Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
Martinez v. Estate of Bleck
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
Sebastian v. Douglas County
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
Ryals v. City of Englewood
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
In re People in the Interest of W.P.
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
Churchill v. University of Colorado at Boulder
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
Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper
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.