Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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The government allowed a prisoner's SAMs to expire, and could not proffer a compelling argument to that continuing one such measure was not the least restrictive means of furthering a governmental interest. Plaintiff-appellant Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was a prisoner at the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (“ADX Florence”). He was subjected to Special Administrative Measures (“SAMs”) that limited his contact with the outside world due to past terrorist activities and his connections with terrorist groups. One of the restrictions included a prohibition against participating in group prayer. Acting pro se, plaintiff challenged the legality of his numerous restrictions. He requested a declaratory judgment proclaiming that the government’s imposition and enforcement of the restrictions violated numerous constitutional provisions as well as the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (“RFRA”). He also sought an injunction ordering the government to permit his participation in group prayer. The district court dismissed his suit for failure to state a claim. While his case was on appeal, the government allowed plaintiff's SAMs to expire. But he was still prohibited from participating in group prayer due to the housing restrictions at ADX Florence. The Tenth Circuit found that the government did not meet its burden to affirmatively demonstrate that continuing to deny plaintiff the right to freely exercise his religion one a week furthered a compelling governmental interest in the least restrictive manner. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court granting the government's motion to dismiss plaitniff's SAMs claims, and remanded this case with instructions to dismiss those claims as moot. View "Ghailani v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Abigail Ross was allegedly raped by a fellow student at the University of Tulsa. The alleged rape led plaintiff to sue the university for money damages under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the University of Tulsa, and plaintiff appealed. On the first theory, the dispositive issue was whether a fact-finder could reasonably infer that an appropriate person at the university had actual notice of a substantial danger to others. On the second theory, there was a question of whether a reasonable fact-finder could characterize exclusion of prior reports of the aggressor's sexual harassment as "deliberate indifference." The Tenth Circuit concluded both theories failed as a matter of law: (1) campus-security officers were the only university employees who knew about reports that other victims had been raped, and a reasonable fact-finder could not infer that campus-security officers were appropriate persons for purposes of Title IX; (2) there was no evidence of deliberate indifference by the University of Tulsa. View "Ross v. University of Tulsa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were families with children enrolled in the Douglas County School District RE-1 (“DCSD”) and the American Humanist Association (“AHA”). Plaintiffs filed suit challenging various DCSD practices as violations of the Establishment Clause and the Equal Access Act (“EAA”), contending DCSD engaged in a pattern and practice of promoting Christian fundraising efforts and permitting faculty participation in Christian student groups. The Tenth Circuit found most of the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that they or their children experienced “personal and unwelcome contact with government-sponsored religious” activities. Furthermore, they failed to demonstrate their case for municipal taxpayer standing because they could not show expenditure of municipal funds on the challenged activities. The sole exception is plaintiff Jane Zoe: she argued DCSD violated the Establishment Clause when school officials announced they were “partnering” with a Christian student group and solicited her and her son for donations to a “mission trip.” The district court held that because Zoe’s contacts with the challenged actions were not conspicuous or constant, she did not suffer an injury for standing purposes. The Tenth Circuit found "no support in our jurisprudence" for the contention that an injury must meet some threshold of pervasiveness to satisfy Article III. The Court therefore concluded Zoe had standing to seek retrospective relief. View "American Humanist Assoc. v. Douglas County School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Mary Anne Sause filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that defendants Officers Lee Stevens and Jason Lindsey violated her rights under the First Amendment stemming from a noise complaint investigation emanating from plaintiff's residence. The district court dismissed plaintiff's complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim. Because plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the contours of the right at issue were clearly established, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. And the Court likewise agreed that allowing plaintiff leave to amend her complaint would have been futile. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s order to the extent that it dismissed with prejudice plaintiff's claims for money damages. But because the Court concluded that plaintiff lacked standing to assert her claims for injunctive relief, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and remanded with instructions to dismiss those claims without prejudice. View "Sause v. Bauer" on Justia Law

