October 18, 2017

Tenth Circuit: Social Workers Held to Have Qualified Immunity on Foster Child’s Special-Relationship Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Dahn v. Amedei on Monday, August 14, 2017.

This case concerns an exception to the general rule that states are not liable for harm caused by private actors. This exception, called the special-relationship doctrine, makes a state or its agents liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failing to protect people from harm if they have deprived those people of liberty and made them completely dependent on the state for their basic needs. In this case, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided whether the geographical reach of the special-relationship doctrine crosses state lines.

A foster child, James Dahn, sued two Colorado social workers responsible for investigating reports that he was being abused. Dahn had been in Oklahoma’s custody until, in 2008, a Colorado adoption agency (Adoption Alliance) placed him for adoption with a foster father, Jeremiah Lovato, in Colorado. The foster father physically abused Dahn before and after adopting him. Many reports of suspicious abuse were reported to employees of the Moffat County Department of Social Services, Audrey Amedei and Amanda Cramer. Amedei and Cramer responded to the reports from Dahn’s school regarding Dahn’s suspicious bruising and significant, twenty-eight-pound weight loss, by interviewing Dahn and speaking with Lovato, via telephone. The reports of abuse were then determined to be unfounded. After further reports of suspicious bruising, Cramer chose not to speak with Dahn or Lovato, but instead called Vicki little, an independent contractor hired by Adoption Alliance to act as Dahn’s caseworker. Little visited the home, only speaking with Dahn alone for a few minutes, and shrugged off the concerns, determining Dahn was doing well. After two more visits where Little failed to speak to Dahn alone, she recommended that Lovato be allowed to adopt Dahn.

In 2010, the physical abuse from Lovato had escalated to the point where Dahn had to protect himself by running away. Dahn was taken to the hospital, where it was discovered that Lovato had broken Dahn’s arm months earlier, there was still ongoing abuse resulting in bruising, internal injuries, and bleeding, as well as open lesions. Lovato was tried and convicted of criminal child abuse in Colorado and sentenced to 119 ½ years-to-life in prison.

In 2013, Dahn sued Adoption Alliance, Little, Tem (Little’s supervisor), Amedei, and Cramer for his injuries. Dahn alleged (1) all defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights, under a special-relationship theory; (2) all defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights, under a state-created-danger theory; and (3) that defendants Adoption Alliance, Tem, and Amedei failed to properly train and supervise their employees in evaluating, monitoring, and investigating the prospective adoptive placement for abuse, resulting in violations of Dahn’s Fourteenth Amendment substantive-due-process rights. Dahn also brought state-law claims for negligence and outrageous conduct against all defendants. The issue decided by the Circuit was whether the district court erred in concluding that Amedei and Cramer had a special relationship with Dahn, and whether the law on this issue was clearly established.

Due process claims built on the special-relationship doctrine have four elements. First, the plaintiff must demonstrate the existence of a special relationship, meaning that the plaintiff completely depended on the state to satisfy basic human needs. Second, the plaintiff must show that the defendant knew that the plaintiff was in danger or failed to exercise professional judgment regarding that danger. Third, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s injuries. And, fourth, the defendant’s actions must shock the conscience. The question the Circuit decided was whether a foster child in the custody of one state can, after being placed by a private adoption agency with a foster father in a different state, establish a special custodial relationship with that second state when the second state takes on the duties to investigate evidence suggesting abuse.

The Tenth Circuit found that the law does not clearly extend constitutional liability under the special-relationship doctrine to employees of a state that did not deprive Dahn of his liberty or supply his basic needs, even though they were social workers in the county where he resided. Although the Circuit stated that Amedei and Cramer owed some duty to Dahn, as they investigated the suspected abuse but failed to take any action to remove Dahn from Lovato’s custody, the court found that Dahn had failed to show clearly established law that created a special-relationship between him, Amedei, and Cramer. This conclusion comes from a previous case which noted that the affirmative duty to protect arises not from the state’s knowledge of the individual’s predicament or from its expressions of intent to help him, but from the limitations which it has imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf. Because the state had not deprived the child of his liberty, it did not have a custodial relationship with him that required the state to protect him from harm. The Circuit declined to address the other element of his claim, which is whether Amedei and Cramer acted in an unprofessional and conscience-shocking manner.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals REVERSED the district court’s order denying Amedei and Cramer’s motion to dismiss Dahn’s special-relationship claim against them, and REMANDED for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Random Drug Test for County Employee Acceptable When Employee Holds Safety-Sensitive Position

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Washington v. Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas on February 6, 2017.

