Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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Gordon Roy Butt sought to run for Colorado senate for the Libertarian Party in a 2013 recall election. The Secretary of State denied his request to circulate a petition because his request came after the deadline as then set by section 1-12-117(1). Butt and the Libertarian Party (collectively, “the Party”) sued the Secretary under section 1-1-113, C.R.S. (2017), alleging that the statutory deadline conflicted with the Colorado Constitution. Within the section 1-1-113 proceeding, the Party also raised a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2012), and an accompanying request for an award of attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2012), alleging, inter alia, a First Amendment violation. The district court found for the Party on the state constitutional claim, and did not address the section 1983 claim. After the Colorado Supreme Court denied appellate review on a split vote, further proceedings occurred before the district court. The case was appealed once again, and the Supreme Court denied review again. Nine months later, the Party returned to district court seeking summary judgment on its section 1983 claim and, in the alternative, an attorney’s fee award under section 1988 on the ground that the Party had been successful on its state constitutional claim. The district court denied the Party’s request for attorney’s fees, finding that it had not pursued fees in a timely manner. It also dismissed the section 1983 claim as moot due to the General Assembly’s 2014 amendment of section 1-12-117(1). The court of appeals reversed the district court, holding that although the Party’s section 1983 claim was moot, the request for attorney’s fees under section 1988 was appropriate so long as the section 1983 claim was substantial, stemmed from the same nucleus of operative facts as the state constitutional claim, and was reasonably related to the plaintiff’s ultimate success. The court remanded the case to the district court to apply this test to determine whether the Party was entitled to fees. The Colorado Secretary of State appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed: a section 1983 claim may not be brought in a section 1-1-113 proceeding. The language of that section repeatedly refers to "this code," meaning the Colorado Election Code. Therefore, a section 1-1-113 proceeding is limited to allegations of a “breach or neglect of duty or other wrongful act” under the election code itself. § 1-1-113(1). We emphasize that Colorado courts remain entirely open for adjudication of section 1983 claims, including on an expedited basis if a preliminary injunction is sought, and that therefore section 1-1-113 does not run afoul of the Supremacy Clause. View "Williams v. Libertarian Party" on Justia Law

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Ryan Frazier ran as a Republican candidate for United States Senate. After the Colorado Secretary of State determined that Frazier had not gathered enough sufficient signatures to appear on the ballot, Frazier challenged the Secretary’s determination under section 1-1-113, C.R.S. (2017), arguing that the Secretary improperly invalidated hundreds of signatures that substantially complied with the Colorado Election Code. Frazier also brought a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2012) arguing that certain Colorado statutes prohibiting non-resident circulators from gathering signatures violated the First Amendment. Frazier filed an accompanying request for attorney’s fees as authorized by 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2012). The district court ruled that the Secretary had properly invalidated certain signatures such that Frazier could not appear on the primary ballot. Frazier then appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which remanded for reconsideration of a number of signatures under the appropriate standard. On remand, the district court found that additional signatures substantially complied with the code, providing Frazier with sufficient signatures to appear on the Republican primary ballot for United States Senate. No ruling was made on Frazier’s section 1983 claim. Frazier then sought attorney’s fees pursuant to section 1988. The Secretary opposed the fee request, arguing that federal claims such as section 1983 may not be brought in summary proceedings under section 1-1-113. The district court disagreed, finding Frazier was entitled to an award of attorney’s fees. The Colorado Supreme Court held that where the language of section 1-1-113 allows a claim to be brought against an election official who has allegedly committed a "breach or neglect of duty or other wrongful act" under the Colorado Election Code, it refers to a breach of duty or other wrongful action under the Colorado Election Code, not a section 1983 claim. "Colorado courts remain entirely open for the adjudication of section 1983 claims, including on an expedited basis if a preliminary injunction is sought, and that therefore section 1-1-113 does not run afoul of the Supremacy Clause." View "Frazier v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Upon obtaining information that Steven Bleck was suicidal and possibly armed, officers with the Alamosa Police Department, including petitioner Jeffrey Martinez, entered Bleck’s hotel room. Bleck did not respond to the officers’ command to show his hands and lie down on the floor. Martinez approached him, and, without holstering his weapon, attempted to subdue him. In the process, the firearm discharged, injuring Bleck. As relevant here, Bleck brought suit against Martinez in federal court, alleging excessive force and a state law battery claim. The federal court granted summary judgment and dismissed Bleck’s federal claim, concluding that there was no evidence that the shooting was intentional. After the federal district court declined to assert supplemental jurisdiction over the state law battery claim, Bleck refiled the claim in state district court. Martinez then moved to dismiss the state law claims against him, arguing he was immune from suit and that his actions were not "willful and wanton." The trial court denied the motion, reasoning that Martinez should have known the situation would have been dangerous by not holstering his weapon prior to subduing Bleck. The court of appeals determined it lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal, and did not consider Martinez' claim that the trial court applied the wrong "willful and wanton" standard before deciding his motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court agreed that the trial court applied the wrong standard, and that the court of appeals erred in not hearing the appeal. