Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
Rosales v. Bradshaw, et al.
This case arose from events involving Defendant-appellant David Bradshaw, a sheriff’s deputy who was off duty, out of uniform, and driving his personal vehicle with his child in the front passenger seat. After a vehicle being driven by Plaintiff-appellant Mario Rosales legally passed Bradshaw, Bradshaw decided to follow Rosales. He then declined backup assistance from another deputy, followed Rosales all the way home, blocked Rosales in his driveway, and began shouting and yelling at Rosales, all before identifying himself as law enforcement. In response, Rosales became afraid and exited his vehicle with a legal and openly carried gun in his pants pocket, intending to protect himself and his property but also to deescalate the situation. Bradshaw, however, continued to shout and pointed his gun at Rosales. Though Rosales feared being shot, he remained calm and nonthreatening throughout the encounter. When Bradshaw eventually identified himself as law enforcement and told Rosales to put his gun back in his vehicle, Rosales complied, and the encounter wound down from there. As a result of this incident, Bradshaw’s employment was terminated, and he was convicted in state court of aggravated assault and child endangerment. Rosales then filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging in part that Bradshaw violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. The district court granted Bradshaw’s motion to dismiss, ruling that he was entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate clearly established law when he unreasonably pointed his gun at Rosales. The critical distinguishing fact, for the district court, was that Rosales was armed. The Tenth Circuit reversed: Bradshaw violated Rosales’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizures, and his "egregious and unlawful conduct was obviously unconstitutional. Bradshaw is therefore not entitled to qualified immunity, and Rosales’s § 1983 claim against him may proceed." View "Rosales v. Bradshaw, et al." on Justia Law
Rogers v. Riggs, et al.
Plaintiff Alessandra Rogers worked for Chaves County in its jail. Several years into her employment, Rogers drafted a petition that criticized treatment of employees in the jail. The petition was signed by 45 current and former jail employees and was submitted to the county commissioners. Roughly a month after the petition was submitted, county employees searched the jail. During the search, employees found illegal drugs and weapons in a bag under Rogers’ desk. Rogers admitted that the bag was hers and that it contained the drugs and weapons. The county put Rogers on paid administrative leave. When the period of administrative leave ended, the county denied Rogers’ request for a promotion and imposed an unpaid five-day suspension. Rogers later quit. Rogers attributed the search to retaliation for her role in drafting the petition, claiming that the retaliation violated the First Amendment. But the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. The court reasoned that even if the defendants had retaliated for Rogers’ role in drafting the petition, liability wouldn’t exist because the petition hadn’t involved a public concern. The Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court and affirmed. View "Rogers v. Riggs, et al." on Justia Law
Wise v. DeJoy
Plaintiff-appellant Sharhea Wise worked as a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service. When she got pregnant, she asked to avoid handling heavy items. The Postal Service agreed to provide help when items were too heavy, but Wise needed to tell someone when she needed help. On two occasions, Wise allegedly had to handle items that were too heavy. Both times, she blamed the Postal Service for failing to accommodate her need for help. The Postal Service argued in response that Wise hadn’t asked for help. Days after Wise allegedly had to handle the heavy items, she walked off the job and the Postal Service fired her. Wise claimed retaliation, attributing the firing to her requests for help. The Postal Service denied retaliation, explaining that it had fired Wise because she walked off the job. Wise characterized this explanation as pretextual. The district court granted summary judgment to the Postal Service, and Wise challenged the rulings. The Tenth Circuit agreed with her challenge on the failure-to-accommodate claim. "On this claim, a reasonable factfinder could find that the Postal Service had failed to accommodate Ms. Wise’s need to avoid handling heavy items." But the Court agreed with the grant of summary judgment on the retaliation claim because: (1) the Postal Service presented a neutral, nonretaliatory explanation for the firing; and (2) Wise lacked evidence of pretext. View "Wise v. DeJoy" on Justia Law
Helvie v. Jenkins