Roberick Washington was a lieutenant at the Wyandotte Country Juvenile Detention Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The position entailed Washington interacting with residents, conducting disciplinary hearings for residents, driving the County van to take juveniles to the intake assessment center, and being present if a fight broke out. Wyandotte County has a random drug testing policy that applies to employees in “safety sensitive positions.” The county’s Policy on Substance Abuse and Drug and Alcohol Testing lists Washington’s position, “juvenile lieutenant,” as a safety sensitive position. The policy states that a failed drug or alcohol test is grounds for discipline, including discharge.

Sheriff Donald Ash terminated Washington after he tested positive for cocaine following a random drug test. Pursuant to the Human Resource Guide, Washington Appealed Ash’s decision to the administrator of the Juvenile Detention Center. This grievance was denied, and Washington appealed to the County Administrator’s Office. After a hearing, an assistant county administrator upheld the termination. Washington claims that he sought an evidentiary hearing and a name-clearing hearing, but was denied both.

Washington alleged three violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, namely that the drug test was an illegal search in violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, he was deprived of his property interest in continued employment without due process, and defendants failed to provide him with a name-clearing hearing. Additionally, Washington claimed the county breached an implied contract created by its written disciplinary policies in violation of state contract law. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all counts.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Washington’s § 1983 claims. Municipalities are not protected by qualified immunity, so to grant summary judgment in favor or a municipality, the pleadings and supporting materials must establish there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A plaintiff must identify an unconstitutional policy that caused the claimed injury in order for a municipality to be liable under § 1983. A plaintiff must establish that the municipal employee causing the harm violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Washington’s claim that the county’s random drug test violated the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause and warrant requirements. Ordinarily, a search must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. However, when the government asserts a special need beyond ordinary crime detection, the Tenth Circuit has found suspicionless drug testing reasonable if the government’s interests outweigh the individual’s privacy interests. Courts have held that when drug use among the individuals tested would threaten the workplace or public safety, the government’s concerns are real. Additionally, courts have held that random drug tests are effective at detecting and deterring drug use.

The Tenth Circuit held that the county had a legitimate special need because the random drug tests to juvenile lieutenants ensured the safety and welfare of the children housed in the juvenile detention center. The juvenile lieutenant position involved interactions with residents, and drug use would impair his ability to interact with the youth. Additionally, the random testing minimized the possibility that employees would evade detection and maximized deterrence. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit found a legitimate special need for the random drug testing.

The Tenth Circuit then weighed the special need against Washington’s privacy interests to determine if the tests were reasonable. The Tenth Circuit held that as a correctional employee, Washington’s expectation of privacy was diminished. Additionally, the drug testing was minimally invasive, as Washington provided a sample behind a closed door with no supervision.

Next, the Tenth Circuit held that the county presented two interests that were important enough to justify testing Washington. The first was that Washington was working with juveniles in an educational setting, and an employee’s illegal drug use presented a risk of harm to minors. Second, if an employee has law enforcement duties and access to direct contact with inmates, that employee’s illegal use of drugs presents a significant threat to inmates and the security of the facility. The Supreme Court has held that suspicionless drug testing of employees in certain safety sensitive positions was reasonable. In this case, the county’s policy lists “juvenile lieutenant” as a safety sensitive position. The Tenth Circuit held that this classification was reasonable to Washington’s position based on the duties that he performed. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that in this specific instance, the county’s interests were more important and outweighed Washington’s diminished privacy rights, and thus the random drug test was reasonable. Consequently, neither Sheriff Ash nor the county could be subject to § 1983 liability.

Next, the Tenth Circuit addressed Washington’s claim that the county’s personnel policies established he had a protected property interest in his continued employment at the Juvenile Detention Center. The Tenth Circuit stated a two-part inquiry to determine whether a plaintiff was denied procedural due process. First, the plaintiff must have a protected interest to which due process is applicable. The second inquiry is whether the plaintiff was afforded an appropriate level of due process.

Here, the Tenth Circuit looked to Kansas state law to determine if Washington had a protected property interest. The Tenth Circuit determined that Kansas law established that public employment is presumptively at-will, and that Washington did not provide evidence to rebut this presumption. The Tenth Circuit held that personnel policies alone were insufficient to create an implied employment contract. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on this claim.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Washington’s claim that he was entitled to a name-clearing hearing because Washington’s pretrial order did not reference any damaged liberty interest.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit holds that because Washington failed to establish that there was an implied employment contract, the county was entitled to summary judgment on his breach of contract claim.

