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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Because Stella Padilla’s nominating petition for Albuquerque mayor lacked the required number of valid signatures, the Albuquerque City Clerk, Natalie Howard, rejected her request to appear on the ballot as a candidate in the city’s 2017 mayoral election. Padilla promptly sued Howard in her official capacity in state court for a declaration that she had satisfied the nominating petition requirements to be a candidate for mayor. Less than a month later, Howard, represented by the city attorney’s office in the state action, filed a “Motion for a Protective Order Against Harassment of the Defendant by any Volunteer or Other Person Associated with Plaintiff’s Campaign Organization,” and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In her affidavit, Howard complained specifically about harassing conduct that Padilla’s daughter, Vanessa Benavidez, had exhibited toward her on two recent occasions. The federal district court held that all Defendants were absolutely immune from Plaintiffs’ section 1983 action, because in submitting the motion for a protective order to the state court they were participating as advocates in the judicial process. In her motion, Howard asked the state court to prohibit Plaintiffs and others “from engaging in conduct directed at [Howard’s] person, which a reasonable person would find to be annoying, alarming, hostile or menacing in nature.” Though the state court never ruled on the motion, Plaintiffs argued the mere filing of the motion created a chilling effect. The federal district court granted summary judgment to the city, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that “being properly named as a defendant in a declaratory judgment suit, however styled, would not chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in constitutionally protected activity.” The Tenth Circuit found Plaintiffs did not allege a violation of the First Amendment, "and the absence of such an allegation entitles Howard to qualified immunity." View "Benavidez v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Former federal prisoner, plaintiff-appellant Billy May, filed suit under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), claiming he was denied his due process rights as a prisoner when he was quarantined without a hearing during a scabies infestation at the prison. The magistrate judge granted camp administrator Juan Segovia summary judgment on two issues: (1) the exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) applied to May; and (2) there was no genuine issue of material fact as to the availability of administrative remedies. May appealed to contest both conclusions. Segovia opposed May’s appeal, raising two alternative grounds for affirmance that Segovia raised before the magistrate judge, but the judge did not reach. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the magistrate judge’s conclusions that the PLRA exhaustion requirement applied to May and that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether administrative remedies were available to him. Because the Court affirmed the judgment below, it did not reach Segovia’s alternative arguments. View "May v. Segovia" on Justia Law

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Believing that Utah state law required the Utah Department of Corrections ("UDOC") to pay interest on prison accounts, plaintiff-appellant Reginald Williams investigated the relationship between UDOC and Zions First National Bank (Zions Bank). Based on his investigation, he concluded that Zions Bank had a contract with UDOC to hold prisoner funds in an account administered by UDOC, and that the interest earned on the funds was illegally retained by the bank, when it should have been paid to the prisoners who owned the funds. Williams believed that, in response to this investigation, UDOC retaliated against him by, among other things, seizing his legal papers and giving him a negative parole report, which resulted in the denial of parole. He claimed that he was a model prisoner who was similarly situated to other prisoners who had been granted parole. Proceeding pro se, Williams filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 against UDOC, numerous prison officials, Zions Bank, and several Zions Bank employees, alleging takings and due-process constitutional violations for withholding interest on inmate funds, and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment for raising these issues. After the district court appointed counsel for Williams, all defendants moved to dismiss. The district court dismissed all claims except the retaliation claim, and dismissed all defendants except five prison officials. The remaining defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment on the retaliation claim, which the district court granted. In their motion to dismiss, UDOC and the prison-official defendants asserted Eleventh Amendment immunity, claiming that as an arm of the State of Utah, UDOC was immune from suit, and that the prison personnel were similarly immune from suit for claims against them in their official capacities. Williams presented no argument regarding the Eleventh Amendment, and the district court did not address Eleventh Amendment immunity in any of its rulings. On appeal, the UDOC Defendants renewed their argument that they were immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Finding that the Supreme Court’s recent holding in Knick v. Twp. of Scott, No. 17-647, 2019 WL 2552486 (U.S. June 21, 2019) that a property owner could bring a federal suit claiming