Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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A jury convicted fourteen-year-old Lawrence Montoya for the New Year’s Day murder of a teacher from his school. After serving over thirteen years in prison, Montoya brought post-conviction claims for ineffective assistance of counsel and actual innocence. He sued several detectives involved in the investigation and trial, claiming they were responsible for his wrongful conviction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. Specifically, Montoya claimed the Detectives instigated a malicious prosecution against him, coerced his confession in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and subjected him to false arrest. The Detectives appealed when the district court held qualified immunity and absolute testimonial immunity did not shield the Detectives from liability and denied their motion to dismiss. After review, the Tenth Circuit held qualified immunity indeed shielded the Detectives from liability for Montoya’s malicious prosecution claim; both qualified immunity and absolute testimonial immunity barred Montoya’s Fifth Amendment claim. As for Montoya’s false arrest claim, the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider whether or not qualified immunity applied. View "Montoya v. Vigil" on Justia Law

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Mindy Armstrong was employed by The Arcanum Group, Inc., which served as a placement agency to staff federal-government positions. She was placed with the Real Estate Leasing Services Department of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). After she complained that BLM employees were falsifying lease-related records, the BLM demanded that Arcanum remove her from the placement. Her Arcanum supervisor could not find an alternative placement for Armstrong and accordingly terminated her employment. Armstrong sued Arcanum in federal district court, claiming Arcanum retaliated against her for her falsification complaints, in violation of the antiretaliation provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA) and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The district court granted Arcanum summary judgment, and Armstrong appealed. Finding that Armstrong did not produce sufficient evidence that her supervisor had knowledge of her complaints before he terminated her, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer. View "Armstrong v. The Arcanum Group" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Marcia Eisenhour worked for 24 years as a court administrator for the Weber County Justice Court. In 2008, she complained to the county attorney about sexual harassment by Judge Craig Storey, the only judge of that court. The matter was referred to Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, which found no misconduct. Eisenhour then went public in 2009, and the press reported her allegations. Several months later, three Weber County Commissioners, defendants Craig Deardon, Kenneth Bischoff, and Jan Zogmaister, voted to close the Justice Court and merge it with a similar court in another county. This eventually left Eisenhour without a job. Eisenhour sued Storey, Weber County, and the three commissioners who voted to close the Justice Court, raising a variety of claims. The district court granted summary judgment against Eisenhour on all claims, and she appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part. At the trial on the remanded claims, the jury rendered verdicts for Eisenhour on the equal-protection harassment claim against Storey and the whistleblower claim against the County but found against her on the First Amendment retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. The district court then granted a motion by the County for a new trial on the whistleblower claim, and it sua sponte ordered a new trial on the retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. At the retrial on those claims the court granted the commissioners’ motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) on the retaliation claim against them, and the jury found for the County on the whistleblower and retaliation claims against it. Storey raised two issues on appeal: (1) the denial of his motion for judgment as a matter of law because the evidence against him was insufficient; and (2) the admission into evidence of a poem he had written concerning Eisenhour. Eisenhour raised three issues: (1) the judge who presided at the first trial should have recused himself after the jury rendered its verdict in that trial; (2) her second trial was unfair because of the district court’s evidentiary rulings; and (3) at the second trial the district court should not have granted the commissioners a judgment as a matter of law but should have let the claim go to the jury. The Tenth Circuit rejected all challenges by both parties except dismissal of a punitive-damages claim. View "Eisenhour v. Weber County" on Justia Law

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Darrell Havens, a former Colorado state prisoner, appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment against his claims of discrimination on the basis of his disability. Havens claimed certain decisions and policies of the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”) caused him to be excluded from access to the facilities and services available to able-bodied inmates of the Colorado prison system, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) Havens’s Title II claim was barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity; and (2) Havens failed to make the requisite showing of intentional discrimination under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court in full. View "Havens v. CDOC" on Justia Law

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Gary Clark was having a psychotic episode. His brother was having trouble subduing Clark, and called the Broken Arrow Policy to assist. When Clark charged at one of the officers with a knife, he was shot. Clark ultimately survived his gunshot wounds, but had not fully recovered. Clark sued, claiming a violation of a number of his constitutional, state-common-law, and federal-statutory rights. The district court granted summary judgment to Wagoner County Board of Commissioners, Wagoner County Sheriff Robert Colbert, and former Wagoner County Jail Nurse Vicki Holland on Clark’s claims against them. Given the undisputed facts, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded a reasonable jury could not find the officers violated Clark’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. In addition, Clark failed to adequately brief issues necessary to justify reversal on his Oklahoma-tort and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims. Therefore, the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the governmental officials. View "Clark v. Colbert" on Justia Law

