Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Plaintiff Kimberly Aubrey worked for the Weld County, Colorado, Clerk and Recorder’s office. She became unable to work for a time due to posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (“PRES”), a rare condition characterized by fluctuating blood pressure that causes swelling in the brain, coma and sometimes death. Eventually Aubrey’s PRES resolved and she began to recover. The County allowed her to take several months off but eventually terminated her employment. By that time, Aubrey contended, she recovered sufficiently to be able to return to her job, with reasonable accommodation for her disability. Aubrey sued the County under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and several related statutes. The district court granted the County summary judgment on all claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part, finding Aubrey presented sufficient evidence that a jury could have found the County failed to engage in the collaborative interactive process that the ADA called for between an employer and an employee in order to determine whether there was a reasonable accommodation that would have permitted Aubrey to perform the essential functions of her job. In light of that evidence, Aubrey’s failure-to-accommodate and disability discrimination claims were sufficient to survive summary judgment. Summary judgment for the County was affirmed on Aubrey’s retaliation claims because she failed to present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the County terminated her employment in retaliation for her asking for an accommodation. View "Aubrey v. Koppes" on Justia Law

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Brittney Brown brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against Roger Flowers, who at the time was a jailer at the Pontotoc County Justice Center; she alleged he raped her while she was a pretrial detainee. Flowers moved for summary judgment, arguing that sex between him and Brown was consensual and that, regardless, he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court determined that a jury could have found that Flowers had coercive, nonconsensual sex with Brown and that such conduct would have violated her clearly established rights. Accordingly, it denied Flowers’s motion. Flowers appealed, arguing: (1) the district court erred in finding that the question of consent and coercion was a jury question and that it therefore erred in finding a constitutional violation; and (2) clearly established law did not put him on notice that the sex was coercive or nonconsensual. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded it lacked jurisdiction with respect to Flowers' first contention, "on this interlocutory appeal, we generally must accept the facts as the district court found them." With respect to his second, the Court determined existing caselaw on the sexual abuse of inmates clearly established the contours of Brown’s rights, and affirmed the denial of qualified immunity. View "Brown v. Flowers" on Justia Law

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A Garfield County, Utah, sheriff’s deputy, defendant Raymond Gardner, challenged the district court’s decision to deny him qualified immunity from Plaintiff Matthew Mglej’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims stemming from Gardner’s arresting Mglej in August 2011. Mglej was on a cross-country trip when his motorcycle broke down. Chuck Gurle, a mechanic in Boulder, let Mglej stay with him for a few days while Gurle waited for parts needed to repair the motorcycle. The deputy first met Mglej when he stopped Mglej for speeding on his motorcycle. A few days later, Gardner received a report from a local convenience store/gas station that $20 was missing from the store's register, and they suspected someone matching Mglej's description took the money. When the deputy asked about the missing money, Mglej denied taking it. Deputy Gardner explained to Mglej that, although Mglej denied taking the money, he still needed to complete a report, which would require some information from Mglej, the information usually contained on an ID or driver's license. When Mglej declined to give the deputy his ID before consulting with an attorney, Gardner arrested him. Deputy Gardner then handcuffed Mglej behind his back and placed him in the front seat of the deputy’s patrol car. Mglej complained that the handcuffs were too tight; when Gardner tried to loosen them, the handcuffs malfunctioned and the deputy could not loosen or remove them. Using tools from his garage, Deputy Gardner was eventually able to pry the handcuffs off Mglej’s wrists after twenty minutes of work, causing Mglej significant pain and injury in the process. Mglej was released on bail three days after he was arrested. He then had to hitchhike the ninety-five miles back to Boulder, where he found that his motorcycle had been vandalized and his possessions stolen. The charges against Mglej were later dropped. Mglej alleged that Gardner violated the Fourth Amendment when he arrested Mglej without probable cause, used excessive force in doing so, and then initiated a malicious prosecution against Mglej. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err in denying Gardner qualified immunity on all of Mglej's claims. View "Mglej v. Garfield County" on Justia Law

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While responding to a report of a fight at an Elks Club in Greybull, Wyoming, Officer Shannon Armstrong arrested Morgan Emmett for interfering with a peace officer. To effectuate the arrest, Armstrong tackled Emmett then tased him. Emmett brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, claiming that Armstrong violated his Fourth Amendment rights by unreasonably seizing him when arresting him without probable cause and by using excessive force when using his taser to effectuate the arrest. Emmett also brought a failure-to-train claim against Police Chief Bill Brenner, in his official capacity. The district court granted summary judgment to Armstrong on the basis of qualified immunity on all claims and to the city for lack of a constitutional violation. Emmett’s unreasonable seizure claim was based entirely on Officer Armstrong’s failure verbally to identify himself as a police officer before seizing Emmett, thus precluding probable cause to believe Emmett knowingly interfered with a peace officer. The Tenth Circuit found that because there were significant indicia from the circumstances that Armstrong was a police officer, it was objectively reasonable for Armstrong to believe that Emmett knew he was a police officer. Thus, because the arrest was not a constitutional violation, Armstrong was entitled to qualified immunity. With regard to Emmett’s second claim of excessive force, the Tenth Circuit agreed with Emmett that a jury could have found tasing him after he was no longer actively resisting constituted excessive force. Armstrong was not entitled to qualified immunity on that claim. With regard to claims against Chief Brenner, because the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s finding that no constitutional violation occurred insofar as the excessive force claim was involved, it also reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Emmett’s failure-to-train claim against Chief Brenner in his official capacity to the extent that it related to Armstrong’s use of force. Judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Emmett v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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Ricardo Ortiz died in 2016 while in the custody of the Sante Fe Adult Detention Facility (ADF). Ortiz’s personal representatives sued multiple individual ADF affiliates, alleging state claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act and violations of his Fourteenth Amendment right to medical treatment under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The defendants moved to dismiss the first amended complaint, and the plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to include a claim for municipal liability that was not in any prior complaint. In an order addressing both motions, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claims, denied the plaintiffs leave to amend to include that municipal liability claim, and remanded the state-law claims. On appeal, the plaintiffs-appellants argued the district court erred in dismissing the section 1983 claims against individual prison employees and in denying leave to amend. The Tenth Circuit agreed that plaintiffs-appellants plausibly alleged Officer Chavez violated Ortiz’s clearly established constitutional right to medical care for acute symptoms related to his withdrawal from heroin. But the Court could not conclude they plausibly alleged the other individual defendants violated Ortiz’s clearly established constitutional right to medical care under these circumstances. Therefore, the Court vacated the district court’s dismissal with regard to Officer Chavez but affirmed with regard to the other individual defendants. Separately, the Court concluded the district court should not have denied the plaintiff leave to amend for reasons of futility: the district court determined that the plaintiff could not state a claim for municipal liability without first properly stating a claim against an individual, but Tenth Circuit precedent allowed municipal liability even where no individual liability existed. Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court's denial of leave to amend. View "Quintana v. Santa Fe County Board of Comm." on Justia Law