Tenth Circuit: Findings of Fact Needed to Determine Whether Termination Caused by Employer’s Belief that Employee Engaged in Protected Activity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bird v. West Valley City on Monday, August 8, 2016.

Karen Bird was hired at West Valley City’s animal shelter in 2001, and was promoted to manager by Kelly Davis, her direct supervisor, in 2002. In 2005, West Valley City’s human resources manager, Shirlayne George, investigated the shelter and reported several negative comments about Ms. Bird by fellow employees. Mr. Davis was also the subject of several complaints, especially by women, and Ms. George investigated him in 2009. Most of the women who complained about Mr. Davis were either fired or voluntarily left the animal shelter shortly after complaining. Ms. Bird and Mr. Davis had a disagreement in 2009, and their already strained relationship deteriorated thereafter, to the point where Ms. Bird would not look Mr. Davis in the eye and could not stand to be in the same room as him.

In October 2011, the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about a cat that had endured two failed euthanasia attempts in the shelter’s gas chamber. About a week later, a reporter called the shelter after receiving an anonymous tip about a planned mass-euthanasia due to overpopulation. Both Layne Morris, the Community Preservation Department Director and Mr. Davis’s direct supervisor, and Mr. Davis believed that the anonymous tip had come from Ms. Bird, although she denied it. Ms. Bird was notoriously against using the gas chamber for euthanasia and was one of the few individuals privy to the information about the shelter’s overpopulation. Shortly after this incident, Ms. Bird emailed Ms. George that she could not take any more of Mr. Davis’s harassment. She filed a formal complaint on November 3, 2011.

Less than a week later, Mr. Davis issued two letters of reprimand to Ms. Bird regarding unauthorized use of overtime pay, despite the shelter’s usual practice of issuing less formal warnings before the letters of reprimand. On November 14, in response to Ms. Bird’s complaint, Ms. George undertook an investigation of the entire shelter. She received several complaints regarding both Ms. Bird and Mr. Davis, but more against Ms. Bird. Mr. Morris reviewed the results of the investigation and decided to discipline Ms. Bird for insubordination and failure to be courteous to the public or other shelter employees. He sent Ms. Bird a letter advising of the discipline on November 16, and ultimately terminated her employment on November 29. Mr. Morris testified that his decision to terminate Ms. Bird was not only based on the November 2011 investigation, but rather because of the deterioration of the relationship between Ms. Bird and Mr. Davis. Mr. Morris also testified that he had considered terminating Ms. Bird in December 2010 but Mr. Davis stayed his hand.

Ms. Bird unsuccessfully appealed her termination to Ms. George, then the city’s human resources director, and finally to the West Valley City Appeals Board. When all three appeals were unsuccessful, Ms. Bird filed a complaint in district court, alleging the city terminated her in violation of Title VII as a result of gender discrimination and subjected her to a hostile work environment; the city violated § 1983 because it terminated her as a result of gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause; and both the city and Mr. Davis violated § 1983 because they terminated her in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights concerning the anonymous tip to the reporter. Ms. Bird maintained that she did not provide the anonymous tip, but because she was perceived as doing so, the termination in retaliation violated her First Amendment rights. Ms. Bird also brought state law claims for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on all claims.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit first considered Ms. Bird’s Title VII gender discrimination and hostile work environment claims. Applying the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Ms. Bird’s claim that the shelter had a pattern and practice of discriminating against female employees. However, Mr. Morris provided two legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Ms. Bird: insubordination and failure to be courteous and cooperative with fellow employees. The Tenth Circuit evaluated Ms. Bird’s proffered reasons why Mr. Morris’s explanation was pretextual. She first contended that the reasons he outlined for terminating her differed from those offered in his deposition. The Tenth Circuit disagreed; the Circuit noted that Mr. Morris had offered specific examples in his deposition but his stated reasons for Ms. Bird’s termination were always insubordination and failure to be courteous. Ms. Bird also contended that the individuals to whom she appealed her termination offered different reasons, but the Tenth Circuit found that they merely offered different instances of her conduct. The Tenth Circuit held that no reasonable juror could determine that the city’s reason for terminating her was pretextual.