a Fifth Amendment taking without first bringing suit in state court, the Tenth Circuit concluded Knick did not involve Eleventh Amendment immunity, which was the basis of its holding in this case. Therefore, the Court held the takings claim against the UDOC Defendants had to be dismissed based on Eleventh Amendment immunity; the matter was remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss it without prejudice. View "Williams v. Utah Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Defendants Keith Daron Syling, Roger Schoolcraft, David Kunihiro and Audra Smith were officers or employees of the Alamogordo Police Department (APD) who were allegedly responsible for the public release of information regarding the arrest of a juvenile, A.N, in violation of New Mexico law. Plaintiffs A.N. and her mother, Katherine Ponder brought this action against Defendants and others, asserting claims under federal and state law. Defendants appealed the district court’s denial of their motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 based on qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit concluded Defendants were on notice they would violate A.N.’s right to equal protection under the law if they intentionally and without a rational basis differentiated between her and similarly situated juvenile arrestees in applying New Mexico’s laws against the disclosure of juvenile arrest and delinquency records. As a result, “any reasonable official in [Defendants’] shoes would have understood that he was violating” Plaintiffs’ equal protection rights by these actions. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court's judgment denying them qualified immunity on Plaintiffs' equal protection claim. View "A.N. v. Alamogordo Police Department" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Christopher Colbruno was in jail waiting for trial when he needed to be taken to the hospital for an urgent medical condition. Six deputies in the Denver Sheriff’s Department (Defendants) walked him through the public areas of the hospital completely unclothed except for an orange pair of mittens. Complaining that the deputies violated his constitutional rights, he sued them, among others, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim on the ground that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The district court disagreed, and Defendants appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. After review, the Court found plaintiff’s complaint alleged facts supporting the inference that the public exposure of his naked body was wholly unjustifiable and therefore sufficed to state a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. "Whether the evidence supports those allegations is a question for further proceedings." View "Colbruno v. Kessler" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Stephen Hamer resided in Trinidad, Colorado, confined to a motorized wheelchair, and a qualified individual with a disability under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“RA”). He did not own a car or otherwise use public transportation. Instead, he primarily used the City’s public sidewalks to move about town. Plaintiff contended many of the City’s sidewalks and the curb cuts allowing access onto those sidewalks did not comply with Title II of the ADA and section 504 of the RA. Plaintiff filed an ADA complaint with the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) informing the government about the state of the City’s sidewalks, and continued to lodge informal ADA and RA complaints at City Council meetings over several months. Apparently in response to Plaintiff’s multiple complaints and the results of a DOJ audit, City officials actively began repairing and amassing funding to further repair non-compliant sidewalks and curb cuts. Even so, Plaintiff nonetheless filed suit against the City for violations of Title II of the ADA and section 504 of the RA, seeking a declaratory judgment that the City’s sidewalks and curb cuts violated the ADA and RA, injunctive relief requiring City officials to remedy the City’s non-compliant sidewalks and curb cuts, monetary damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. The district court granted summary judgment to the City on statute-of-limitations grounds, finding the applicable “statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the existence and cause of the injury which is the basis of his action.” The Tenth Circuit held a public entity violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act each day that it fails to remedy a noncompliant service, program, or activity. As a result, the applicable statute of limitations did not operate in its usual capacity as a firm bar to an untimely lawsuit. “Instead, it constrains a plaintiff’s right to relief to injuries sustained during the limitations period counting backwards from the day he or she files the lawsuit and injuries sustained while the lawsuit is pending.” Because the district court applied a different and incorrect standard, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hamer v. City of Trinidad" on Justia Law