Plaintiff Jeffrey Helvie appealed a district court’s decision to grant Defendant Chad Jenkins, an Adams County, Colorado, deputy sheriff, qualified immunity on Helvie’s claim that the deputy used excessive force against Helvie during a traffic stop. On August 23, 2018, at approximately 11:45 p.m., Deputy Jenkins observed Plaintiff make several traffic infractions while driving a Nissan pickup truck. The vehicle window was partially down when Deputy Jenkins approached. According to Deputy Jenkins, he could smell the strong odor of burnt marijuana coming out of the window, though Plaintiff disputed having smoked marijuana that day. Plaintiff handed his driver’s license and registration to Deputy Jenkins, but had difficulty providing his proof of insurance (which was on his phone) due to either poor cellular reception or Plaintiff's inability to correctly enter a passcode. According to Deputy Jenkins, he believed that Plaintiff was operating a vehicle while under the influence and wanted to conduct further investigation. When Plaintiff did not get out of the vehicle, Deputy Jenkins grabbed Plaintiff's arm and ordered him out of the vehicle. According to Deputy Jenkins, Plaintiff pulled away. Deputy Jenkins then grabbed Plaintiff's leg and pulled him out of the vehicle, causing Plaintiff to land on his back. As Deputy Jenkins was pulling Plaintiff out of the vehicle, he observed a handgun in the pocket of the driver’s side door. After review of Plaintiff's complaint, the Tenth Circuit determined he failed to show that Deputy Jenkins violated his constitutional rights and, necessarily flowing from that holding, Plaintiff failed to show that his constitutional rights allegedly violated were clearly established. View "Helvie v. Jenkins" on Justia Law
Valdez v. City and County of Denver
In 2013, Sergeant Robert Motyka, a Denver police officer, shot Michael Valdez, who was lying unarmed on the ground and surrendering. In the ensuing lawsuit brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a jury awarded Valdez $131,000 from Sergeant Motyka for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment1 and $2,400,000 from the City and County of Denver (“Denver”) for failure to train its officers. The district court awarded $1,132,327.40 in attorney fees and $18,199.60 in costs to Valdez’s lawyers. The Tenth Circuit addressed three appeals arising from this litigation. Denver challenged the district court's: (1) denial of its motion for summary judgment; (2) reversal of a discovery order and permission for Valdez to present additional municipal liability theories; and (3) jury instructions on municipal liability. Valdez cross-appealed the district court's grant of qualified immunity to Lieutenant John Macdonald, another Denver police officer who shot at him. And Sergeant Motyka and Denver contend that the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees and costs. The Tenth Circuit: (1) affirmed the judgment against Denver; (2) affirmed qualified immunity because Valdez did not show the court erred in this respect; and (3) affirmed the attorney fee award but reversed costs, finding the district court did not explain its award after finding Valdez had not substantiated them. The case was remanded for the district court to reexamine whether costs should be awarded. View "Valdez v. City and County of Denver" on Justia Law
Graff, et al. v. Aberdeen Enterprizes, II, et al.
Plaintiffs filed suit under: 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-68; and Oklahoma state law, challenging an allegedly unconstitutional scheme to collect “court debts” from impoverished Oklahoma citizens. The Second Amended Class Action Complaint (“SACAC”) named numerous “Defendants,” which fell into three broad categories: (1) individual Oklahoma sheriffs, the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association (“OSA”), and officials of Tulsa and Rodgers Counties (collectively, “Sheriffs”); (2) state court judges (collectively, “Judges”); and (3) Aberdeen Enterprises, II, Inc. and its principal officers (collectively, “Aberdeen”). Plaintiffs alleged Aberdeen, a debt-collection company, acting in concert with other Defendants, used actual or threatened incarceration to coerce indigent Oklahomans into paying court debts, without any inquiry into ability to pay. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, broadly holding that three independent doctrines prevented Plaintiffs from proceeding on any claim against any Defendant. Plaintiffs appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, asserting that none of the doctrines identified by the district court deprived federal courts of the ability to reach the merits of the claims listed in the complaint. To this, the Tenth Circuit agrees the district court erred in dismissing the SACAC. Accordingly, the judgment of dismissal was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Graff, et al. v. Aberdeen Enterprizes, II, et al." on Justia Law
Hemry, et al. v. Ross, et al.