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found the trial court erred by not determining all issues relating to Martinez' immunity claim. View "Martinez v. Estate of Bleck" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Fabian Sebastian filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2014) action against Douglas County, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, the Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver, and Deputy Greg Black. Petitioner alleged his Fourth Amendment right was violated when he was attacked by a K-9 police dog. The dog was released by the deputy to seize two suspects who fled a vehicle and climbed a fence; petitioner was sitting with his hands up, in the vehicle's backseat. Petitioner failed to respond to the County's motion to dismiss, then moved to set aside the resulting dismissal, claiming excusable neglect. The trial court denied petitioner's motion, and petitioner appealed. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case for a full three-factor analysis under "Goodman Assocs., LLC v. Mountain Properties, LLC." The trial court performed the analysis, again denied petitioner's motion. On appeal, petitioner argued the appellate court erred in its conclusion that he did not allege a meritorious claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, but on narrower grounds: petitioner failed to allege a meritorious claim because his allegations regarding an intentional seizure consisted only of legal conclusions. View "Sebastian v. Douglas County" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified a question of Colorado law to the Colorado Supreme Court. The issue centered on whether the City of Englewood's Ordinance 34 (effectively barring sex offenders from residing within the city) was preempted by Colorado law. The federal district court in this case concluded that such a conflict did exist because Colorado had generally opted for a policy of individualized treatment of sex offenders, and the ordinance acted as a bar to residency. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with the federal district court and found no conflict. With no conflict between state law and the ordinance, the Colorado Court concluded Ordinance 34 was not preempted. The case was returned to the Tenth Circuit for further proceedings. View "Ryals v. City of Englewood" on Justia Law

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In an original proceeding, the issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether an indigent alleged juvenile offender was entitled as of right to a second competency evaluation at the State's expense. Upon receiving an competency evaluation report, the trial court made a preliminary finding that "W.P." was competent to proceed. However, citing ongoing concerns about her client's mental health, W.P.'s public defender objected, requesting a hearing and filing a motion for a second competency evaluation at the State's expense. At the motion hearing, the public defender stated that because the juvenile code was silent, the statutory authority relied upon referred to the adult code which entitled the second evaluation at the State's expense. Concluding that the Children's Code was "specifically silent on that issue," the district court determined that the adult provisions did not apply and denied the request for a second evaluation. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the public defender's request for a second evaluation. View "In re People in the Interest of W.P." on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed a court of appeals' opinion in "Churchill v. Univ. of Colo. at Boulder," whereby the underlying civil action involved claims brought by Professor Ward Churchill pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 after his tenured employment was terminated by the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado. Churchill alleged that the Regents violated his constitutionally protected free speech rights by initiating an investigation into his academic integrity and by terminating his tenured employment in retaliation for his publication of a controversial essay. Churchill sought both compensatory and equitable relief. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Churchill's termination claim on grounds that the Regents' quasi-judicial actions were entitled to absolute immunity. It also affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Churchill's claim for equitable remedies because it concluded that such remedies were not available in a Section 1983 action against quasi-judicial officials. Lastly, based on its determination that allegedly retaliatory employment investigations are not actionable under Section 1983, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's directed verdict in favor of the University on Churchill's bad faith investigation claim. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed, but on different grounds: (1) the Court held that the Regents' decision to terminate Churchill's employment was a quasi-judicial action functionally comparable to a judicial process, and that the Regents were entitled to absolute immunity concerning their decision; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it ruled that Churchill was not entitled to the equitable remedies of reinstatement and front pay; and (3) Churchill’s bad faith investigation claim was barred by qualified immunity because the Regents' investigation into Churchill's academic record does not implicate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right or law. View "Churchill v. University of Colorado at Boulder" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Air Wisconsin Airlines Corporation employed Respondent William Hoeper as a pilot. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued Respondent a firearm under the federal statute that authorizes the TSA to deputize pilots as law enforcement officers to defend the aircraft should the need arise. After discontinuing its use of the type of aircraft Respondent had piloted for many years, Air Wisconsin required Respondent to undertake training and pass a proficiency test for a new aircraft. Respondent failed three proficiency tests, knowing that if he failed a fourth test, he would be fired. During the last test, Respondent became angry with the test administrators because he believed they were deliberately sabotaging his testing. Test administrators reported Respondent's angry outbursts during testing to the TSA that Respondent was "a disgruntled employee (an FFDO [Federal Flight Deck Officer] who may be armed)" and was "concerned about the whereabouts of [Respondents] firearm." Respondent brought suit against Air Wisconsin in Colorado for defamation under Virginia law. Air Wisconsin argued it was immune from defamation suits as this under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), and unsuccessfully moved for summary judgment. The jury found clear and convincing evidence that statements made by the airline test administrator were defamatory. Air Wisconsin appealed and the court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals determined that the question of whether the judge or jury decided immunity under the ATSA was a procedural issue determined by Colorado law, and concluded that the trial court properly allowed the jury to decide the immunity question. Air Wisconsin appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals, adding that the airline was not immune from suit or defamation under the ATSA. Furthermore, the Court held that the record supported the jury's finding of clear and convincing evidence of actual malice.