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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Micheal Baca, Polly Baca, and Robert Nemanich (collectively, the Presidential Electors) were appointed as three of Colorado’s nine presidential electors for the 2016 general election. Colorado law required the state’s presidential electors to cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in the state for President and Vice President. Although Colorado law required the Presidential Electors to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, Mr. Baca cast his vote for John Kasich. In response, Colorado’s Secretary of State removed Mr. Baca as an elector and discarded his vote. The state then replaced Mr. Baca with an elector who cast her vote for Hillary Clinton. After witnessing Baca’s removal from office, Ms. Baca and Mr. Nemanich voted for Hillary Clinton despite their desire to vote for John Kasich. After the vote, the Presidential Electors sued the Colorado Department of State (the Department), alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Department moved to dismiss the complaint. The district court granted the motion, concluding the Presidential Electors lacked standing, and, in the alternative, the Presidential Electors had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Tenth Circuit concluded Mr. Baca had standing to challenge his removal from office and cancellation of his vote, but that none of the Presidential Electors had standing to challenge the institutional injury: a general diminution of their power as electors. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Ms. Baca’s and Mr. Nemanich’s claims but reversed the district court’s standing determination as to Mr. Baca. On the merits of Mr. Baca’s claim, the Court concluded the state’s removal of Mr. Baca and nullification of his vote were unconstitutional. As a result, Mr. Baca stated a claim upon which relief could be granted, and we reversed dismissal of his claim under rule 12(b)(6). The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Baca v. Colorado Department of State" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Elliott Williams was jailed at the Tulsa Oklahoma County Jail. Shortly after his booking, he severely injured his neck, causing lower body paralysis. No one treated his injury. Despite his frequent complaints of pain and paralysis, no one transported him to a hospital. He remained immobile for five days, lying on his back in various cells at the jail, and died of complications from the neck injury. The administrator of Mr. Williams’s estate, Robbie Emery Burke, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging detention officers and medical providers at the jail violated Mr. Williams’s Fourteenth Amendment right by acting with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. It further alleged Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz was liable in his individual supervisory capacity and in his official capacity for his subordinates’ violations. During pretrial litigation, Sheriff Glanz resigned and his successor, Sheriff Vic Regalado, was substituted as the defendant on the official-capacity claim. By the time of trial, Sheriffs Glanz and Regalado (“the Sheriffs”) were the only defendants remaining. A jury awarded Burke $10 million in compensatory damages against Sheriff Glanz and Sheriff Regalado and $250,000 in punitive damages against Sheriff Glanz in his individual supervisory capacity. On appeal, the Sheriffs challenged the verdict, various evidentiary rulings, and several pre- and post-trial decisions of the district court. After careful consideration of all issues raised, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court on all grounds except for its denial of the Sheriffs’ motion for a setoff. The Court reversed and remanded for further consideration of that issue. View "Burke v. Regalado" on Justia Law

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A citizen initiative passed by Colorado voters in 2016 (“Amendment 71”) made it more difficult to amend the Colorado constitution through the initiative process. Plaintiffs filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 challenging the constitutionality of Amendment 71, asserting it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Defendant, the Colorado Secretary of State, moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. The United States District Court for the District of Colorado entered judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, ruling that article V, section 1(2.5) of the Colorado constitution violated the “one person, one vote” principle inherent in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the number of registered voters was not substantially the same in each state senate district. Because the district court not only denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss but also entered a final judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291 and reversed entry of judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and ordered the district court to grant judgment in favor of Defendant. View "Semple v. Griswold" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Tenth Circuit in this case was whether a special condition of supervised relief, “defendant’s use of computers and Internet access devices must be limited to those the defendant requests to use, and which the probation officer authorizes,” involves a “greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary for” deterring criminal activity, protecting the public, and promoting a defendant’s rehabilitation in contravention of 18 U.S.C. sections 3583(d)(2) and 3553(a)(2)(B)-(D). In 2013, the police searched Michael Blair’s home as part of an investigation that was unrelated to this case. During the search, the police discovered a hard drive belonging to Blair with more than 700,000 images of child pornography on it. Ultimately, Blair was charged with and plead guilty to one count of possession of child pornography. After calculating Blair’s sentence, the district court imposed, among several others, the special conditions of supervised release at issue. The Tenth Circuit concluded this special condition violated these provisions because it allowed the probation office to completely ban the defendant’s use of the Internet by failing to place any restraints on a probation officer’s ability to restrict a defendant’s Internet access. Thus, the Tenth Circuit concluded the special condition was impermissibly broad, and the district court abused its discretion by imposing it. The special condition was vacated and the case remanded to the district court to reformulate it to conform with the dictates of the Court's opinion. Blair also challenged the length of his sentence as substantively unreasonable, but the Court disagreed with that challenge and affirmed it. View "United States v. Blair" on Justia Law