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The district court did not err in its grant of summary judgment in favor of an employee's former employer and supervisors in her Title IX discrimination and retaliation suit. Dr. Tawny Hiatt was hired by Colorado Seminary, which owned and operated the University of Denver ("DU"). DU hired Dr. Hiatt to be a Staff Psychologist and Training Director for the Health and Counseling Center ("HCC"). Dr. Hiatt was responsible for supervising psychology students seeking their professional licensure. Dr. Hiatt was, in turn, supervised by Dr. Alan Kent, the Executive Director of the HCC, and Dr. Jacaranda Palmateer, the HHC’s Director of Counseling Services. Dr. Hiatt developed a romantic relationship with one of the fellows she supervised, and it came to the attention of her supervisors. Dr. Hiatt met with Dr. Kent and Dr. Palmateer. Dr. Kent presented Dr. Hiatt with three options: (1) resign; (2) be demoted and undergo six months of outside counseling about her supervisory style; or (3) remain in her position and allow Human Resources (“HR”) to handle the matter. Dr. Kent and Dr. Palmateer explained they were presenting these options because: (1) a “majority” of trainees refused to be supervised by Dr. Hiatt and she had lost “credibility and authority in their view”; (2) her conduct posed a “grey ethical issue,” and a Training Director needed to display “exemplary ethics, boundaries, and professionalism”; and (3) her “approach to therapy and supervision required a strict adherence to boundaries which weren’t demonstrated in this situation” and her response to the students’ reactions showed a “lack of personal responsibility.” Before Dr. Hiatt chose an option, her attorney sent DU a letter claiming DU’s request for Dr. Hiatt to leave her position as Training Director amounted to sex discrimination. Dr. Hiatt accepted the second option, demotion, with the attendant reduction in pay. The district court held Dr. Hiatt failed to show she was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees not in her protected class, which the court believed was “required” for Dr. Hiatt to state a prima facie case of sex discrimination. On the retaliation claims, the court reasoned that, even if she could state a prima facie case, the claims failed because she did not show DU’s reasons for any adverse employment actions were pretextual for retaliation. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment. View "Hiatt v. Colorado Seminary" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Bryan “Shane” Jones appealed the dismissal of his Title VII sex discrimination claim against Defendant-Appellee Needham Trucking, LLC and his state law tort claim for wrongful interference with a contractual relationship against Defendant-Appellee Julie Needham. Jones completed an intake questionnaire with the EEOC. In response to questions seeking more detailed explanations, Jones wrote “[s]ee attached.” The attachment never made it to the EEOC, nor did the EEOC alert Jones that it was missing. Nevertheless, the EEOC prepared a charge form on his behalf, and issued a right-to-sue letter. Jones then filed his lawsuit, alleging sexual harassment, negligence, negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful interference with a contractual or business relationship, and violation of the Oklahoma Employment Security Act of 1980 (“OESA”). The district court held that Jones failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for his quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, that his state law tort claim was precluded by the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (“OADA”), and that his OESA claim failed for want of a private right of action. Needham Trucking argued that the facts alleged were insufficient to put it on notice of the quid pro quo harassment claim made in Jones’s amended complaint because the facts from the attachment were not reflected in the EEOC charge form or right-to-sue letter. The Tenth Circuit concluded that though the complaint Jones filed was more detailed than his charge form, the form only needed to “describe generally” the alleged discrimination. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court with respect to the discrimination claim, but affirmed on the state law tort claims. View "Jones v. Needham" on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit found that Terry Margheim failed to show an essential element of his malicious prosecution claim against deputy district attorney Emela Buljko to establish a constitutional violation. For that reason, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to grant qualified immunity to Buljko. Margheim sued Buljko under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for malicious prosecution in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. This case arose from Margheim’s involvement in three state criminal matters - two domestic violence cases and a later drug case. His malicious prosecution claim was based on his prosecution in the drug case, but the three cases were tied together. When Buljko raised the qualified immunity defense in district court, Margheim had the burden to show a violation of clearly established federal law. (CA-D) Save Our Heritage Organization (McConnell) View "Margheim v. Buljko" on Justia Law

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Kent Duty filed suit against BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”), after he applied to work there as a locomotive electrician. Duty had an impairment that limits his grip strength in his right hand. Fearing that Duty would fall from ladders, BNSF revoked his offer for employment. Duty and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “Commission”) sued BNSF for employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). The ADA limits its protection by recognizing that not all impairments are disabilities. Applying the ADA’s definition of “disability,” the district court found that Kent Duty was not disabled and granted summary judgment to BNSF. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "EEOC v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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VR Acquisitions, LLC (VRA) owned a roughly 6,700-acre property in Utah’s Jordanelle Basin. VRA brought this action in 2015, asserting three federal constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and five state-law claims. All claims rested, to some degree, on VRA’s assertion that an invalid assessment lien was recorded against the property three years before VRA bought the property. The district court dismissed all eight claims with prejudice under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), and VRA appealed. Because the district court properly dismissed VRA’s section 1983 claims for lack of prudential standing, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims with prejudice. But because the district court should have declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over VRA’s state-law claims, the Tenth Circuit reversed its dismissal with prejudice of those claims and remanded with directions for the district court to dismiss those claims without prejudice. View "VR Acquisitions v. Wasatch County" on Justia Law

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Monica Pompeo, a student in a graduate-level course at the University of New Mexico (“UNM”), claimed that UNM officials retaliated against her in violation of her free speech rights because they disagreed with viewpoints she expressed in an assigned class paper. In "Axson-Flynn v. Johnson," (356 F.3d 1277 (10th Cir. 2004)), the Tenth Circuit held courts may not override an educator’s decision in the school-sponsored speech context “unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment” and instead used “the proffered goal or methodology [as] a sham pretext for an impermissible ulterior motive.” Here, Pompeo asked the Tenth Circuit to draw an analogy between the religious discrimination at issue in "Axson-Flynn" and the viewpoint discrimination she complained of in this case. "Yet our court has specifically held that precedent 'allows educators to make viewpoint-based decisions about school-sponsored speech' and may restrict speech they believe contains 'inflammatory and divisive statements.'" Finding no reversible error in the district court's grant of summary judgment to UNM, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Pompeo's case. View "Pompeo v. Board of Regents" on Justia Law