The Tenth Circuit similarly disposed of Ms. Bird’s hostile work environment claims. Although Mr. Davis’s conduct was deplorable, the Circuit did not find any evidence that his behavior was gender-based. Ms. Bird pointed to several statements, but the statements were generalized and did not point to specific instances. The Tenth Circuit refused to consider vague and conclusory statements as evidence of gender discrimination.

Turning next to the § 1983 Equal Protection claims, the Tenth Circuit found that because Ms. Bird alleged the same facts to prove her Equal Protection claim as she asserted to prove her Title VII claims, the Equal Protection argument failed for the same reasons. The Tenth Circuit also disposed of Ms. Bird’s state law breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims. Ms. Bird relied on the employee handbook to argue her claims based on violation of the “Workplace Violence” section and the unwritten anti-retaliation policy. The Tenth Circuit found that the large disclaimer on the handbook eliminated all contractual liability for the city.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Ms. Bird’s § 1983 First Amendment retaliation claims. Although Ms. Bird continued to argue that she did not make the anonymous tips to the reporters, she alleged that she was terminated in retaliation because the city believed she had made the tips. The Tenth Circuit found that the Supreme Court’s decision in Heffernan v. City of Paterson, 136 S. Ct. 1412 (2016), controlled its analysis. The lower court did not evaluate Ms. Bird’s First Amendment claims because she could not show that she engaged in protected activity. The Tenth Circuit remanded for a determination of whether Ms. Bird raised a genuine issue of material fact that the city’s belief motivated its decision to terminate her employment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the Title VII gender discrimination and retaliation claims, the § 1983 Equal Protection Claims, and the state law contractual claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded on the § 1983 First Amendment claims.

Tenth Circuit: Officer, School Officials Entitled to Qualified Immunity for Arresting “Class Clown” for Burping in Class

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in A.M. v. Holmes on Monday, July 26, 2016.

In May 2011, F.M. was a student at Cleveland Middle School in Albuquerque when his teacher radioed a request for assistance over her school-issued radio because F.M. was burping loudly in class and disrupting the other students. Officer Acosta, an Albuquerque police officer who was assigned to the school, answered the teacher’s radioed call for help. When Officer Acosta approached the classroom, he saw F.M. sitting on the floor in the hallway while the teacher stood in the classroom doorway. The teacher informed Officer Acosta that F.M. had interrupted class by burping loudly, and even when she ejected him from the room, he continued to lean into the class and burp, making the other students laugh and stopping the teacher from continuing her planned lessons. Officer Acosta escorted F.M. to the office, where he arrested F.M. under N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-20-13(D), which provides that interfering with the educational process is a petty misdemeanor offense. Officer Acosta informed the principal, Ms. LaBarge, of his intent to arrest F.M., and Ms. LaBarge attempted to contact F.M.’s mother and also prepared a slip for a one-day suspension of F.M. Officer Acosta then transported F.M. to a juvenile detention facility, where he was picked up by his mother. F.M. did not argue with Officer Acosta and was rated a -2 out of 10 on the detention center’s risk assessment. F.M. did not return to Cleveland Middle School for the rest of the year. A.M. spoke publicly about F.M.’s arrest, and there was a good deal of publicity about the incident.

The following year, A.M., F.M.’s mother, re-enrolled him at Cleveland. On November 8, 2011, a student approached a teacher to report witnessing a drug transaction. Officer Acosta retrieved the school’s surveillance videos and, with Ms. LaBarge and an assistance principal, identified the five students involved in the transaction. F.M. was identified as one of the students. All of the students were searched individually in a conference room next to Ms. LaBarge’s office with several adults presents. All of the searches except F.M.’s were audio recorded.

None of the students had drugs on them, but F.M. had $200 cash. He relayed to the adults present that the cash was a birthday present. The assistant principal asked F.M. if he had anything he was not supposed to have, and he said he had a belt buckle in his bag with a marijuana leaf imprint. A search of his backpack revealed the belt buckle and a red bandanna, among other things. F.M. was wearing several layers of clothing, which he removed at the request of the school officials. A male teacher flipped down the waistband of F.M.’s athletic shorts, which revealed a pair of boxers underneath. The teacher did not touch F.M.’s boxers. During the search, A.M. contacted the school and was informed of the events of the morning. A.M. confirmed that F.M. had left the house carrying $200 in cash that morning. F.M. received a three-day suspension for the bandanna and belt buckle because they violated the school’s policies against “gang-related” clothing and “inappropriate messages or symbols.” Later that day, A.M. met with Ms. LaBarge, but according to Ms. LaBarge, A.M. “stormed out” of the office and said her attorney would contact the school.