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Defendant Michelle Paup was convicted by jury of theft of government property of a value less than $1,000, and removal of theft-detection devices. The charges arose from a shoplifting incident at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service store on Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado (the Exchange). The magistrate judge sentenced Defendant to concurrent sentences on each count of 30-days’ imprisonment and one year of supervised release. The judge also imposed a $1,000 fine and ordered restitution equaling the full retail value of the stolen merchandise ($734.41). Defendant appealed to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, challenging, as relevant here, the amount of the restitution award, the exclusion of her expert witness, and the application of a two-level enhancement of her offense level because of perjury. The district court upheld her conviction and sentence of imprisonment but vacated the restitution award and remanded to the magistrate judge for further proceedings. Defendant then appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit found it had jurisdiction because the district-court remand order did not disturb Defendant’s conviction or sentence of imprisonment, and the remaining issue on remand was the amount of restitution. The Court affirmed on the merits, finding the magistrate judge did not err in excluding Defendant’s expert or in imposing the offense-level enhancement. View "United States v. Paup" on Justia Law

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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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James Gonzales pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm after a felony conviction. The district court sentenced him to 27 months’ imprisonment and 3 years of supervised release. In selecting this sentence, the court enhanced the base-offense level under Sentencing Guideline 3A1.2(c)(1), which applied when the defendant assaults a law-enforcement officer during the course of the offense. The Tenth Circuit concluded the court erred in interpreting 3A1.2(c)(1), so it reversed. View "United States v. Gonzales" on Justia Law

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More than a decade after the crimes occurred, Dale Eaton was tried for and convicted of the kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, and murder of Lisa Kimmell. A Wyoming jury sentenced him to death, and he later sought federal habeas relief from his convictions and death sentence. The federal district court agreed that Eaton was entitled to partial relief and vacated his death sentence. But the district court refused to disturb Eaton’s underlying convictions. And it also refused to bar the state from conducting new death-penalty proceedings. On appeal, Eaton argued the district court erred: (1) by denying relief on the constitutional claims that implicated his convictions; (2) by refusing to modify the conditional writ to bar the state from conducting new death-penalty proceedings; and (3) by subsequently concluding that the state didn’t waive its right to pursue new death penalty proceedings by failing to timely comply with the conditional writ’s requirements. Finding no reversible error in the district court judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Eaton v. Pacheco" on Justia Law

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Political subdivisions of the State of Colorado challenged Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (“TABOR”) under the Colorado Enabling Act and the Supremacy Clause, contending that TABOR contradicted the Enabling Act’s requirement that Colorado maintain a “republican form of government.” TABOR allowed the people of Colorado to raise or prevent tax increases by popular vote, thereby limiting the power of Colorado’s legislative bodies to levy taxes. The issue currently before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was whether certain school districts, a special district board, and/or a county commission had standing to challenge TABOR. On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), the district court held that plaintiffs had Article III standing but that they lacked political subdivision standing and prudential standing. Accordingly, the court dismissed the complaint. The Tenth Circuit concluded that it could not properly reach its conclusions at this stage of litigation. Because the Court held the political subdivision plaintiffs were not barred by standing requirements, the district court was reversed. View "Kerr v. Hickenlooper" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Navajo Nation and several of its individual members sued San Juan County, Utah alleging that the election districts for both the school board and the county commission violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The district court denied the county’s motion to dismiss, found that the election districts violated the Equal Protection Clause, and awarded summary judgment to the Navajo Nation. It later rejected the county’s proposed remedial redistricting plan because it concluded the redrawn districts again violated the Equal Protection Clause. The district court then appointed a special master to develop a proposed remedial redistricting plan, directed the county to adopt that remedial plan, and ordered the county to hold special elections based on that plan in November 2018. On appeal, the county challenged each of the district court’s decisions. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Navajo Nation v. San Juan County" on Justia Law