Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
Johnson v. Reyna, et al.
Appellant Jabari Johnson, who proceeded pro se at district court but had counsel on appeal, alleged in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint against three prison officers that the officers slammed him on his untreated fractured jaw, stepped on his untreated injured foot, caused him excruciating pain, and inflicted further injury on his jaw and foot to the point that he needed physical therapy and surgery. He also alleged that the incident caused him depression and anxiety. The district court ruled that Johnson failed to allege a sufficient physical injury under § 1997e(e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to claim mental or emotional damages and dismissed his individual-capacity claims against the officers with prejudice. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded Johnson's allegations satisfied § 1997e(e)’s physical-injury requirement. The Court affirmed the dismissal of Johnson's § 1983 complaint against one officer, but reversed dismissal against the two others. The case was thus remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Reyna, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Personal Injury
D.T. v. Cherry Creek School
In the fall of 2015, D.T. enrolled as a freshman at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, Colorado. During his time at Cherokee Trail, he suffered from depression and a general decline in academic performance. His mother regularly communicated with school officials regarding his well-being and coordinated in-school support. During the first semester of his junior year, D.T. was reported for making a school shooting threat. As a result, he was expelled from Cherokee Trail and the Cherry Creek School District (“the District”) initiated a special education assessment. In December 2017, the District concluded D.T. suffered from a Serious Emotional Disability and approved an individualized education program (“IEP”) to assist his learning. D.T. appealed a district court's judgment finding the District did not deny him access to a free and appropriate public education as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). D.T. asked the Tenth Circuit to conclude the District violated its obligation to identify, or “child find,” students with disabilities who required supplementary academic supports. The Tenth Circuit declined D.T.'s request, finding the District acted reasonably to preserve his access to the benefit of general education. "The District’s duty to assess and provide D.T. with special education services did not begin until his emotional dysfunction manifested in the school environment by way of his shooting threat." View "D.T. v. Cherry Creek School" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Criminal Law, Education Law, Government & Administrative Law
Shepherd v. Robbins
The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether 42 U.S.C. § 1983 clearly established Defendant Utah Highway Patrolman Blaine Robbins violated Heather Leyva’s Fourteenth and Fourth Amendment rights by pulling her over without reasonable suspicion to do so and by sending her flirtatious texts about the administration of a commercial towing relationship between her employer and the Utah Highway Patrol. Leyva served as the liaison between the Utah Highway Patrol (“UHP”) and West Coast Towing (“WCT”)—one of three towing companies in the Heavy Duty Towing Rotation (“HDTR”). Over time their professional relationship developed into a personal one. Defendant texted Leyva one night asking about work-related matters. In response to one question, Leyva told Defendant to “standby” because she was on the freeway. Defendant asked where and said he would pull her over. Defendant spotted her, turned on his lights, and initiated an apparent traffic stop. Leyva pulled over, not knowing Defendant was the driver of the patrol car, and got her identification ready. Defendant claimed he pulled Leyva over as “a joke between friends.” A month later, Leyva reported to her boss she felt Defendant was sexually harassing her. Her boss contacted UHP to report Leyva’s complaints of sexual harassment. As a result, UHP conducted an investigation. Relevant to the issues on appeal, the investigation found Defendant did not improperly administer the HDTR but concluded his conduct revealed his desire to further his personal relationship with Leyva. It also determined that Defendant lacked reasonable suspicion when he stopped Leyva. The district court found that Defendant did not violate clearly established law. Defendant did not dispute for purposes of this appeal that he violated Leyva’s constitutional rights. He argued only that the district court correctly determined the law was not clearly established for either alleged violation. Plaintiff alleged, and the district court found, that a jury could find Defendant violated Leyva’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred by granting summary judgment on Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims insofar as they related to Defendant’s traffic stop of Leyva. But the Court agreed with the district court that Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment rights arising in connection with the administration of HDTR, were not clearly established at the time of the violation. View "Shepherd v. Robbins" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law
Mahdi v. Salt Lake Police Department, et al.
