had been reasonable; and (2) he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, DiNapoli argued: (1) a surveillance video blatantly contradictd the district court’s factual determination that McWilliams had not touched DiNapoli’s chest; and (2) even under the district court’s factual determinations, DiNapoli did not commit a constitutional violation because his use of force was reasonable. The Tenth Circuit concluded it was bound by the district court's factual assessment, and the district court did not err in denying qualified immunity. View "McWilliams v. Dinapoli, et al." on Justia Law
Irizarry v. Yehia
Plaintiff-appellant Abade Irizarry, a a YouTube journalist and blogger, was filming a DUI traffic stop in Lakewood, Colorado. Officer Ahmed Yehia arrived on the scene and stood in front of Irizarry, obstructing his filming of the stop. When Irizarry and a fellow journalist objected, Officer Yehia shined a flashlight into Irizarry’s camera and then drove his police cruiser at the two journalists. Irizarry sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Officer Yehia violated his First Amendment rights. The district court granted the motion, concluding that the complaint alleged a First Amendment constitutional violation based on prior restraint and retaliation. Although the Tenth Circuit had not previously recognized a First Amendment right to record police officers performing their official duties in public, the district court, relying on out-of-circuit decisions, held that the First Amendment guaranteed such a right, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. The district court nonetheless held that Officer Yehia was entitled to qualified immunity because Irizarry had not shown a violation of clearly established law. The Tenth Circuit found the complaint alleged a First Amendment retaliation claim under clearly established law, so Officer Yehia was not entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, judgment was reversed. View "Irizarry v. Yehia" on Justia Law