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Jane Doe appealed the dismissal of her Title IX claim against School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado (the District or DPS) for failure to state a claim. According to the complaint, a group of students began sexually harassing Ms. Doe after she was sexually assaulted by another student in March of her freshman year at East High School (EHS). She alleged that despite her numerous reports of the harassment to school personnel, as well as reports from teachers and a counselor, the school administration never investigated her complaints and little if anything was done to prevent the harassment from continuing. She stopped attending regularly scheduled classes about 14 months after the assault, and she transferred to a different school after completing her sophomore year. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding Ms. Doe's complaint contained sufficient allegations to support an inference of deliberate indifference. View "Doe v. School District Number 1" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Aaron Jensen sued defendant-appellees West Jordan City and Robert Shober for Title VII retaliation, First Amendment retaliation, malicious prosecution, and breach of contract. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Jensen on all his claims and awarded $2.77 million in damages. The trial court discovered the jury did not properly fill out the verdict form, so the court instructed the jury to correct its error. When the jury returned the corrected verdict, it had apportioned most of the damages to Jensen’s Title VII claim. Because the district court concluded that Title VII’s statutory damages cap applied, the court reduced the total amount of the award to $344,000. Both parties appealed. They raised nine issues on appeal, but the Tenth Circuit concluded none of them warranted reversal and affirmed. View "Jensen v. West Jordan City" on Justia Law

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Denver Police Sergeant Justin Dodge fatally shot Joseph Valverde after he saw Valverde pull out a gun as a SWAT team arrived to arrest him after an undercover drug transaction. Plaintiff Isabel Padilla, as personal representative of Valverde’s estate, sued Dodge under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming Dodge used excessive force in violation of Valverde's Fourth Amendment rights. Dodge moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, but the district court denied the motion. The district court held: (1) a reasonable jury could find that Valverde had discarded the gun and was in the process of surrendering before Dodge shot him; and (2) the use of deadly force in that situation would violate clearly established law. Dodge appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court. "Dodge is entitled to qualified immunity because he had only a split second to react when Valverde suddenly drew a gun. He did not violate the Fourth Amendment by deciding to shoot without waiting to see whether Valverde was merely taking the gun from his pocket to toss away rather than to shoot an officer. And to the extent that Plaintiff is arguing that Dodge should be liable because he recklessly created the situation that led to the apparent peril, Dodge is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate clearly established law." View "Estate of Joseph Valverde v. Dodge" on Justia Law

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In January 2011, plaintiff-appellant Virgin Bunn was hired for a one-year probationary period as a human resources assistant at the United States Forest Service’s (“USFS”) Albuquerque Service Center. Ten months into the job, Bunn's supervisor became concerned about Bunn's job performance. After his supervisor asked a colleague to oversee Bunn’s work, Bunn complained to his supervisor about the colleague’s comments to him. Bunn later contacted USFS’s Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) Counselor Office about these comments. On January 6, 2012, Bunn was fired. Bunn thereafter filed an EEO complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation. An administrative law judge dismissed the suit, granting summary judgment to the agency on all claims. The USDA’s Office of Adjudication issued a final order implementing the EEOC’s decision. Bunn appealed. The Office of Federal Operations affirmed the USDA’s final decision. After its review of the matter, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found: Bunn's appeal of the summary judgment order was untimely; and (2) there was no reversible error in the district court's order striking Bunn's motion to vacate. View "Bunn v. Perdue" on Justia Law

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Anthony Kapinski shot and killed two men for which he was arrested and prosecuted for murder. But at trial, the jury found him not guilty on the basis of self-defense. Trial evidence included video surveillance footage of the incident. Kapinski brought civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Detective Terra Juarez and the City of Albuquerque, alleging constitutional violations stemming from Detective Juarez’s failure to mention the video surveillance footage in her warrant affidavit for Kapinski’s arrest. He argued that if the court issuing the arrest warrant had been made aware of the video footage, it would not have found probable cause supporting the warrant. Detective Juarez moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, and the district court granted her motion. The court held Kapinski failed to show a constitutional violation because the video footage would not have negated probable cause for his arrest, and, even if Detective Juarez’s omission ran afoul of the Fourth Amendment, she was nonetheless entitled to summary judgment because the law on this issue was not clearly established. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed Kapinski failed to show a clearly established constitutional violation and therefore affirmed summary judgment. View "Kapinski v. City of Albuquerque" on Justia Law