Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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This case involved the interpretation of an offer of judgment in a lawsuit where a prisoner, Samuel Lee Dartez, II, sued state officers for excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The state officers offered a judgment of $60,000 “plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs allowed by law, if any.” The district court interpreted this offer as allowing attorneys’ fees exceeding the statutory cap and waiving the plaintiff's obligation to contribute to these fees.On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's interpretation. The court determined that the offer of judgment was ambiguous in its language pertaining to the statutory cap on attorney fees and the requirement for the plaintiff to contribute to those fees. The ambiguity was resolved against the defendants, who had drafted the offer, and found that the defendants had waived the statutory cap and the plaintiff's contribution requirement.In Dartez's cross-appeal, he argued that the district court wrongly applied a statutory cap on hourly rates. The Tenth Circuit agreed, reversing the district court's application of the cap and remanding for recalculation of the fee award without this cap. The court did not address Dartez's arguments that the statutory limitations on fees did not apply due to his obtaining non-monetary relief and because he received an agreed settlement amount rather than a monetary judgment. View "Dartez v. Peters" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Joshua Young, an employee of the Colorado Department of Corrections, claimed that mandatory Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) training he was subjected to created a hostile work environment. Young resigned from the Department and filed a lawsuit claiming violations of Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause. He alleged that the training program violated Title VII by creating a hostile work environment and violated the Equal Protection Clause by promoting race-based policies. The district court dismissed both claims without prejudice. Young appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit examined Young's allegations and affirmed the district court's dismissal of Young's claims. The court found that while Young had plausibly alleged he was subjected to unwelcome harassment, he failed to adequately allege that the harassment was so severe or pervasive that it altered the terms of his employment and created an abusive working environment.The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of Young's equal protection claim, agreeing that Young lacked standing to pursue the claim since he was no longer employed by the Department of Corrections and had not asked for reinstatement as part of his equal protection claim.Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to grant Young leave to amend his complaint, noting that Young neither requested leave to amend in his briefing nor filed a separate motion to amend. View "Young v. Colorado Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In the case between Alex W., a student with disabilities, and Poudre School District R-1, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit had to decide whether the school district provided Alex with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Alex's parents alleged that the district had denied Alex a FAPE, whereas the district counterclaimed seeking reversal of a reimbursement order for an independent evaluation.After a detailed review of the evidence provided, the court held that the school district had fulfilled its obligations under the IDEA. It ruled that the district had appropriately identified and addressed Alex's behavioral needs, that Alex's Individualized Education Programs were reasonably calculated to allow him to make progress, and that the district had appropriately evaluated Alex in all areas of disability.The court also held that the district was within its rights to reduce Alex's direct therapy hours and that Alex was not denied a FAPE because he was not provided extended school year services. Furthermore, the court ruled that while parents have a right to request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at public expense if they disagree with a school district's evaluation, they are only entitled to one publicly-funded IEE for each district evaluation. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's order requiring the school district to reimburse Alex's parents for a second IEE. View "W. v. Poudre School District R-1" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Michael Bacote Jr., an inmate with a history of mental illness, filed a claim for injunctive and declaratory relief against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, seeking to improve the conditions of his confinement at a maximum-security facility. However, during litigation, the Bureau voluntarily transferred Bacote to a mental health ward in a different penitentiary. Bacote's appeal to the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, raised three issues: whether a class action settlement had preempted his claims, whether the district court had erred in denying him leave to amend his complaint, and whether the district court had erred in entering judgment for the Bureau.The Tenth Circuit did not reach the merits of Bacote's arguments. Instead, it dismissed the appeal as prudentially moot. The court reasoned that the Bureau's transfer of Bacote had materially changed the conditions of his confinement, rendering his request for relief from his previous conditions moot. It noted that the court had no information about Bacote's current conditions of confinement, and thus could not evaluate whether those conditions violated his rights. The court also observed that Bacote had not alleged that the Bureau had transferred him to moot his lawsuit or that he faced a risk of being returned to his prior conditions. Finally, the court expressed reluctance to issue a judgment affecting prison officials outside its jurisdiction. The court did not decide whether Bacote's claims were constitutionally moot, as it found them prudentially moot. View "Bacote v. FBP" on Justia Law