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Jaime Ceballos’s wife, Quianna Vigil, called police to report that her husband was in their driveway with a baseball bat “acting crazy,” and that he was drunk and probably on drugs. Vigil wanted police to remove Ceballos so she could return home to put the child to bed. Defendant William Husk and several other Thornton police officers responded. Within a minute of their arrival, Officer Husk shot Ceballos to death in the street in front of his home. Ceballos’s estate and his surviving wife and children sued Officer Husk and the City of Thornton, asserting: (1) a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim against Officer Husk, alleging he used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) a section 1983 claim alleging the City failed to train Officer Husk adequately in how to handle situations involving individuals who are emotionally distraught or who have a diminished ability to reason; and (3) a state-law wrongful death tort claim against Husk. In an interlocutory appeal, Defendants challenged the district court’s decision to deny them summary judgment on each of these three claims. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision denying Officer Husk summary judgment on the section 1983 excessive-force claim; the Court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction both the City’s appeal of the denial of summary judgment on the failure-to- train claim, and Husk’s appeal involving the state-law wrongful death claim. View "Estate of Jaime Ceballos v. Husk" on Justia Law

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Kyle Lindsey and Zayne Mann were seriously injured when Lindsey lost control of his utility vehicle on a gravel road after a brief police pursuit. They claimed the accident was caused by an overzealous officer who should not have initiated a chase over a minor traffic infraction, alleging violations of both their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by Officer Brandon Hyler, the City of Webbers Falls, and several other municipal officials, based on Officer Hyler’s conduct during the pursuit as well as his previous training. Lindsey and Mann also sought relief under Oklahoma law. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on all federal claims and concluded that Officer Hyler was entitled to qualified immunity. Because the record could not credibly sustain plaintiffs’ allegations, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court appropriately dismissed their claims. View "Lindsey v. Hyler" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Tessa Farmer and Sara Weckhorst, two students at Kansas State University (“KSU”), alleged KSU, a recipient of federal educational funds, violated Title IX by being deliberately indifferent to reports it received of student-on-student sexual harassment which, in this case, involved rape. Plaintiffs alleged KSU violated Title IX’s ban against sex discrimination by being deliberately indifferent after Plaintiffs reported to KSU that other students had raped them, and that deliberate indifference caused Plaintiffs subsequently to be deprived of educational benefits that were available to other students. At the procedural posture presented by these interlocutory appeals, which addressed the denial of KSU’s motions to dismiss, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals accepted as true Plaintiffs’ factual allegations indicating that KSU was deliberately indifferent to their rape reports. Accepting that premise, the legal question presented to the Court was what harm Plaintiffs had to allege KSU’s deliberate indifference caused them. The Tenth Circuit concluded that, in this case, Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that KSU’s deliberate indifference made each of them “vulnerable to” sexual harassment by allowing their student-assailants (unchecked and without the school investigating) to continue attending KSU along with Plaintiffs. “This, as Plaintiffs adequately allege, caused them to withdraw from participating in the educational opportunities offered by KSU.” The Court affirmed the district court’s decision to deny KSU’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Title IX claims. View "Farmer v. Kansas State University" on Justia Law

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This case was brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging the constitutionality of New Mexico’s system of bail. Plaintiffs-Appellants Darlene Collins, the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico (“BBANM”), and five New Mexico state legislators (the “Legislator Plaintiffs”) alleged New Mexico’s system of bail violated the Excessive Bail Clause of the Eighth Amendment, as well as the procedural and substantive components of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs further alleged the rules governing New Mexico’s system of bail were promulgated by the New Mexico Supreme Court in violation of the New Mexico Constitution. Defendants-Appellees were the New Mexico Supreme Court and its justices; the Second Judicial District Court of New Mexico, its chief judge, and its court executive officer; and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, its chief judge, and its court executive officer. They moved to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs lacked standing, Defendants were immune from suit, and Plaintiffs failed to state a claim. Defendants also moved for Rule 11 sanctions on the basis that Plaintiffs’ attorneys filed suit without adequately researching the viability of Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs moved for leave to amend their complaint to add a claim that Defendants’ Rule 11 motion violated Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss because it found that BBANM and the Legislator Plaintiffs lacked standing, Defendants were immune from suit, and Plaintiffs failed to state a claim. The district court also granted Defendants’ motion for sanctions and denied Plaintiffs’ motion to amend. Plaintiffs timely appealed, but finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Collins v. Daniels" on Justia Law