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Michelle Renee Lamb was born a male, but from a young age, however, displayed feminine characteristics and identified as a female. Lamb was in state prison experiencing gender dysphoria. For this condition, she received medical treatment. However, she claimed the treatment was so poor that it violated the Eighth Amendment. The undisputed evidence showed Lamb received hormone treatment, testosterone-blocking medication, and weekly counseling sessions. A 1986 precedent, Supre v. Ricketts, 752 F.2d 958 (10th Cir. 1986), suggested these forms of treatment would preclude liability for an Eighth Amendment violation. Based partly on this precedent, the district court granted summary judgment to the prison officials. Lamb challenged the grant of summary judgment. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded no genuine issue of material fact existed: “In light of the prison’s treatment for Michelle’s gender dysphoria, no reasonable factfinder could infer deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials. And the district court did not improperly curtail Michelle’s opportunity to conduct discovery. Thus, we affirm the award of summary judgment to the prison officials.” View "Lamb v. Norwood" on Justia Law

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Silvan Warnick brought a malicious prosecution case and a number of state law tort claims against several Salt Lake County prosecutors and investigators. Warnick served as a constable in Salt Lake County. Daniel Herboldsheimer worked for Warnick as a deputy constable. In 2011, Herboldsheimer was serving as bailiff for the South Salt Lake City Justice Court when a criminal defendant attempted to flee. Herboldsheimer pursued, and eventually both Herboldsheimer and another deputy constable, Scott Hansen, another deputy constable, apprehended the defendant. After the fact, Herboldsheimer filed an incident report describing what had happened. According to the complaint, Warnick told Herboldsheimer that his report did not comport with county policy because it contained hearsay observations from others, and not Herboldsheimer’s direct observations. In particular, Herboldsheimer’s report made incorrect statements about Hansen’s use of force to subdue the fleeing defendant. Warnick alleged Herboldsheimer took offense to Warnick’s rebuke. Soon afterward, Herboldsheimer contacted the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office and falsely complained that Warnick and his staff member, Alanna Warnick (Silvan Warnick’s wife), had instructed him to falsify his incident report. In addition, Herboldsheimer told the prosecutors that Warnick had made changes to his report - something he took to be falsification. Warnick claimed he was falsely accused of tampering with evidence that led to the filing of criminal charges against him that were later dismissed. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and Warnick appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding, like the district court, that absolute prosecutorial immunity precluded Warnick from suing the prosecutors for filing charges, and that Warnick failed to plead the rest of his allegations with sufficient factual specificity. View "Warnick v. Cooley" on Justia Law

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Adrian Requena was an inmate housed by the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC). His initial 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint named eleven prison employees as defendants and alleged various violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Two months later, he amended that complaint, without leave to do so, again asserting various violations of his constitutional rights and adding nine defendants. The district judge screened that complaint, and after setting forth the claims, he decided they were “not linked by a common question of law or fact, involved different defendants, and arose from different transactions.” The court concluded Requena “may not present all of the claims in a single action” and directed him to decide which claims he wished to pursue and file a second amended complaint accordingly. The second amended complaint named 38 defendants and alleged myriad violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Attached to the complaint was over 450 pages of exhibits. The complaint fell far short of containing “a short and plain statement” of the claims showing entitlement to relief, nor did it provide any citations to the exhibits to aid any court in navigating them. The court again screened the complaint and concluded “many of [the] claims lack support or substance, and much of the material submitted as exhibits appears to be irrelevant and disorganized.” At the end, the judge identified two claims meriting discussion: (1) denial of hygiene supplies; and (2) denial of access to the courts. Both failed to state a claim for relief. The trial court then dismissed the entire complaint with prejudice, but did not first explicitly address whether amendment of the complaint would be futile, even though Requena’s complaint requested leave to amend if necessary to cure any deficiencies. Judgment was entered the same day. Requena filed a motion to alter or amend judgment, which the judge denied. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed dismissal with prejudice one of Requena's Eighth Amendment claims agains prison officials regarding their alleged failure to protect him from a beating; the Court affirmed dismissal of the second amended complaint in all other respects. View "Requena v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Taunya Perry was arrested and booked into the Ottawa County Jail on December 28, 2012. According to Perry, detention officer Daniel Clements raped her approximately two months later, on February 25, 2013. As a result of the alleged rape, Perry brought suit against the Ottawa County Sheriff, defendant Terry Durborow, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting that Durborow was responsible for the alleged rape under a theory of supervisory liability. In response, Durborow moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was entitled to qualified immunity. Durborow appealed the district court’s order denying his motion, arguing only that - even assuming he violated the Constitution - the district court erred in finding that the contours of the constitutional right at issue were clearly established. The Tenth Circuit agreed: “the clearly established law must be ‘particularized’ to the facts of the case. ... In reaching this conclusion, we do not mean to suggest that “[a] prior case” must have “identical facts” before it will put reasonable officials on notice that their specific conduct is unconstitutional." Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s order and remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in Durborow’s favor. View "Perry v. Durborow" on Justia Law

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Correct Care Solutions, LLC (CCS) terminated Alena Fassbender’s employment for violating CCS policy. Fassbender, who was pregnant at the time of her termination, argued she was terminated because CCS had one too many pregnant workers in Fassbender’s unit, which posed a problem for her supervisor. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded a reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s version of events. Accordingly, the Court reversed the portion of the district court’s order granting CCS summary judgment on Fassbender’s pregnancy discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. secs. 2000e–2000e-17. However, the Court affirmed in part, finding no reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s alternative claim that CCS terminated her in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. View "Fassbender v. Correct Care Solutions" on Justia Law