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This case concerned an appeal by Matthew Ware, a former correctional officer, against the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Ware was convicted by a jury of two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 46 months of imprisonment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed this sentence.Ware was a correctional officer at the Kay County Detention Center in Oklahoma. The charges against him arose from two incidents where he was found to have abused his power and caused harm to inmates. In one incident, Ware ordered the transfer of two inmates to a different level of the detention center, despite knowing that this would likely result in a fight, which it did. In another incident, Ware ordered a detainee to be handcuffed in a painful position for an extended period of time.Ware appealed his sentence, arguing that the court did not give adequate weight to his personal history and lack of criminal record. However, the Court of Appeals found that the district court had thoroughly weighed each of the sentencing factors and detailed its reasoning. The Court of Appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Ware to 46 months of imprisonment, and affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Ware" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, Joseph Hoskins was stopped by a Utah state trooper, Jared Withers, because his Illinois license plate was partially obscured. The situation escalated when Trooper Withers conducted a dog sniff of the car, which led him to search the car and find a large amount of cash. Mr. Hoskins was arrested, and his DNA was collected. Mr. Hoskins sued Trooper Withers and Jess Anderson, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and state law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that Trooper Withers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop because Utah law requires license plates to be legible, and this applies to out-of-state plates. The court also found that the dog sniff did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop, as Mr. Hoskins was searching for his proof of insurance at the time. The court ruled that the trooper's protective measures, including pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins, handcuffing him, and conducting a patdown, did not elevate the stop into an arrest due to Mr. Hoskins's confrontational behavior.The court further held that the dog's reaction to the car created arguable probable cause to search the car and that the discovery of a large amount of cash provided arguable probable cause to arrest Mr. Hoskins. The court found that Trooper Withers did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights by pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins in retaliation for protected speech or as excessive force. Lastly, the court found no violation of Mr. Hoskins's due process rights related to the handling of his DNA sample, as neither the Due Process Clause nor state law created a protected interest in a procedure to ensure the destruction of his DNA sample. View "Hoskins v. Withers" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the plaintiff, Donald Ray Logsdon, Jr., alleged that Deputy United States Marshals used excessive force when executing a state-court warrant for Logsdon's arrest. The plaintiff relied on a precedent, Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents, which established a cause of action against federal agents for violations of the Bill of Rights. However, the district court dismissed Logsdon's case, holding that the Bivens claim was not applicable, and the plaintiff appealed.The Appeals Court affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that Logsdon had no claim under Bivens. The court found that there were two "special factors" that distinguished this case from Bivens and thus justified not recognizing a Bivens claim.Firstly, the court stated that agents of the United States Marshal Service (USMS) were a new category of defendant not considered by the Supreme Court in Bivens. The USMS is required by statute to partner with state and local law-enforcement authorities to create Fugitive Apprehension Task Forces. The court found that the potential chilling effect on such partnerships of recognizing Bivens liability for USMS officers was a special factor that suggested that Congress, not the courts, should create a remedy.Secondly, the court found that the availability of alternative remedies for misconduct by Deputy U.S. Marshals, including the internal USMS grievance procedure and the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation procedure, was a special factor suggesting that the courts should not create a remedy. The court stated that the judiciary should not assess the adequacy of such remedies, indicating that this was the role of Congress or the Executive.The Appeals Court also rejected Logsdon's argument that the district court abused its discretion by granting the defendants' motion to reconsider its initial ruling that Logsdon had a Bivens claim. The court held that the district court had the discretion to reconsider any order short of a final decree. View "Logsdon v. United States Marshal Service" on Justia Law

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Barbara Lindsay, the former Director of Workforce Development and Career Services at Emily Griffith Technical College (EGTC), sued Denver Public Schools (DPS) and Stephanie Donner, EGTC's Executive Director, for retaliation. Lindsay claimed that her termination was motivated by her opposition to racist comments made during the hiring process for the Executive Director position and her assistance to a candidate in filing employment discrimination charges. The United States District Court for the District of Colorado granted summary judgment in favor of DPS and Donner. Lindsay appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which affirmed the lower court’s decision. The Court of Appeals held that there was insufficient evidence to prove a causal relationship between Lindsay's protected activity (opposition to racist comments and assistance in filing discrimination charges) and her termination. The Court determined that there was no evidence that those who decided to terminate Lindsay's employment were aware of her protected activity. The court further noted that Lindsay failed to show that anyone at DPS knew that she had assisted in bringing discrimination charges before she was fired. Therefore, Lindsay's claim that she was terminated in retaliation for protected activities could not be substantiated. View "Lindsay v. Denver Public Schools" on Justia Law

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Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal, challenging the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to Officer David McNamee, Officer Cory Budaj, and Sergeant Patricio Serrant. Between May 28 and June 2, 2020, several large protests occurred on Denver streets in reaction to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. On May 30, then-Denver Mayor Michael Hancock declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew; he also requested assistance from mutual aid police departments, including the Aurora Police Department. At about 9 p.m. on May 31, Plaintiff Zachary Packard was protesting near downtown Denver when a police officer threw a tear gas canister near Packard. Packard kicked the cannister“away from himself and other protesters, in the direction of a line of officers.” Packard kicked the canister about five to ten feet away from himself and other protesters. Critically, this action “did not pose an immediate threat,” the district court concluded, “because officers were equipped with gas masks that protected them from any gas from that container.” Immediately after kicking the canister, Packard was hit in the head with a beanbag round fired from a shotgun; the round knocked him unconscious and caused major injuries. One of the officers on Sergeant Serrant’s line was Defendant Officer McNamee. He fired several beanbag rounds at the time Packard was shot, but the parties disputed whether Officer McNamee was the officer who shot Packard. The district court concluded Plaintiffs raised genuine disputes of material fact as to whether Sergeant Serrant and Officer McNamee were “personally involved in the alleged violation of Mr. Packard’s rights.” The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no reversible error in the district court's judgment and affirmed. View "Duran, et al. v. Budaj, et al." on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs in this case, which included the estate and surviving family members of Allan Thomas George, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the City of Rifle, Colorado (the City), Tommy Klein, the chief of the Rifle Police Department (RPD), and Dewey Ryan, a corporal with RPD, alleging that the defendants violated George’s Fourth Amendment rights by employing excessive and deadly force against him in the course of attempting to arrest him on a felony warrant. Plaintiffs also raised a Colorado state law claim of battery causing wrongful death against Ryan. Defendants moved for summary judgment with respect to all of the claims asserted against them. Defendants Ryan and Klein asserted, in particular, that they were entitled to qualified immunity from the § 1983 excessive force claim. The district court denied defendants’ motion in its entirety. Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court’s ruling. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that where, as here, a police officer’s employment of deadly force against a fleeing felony suspect was objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the officer’s use of force cannot, as a matter of law, be deemed to be in “conscious disregard of the danger.” The Court therefore concluded the district court erred in denying summary judgment to the defendant officers, and reversed with respect to all defendants. View "Estate of Allan George, et al. v. Ryan, et al." on Justia Law