A police chase ended when the fleeing armed robber crashed into Plaintiff Thaer Mahdi’s tailor shop. Officers fired scores of bullets at the driver, and many hit the shop. The shop was badly damaged, and Mahdi was psychologically traumatized. Mahdi filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD); the Unified Police Department (UPD); and four officers of the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP)—Superintendent Michael Rapich, Sergeant Chris Shelby, and Troopers Jed Miller and Jon Thompson. Plaintiff alleged: (1) the responding officers used excessive force in violation of his right to substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; and (2) that the officers’ unconstitutional use of force resulted from Superintendent Rapich’s failure to train and supervise his subordinates and from the defendant law-enforcement agencies’ policies and customs, including their failure to properly train or supervise their employees. Defendants moved to dismiss Mahdi’s first amended complaint for failure to state any claims. In response, Mahdi moved for leave to file a second amended complaint. The United States District Court for the District of Utah denied the motion as futile and granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss. The court held that Mahdi had not adequately alleged that any officers violated his constitutional right to substantive due process and that in the absence of any such violation the police agencies also could not be liable under § 1983. Mahdi appealed, challenging the dismissal of his claims and denial of his motion for leave to file his second amended complaint. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of plaintiffs claims and denial of his motion. View "Mahdi v. Salt Lake Police Department, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Criminal Law, Personal Injury
Bledsoe v. Board Cty Comm. Jefferson KS, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellee Floyd Bledsoe spent sixteen years in prison for the November 1999 murder of his fourteen-year-old sister-in-law Camille in Jefferson County, Kansas. In 2015, new DNA testing and a suicide note from Bledsoe’s brother Tom supported Bledsoe’s longstanding claim that Tom was the killer and Bledsoe was innocent. A state court subsequently vacated Bledsoe’s convictions and prosecutors dismissed all charges against him. In 2016, Bledsoe filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against ten named defendants, most of whom were Kansas law enforcement officers. Bledsoe alleged that Defendants conspired to fabricate evidence implicating him in the murder and intentionally suppressed evidence that would have proved his innocence, thereby causing him to be charged, tried, and convicted without even probable cause to believe he was guilty. At issue in this appeal was the district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) by Defendant-Appellants, all of whom were law enforcement officers employed by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office. In their motion, Appellants argued they were entitled to qualified immunity because Bledsoe: (1) failed to state claims adequately alleging that Appellants deprived Bledsoe of his constitutional rights; and/or (2) any constitutional violations Bledsoe did adequately allege against Appellants were not clearly established in 1999, when the events at issue occurred. The district court denied Appellants qualified immunity on most of Bledsoe’s claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment. The Court concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision in Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981) did not preclude Bledsoe’s substantive due process claims. Further, the Court found Bledsoe adequately alleged substantive due process and Fourth Amendment claims against each Appellant for evidence fabrication and for suppressing exculpatory evidence, a malicious prosecution claim, conspiracy claims, and a failure-to-intervene claim. Lastly, the Court concluded all the constitutional violations Bledsoe alleged except his failure-to-intervene claim were clearly established in 1999. The district court, therefore, correctly denied Appellants qualified immunity on all but the failure-to-intervene claim. View "Bledsoe v. Board Cty Comm. Jefferson KS, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights
Fresquez v. BNSF Railway
Plaintiff Brandon Fresquez filed suit against his former employer, defendant BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), claiming that BNSF violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) by terminating his employment in retaliation for him engaging in certain activities that were expressly protected under the FRSA. A jury found in favor of Fresquez on his claim of retaliation under the FRSA, and awarded him $800,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. Following the trial, Fresquez moved for an award of back and front pay. The district court granted that motion in part and awarded Fresquez a total of $696,173. BNSF argued on appeal: (1) it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the merits of Fresquez’s claims; (2) alternatively, it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages. BNSF further argues that it was entitled to a new trial on the merits of Fresquez’s claims based on the district court’s admission of character and other prejudicial evidence; (3) it was entitled to a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages; and (4) the district court abused its discretion by awarding Fresquez ten years’ worth of front pay. Rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed judgment. View "Fresquez v. BNSF Railway" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Labor & Employment Law
Surat v. Klamser
Plaintiff-Appellee Michaella Surat filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant-Appellant Officer Randall Klamser, alleging he violated her right to be free from excessive force during her arrest for misdemeanor charges of obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. Officer Klamser moved to dismiss, arguing Surat’s claim was barred by her underlying convictions. The district court granted Officer Klamser’s motion, in part, holding that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) did not bar Surat’s claim that Officer Klamser used excessive force to overcome her resistance when he slammed her face-first into the ground. Officer Klamser then moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, but the district court denied his motion. The district court concluded a reasonable jury could have found Officer Klamser used excessive force to overcome Surat’s resistance to arrest. Additionally, the district court determined Officer Klamser’s force violated clearly established law. In this interlocutory appeal of the denial of summary judgment, Officer Klamser claimed the district court erred because his use of force was reasonable and, alternatively, because the law did not clearly establish that his action during the arrest violated the Fourth Amendment. Although the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that Officer Klamser’s use of force violated the Fourth Amendment, it disagreed that clearly established law existing at the time of the incident would have put a reasonable officer on notice that his conduct was unlawful. Accordingly, judgment was reversed. View "Surat v. Klamser" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Personal Injury
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
Posted in: Civil Rights, Labor & Employment 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
Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Personal Injury
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
Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law