Two Yellowstone Park rangers received an alert that a park employee had spotted Michael Bullinger, a fugitive wanted for allegedly shooting and killing three women in Idaho. The report said Bullinger was leaving the park in a white Toyota with a Missouri license plate. But the employee was mistaken—he had instead spoken with Brett Hemry, a man on vacation with his wife, Genalyn, and his seven-year-old daughter. The rangers spotted the white Toyota leaving the park and trailed it. Hemry noticed the rangers and pulled over near a campground sixteen miles east of the park entrance. Waiting for reinforcements, the rangers exited their patrol car and from a distance held the Hemrys at gunpoint until county law enforcement arrived. Once county law enforcement arrived, the rangers moved Mr. and Mrs. Hemry to separate police cruisers. After examining Mr. Hemry’s driver’s license, they set the couple free. The Hemrys sued the rangers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating their Fourth Amendment rights. On a motion to dismiss, the district court denied the rangers qualified immunity for Mrs. Hemry’s false-arrest claim and for Mr. and Mrs. Hemry’s excessive force claims. The rangers appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed: in the context presented, the Court found the law did not clearly establish this investigative stop amounted to (1) an arrest of Mrs. Hemry without probable cause, or (2) excessive force against the Hemrys. View "Hemry, et al. v. Ross, et al." on Justia Law
Palacios v. Fortuna, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellant Elsa Palacios, personal representative of the estate of the deceased, Bernardo Palacios Carbajal, filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants-Appellees Salt Lake City Police Officers Neil Iversen and Kevin Fortuna in their individual capacities, as well as Salt Lake City Corporation. Plaintiff alleged the officers violated Palacios’ Fourth Amendment rights when he was fatally shot during a police pursuit. The district court granted summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity in favor of Defendants, finding a lack of a constitutional violation and that Plaintiff failed to show a violation of clearly established law. On appeal, Plaintiff contended that disputes about material and historical facts precluded summary judgment. According to Plaintiff, the district court erred by not making reasonable factual inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, primarily that: (1) Palacios may have been unaware he was being pursued by police because officers did not verbally identify themselves, because he was severely intoxicated, and he did not match the full description of the robbery suspect; (2) once Palacios fell onto his side during the shooting and did not point his gun at officers, he was effectively subdued; and (3) Palacios’ conduct showed he was attempting to avoid confrontation, not evade arrest. Plaintiff also contended that officers exaggerated the seriousness of the offenses that precipitated the pursuit and that officers should have used less intrusive means of apprehension because Palacios did not pose an imminent threat. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's case. View "Palacios v. Fortuna, et al." on Justia Law
Harmon, et al. v. City of Norman, Oklahoma, et al.
Longtime demonstrators outside the Abortion Surgery Center in the City of Norman, Oklahoma (Appellants) contended a disturbing-the-peace ordinance was unconstitutional both facially and as applied to their demonstrations. The Tenth Circuit found, as did the district court, Appellants failed to furnish evidence that the ordinance was content-based, infected with religious animus, or enforced unconstitutionally. "In fact, the record reveals the opposite: Norman police officers enforced the ordinance only when the demonstrators’ speech became so loud or unusual that it breached the peace." View "Harmon, et al. v. City of Norman, Oklahoma, et al." on Justia Law
Shrum v. Cooke, et al.
While investigating the overdose death of plaintiff Walter Shrum’s wife, law enforcement officers searched Shrum’s home and discovered drugs, firearms, and ammunition. He was charged with various crimes in federal court. Before trial he argued the officers had illegally searched his home, and that the evidence discovered could not be used against him at trial. The district court disagreed, and Shrum entered a conditional plea of guilty, reserving the right to appeal the suppression order. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the search violated the Constitution, and any resulting evidence should have been excluded. Without this evidence, the government dismissed its prosecution. Shrum then sued various state and federal law enforcement officials for civil rights violations arising from the illegal search and subsequent prosecution. The district court dismissed the action as time-barred and insufficiently pled. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed: (1) Shrum failed to prove he was entitled to equitable tolling under Kansas or federal law; and (2) Shrum’s complaint inadequately alleged all of the requirements for a malicious prosecution claim against the City and County defendants. View "Shrum v. Cooke, et al." on Justia Law