A.M. sued Officer Acosta, Ms. LaBarge, and the assistant principal in state court, alleging Fourth Amendment violations relating to the May 2011 and November 2011 incidents. A.M. objected to F.M.’s handcuffing in May 2011, opining that a reasonable officer should have known that burping was not a crime and no force was necessary to effectuate an arrest of the compliant child. A.M. also alleged that Ms. LaBarge’s strip search of F.M. in November 2011 was unreasonable. Defendants removed the action to federal court and moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity. The district court granted summary judgment to Ms. LaBarge, agreeing that she was entitled to qualified immunity. While the claims were still pending, A.M. filed another state court lawsuit against the assistant principal, alleging Fourth and First Amendment violations related to the strip search and retaliation for A.M.’s speaking to the media. The assistant principal removed the action to district court and argued collateral estoppel. The court granted summary judgment to the assistant principal. The district court also granted summary judgment to Officer Acosta, finding qualified immunity applicable. A.M. appealed.

The Tenth Circuit addressed A.M.’s claims regarding Officer Acosta first. A.M. contended that the district court sua sponte granted qualified immunity to Officer Acosta, but the Tenth Circuit noted that A.M. devoted most of her reply brief to the issue of qualified immunity and therefore was on notice that the defense had been raised. A.M. also contended she was deprived of the opportunity to present evidence of injuries F.M. suffered by being handcuffed, but the Circuit noted that in Officer Acosta’s response brief, he noted that any injury suffered would have been de minimus, therefore affording A.M. a chance to respond.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to Officer Acosta on the claim that he arrested F.M. without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the New Mexico statute in question and found that Officer Acosta had arguable probable cause to arrest F.M. under the statute banning interference with the educational process. A.M. argued that burping in class did not rise to the level of seriousness contemplated by the statute, and F.M. was at worst being a class clown, conduct that “would have subjected generations of school boys to an after-school detention, writing lines, or a call to his parents.” The Tenth Circuit rejected A.M.’s contentions and determined that the broad language of the statute seemed to encompass F.M.’s conduct. The Tenth Circuit found that A.M. could not carry her burden regarding clearly established law, since the statute appeared to condemn F.M.’s conduct. The Tenth Circuit found that Officer Acosta possessed reasonable probable cause when he arrested F.M. Likewise, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court’s reasoning that A.M. had not shown that Officer Acosta committed a constitutional violation when he arrested F.M. The district court determined that A.M. failed to present evidence of an actual physical or psychological injury.

The Tenth Circuit next turned to A.M.’s claims against the assistant principal. The district court found that the assistant principal was entitled to qualified immunity on A.M.’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims, and the Tenth Circuit agreed. Because the November 2011 search of F.M. was arguably justified at its inception, the assistant principal did not violate the Fourth Amendment by beginning the search of F.M. Likewise, because the search continued to be reasonable in its scope, it was within the strictures of the Fourth Amendment. The Tenth Circuit also dismissed A.M.’s claim that the assistant principal executed the search in retaliation for A.M.’s protected First Amendment activity, referring to its first finding that the search was reasonable at its inception and throughout its duration. A.M. also alleged a Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection violation because the assistant principal searched F.M. more extensively than the other four students. The Tenth Circuit found that A.M. failed to set forth a legally cognizable Fourteenth Amendment claim because F.M. was not similarly situated to the other students.

Finally, A.M. argued the district court committed reversible error by granting qualified immunity to Ms. LaBarge on A.M.’s unreasonable search claim. A.M. incorporated her arguments against the assistant principal into the brief on Ms. LaBarge’s claim, and the Tenth Circuit decided to follow its previous reasoning in rejecting A.M.’s position.

The Tenth Circuit upheld the grants of qualified immunity as to all three defendants. Judge Gorsuch wrote a compelling dissent; he would have followed a previous New Mexico opinion that limited the statute in question to behavior much more serious than burping in class.

Tenth Circuit: “Arguable” Reasonable Suspicion Enough to Support Qualified Immunity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Shimomura v. Carlson on Tuesday, December 29, 2015.

Tsutomu Shimomura was at a security checkpoint at DIA when a TSA agent tested his medicine with a test strip. Mr. Shimomura expressed concern about the sterility of the test strips and asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor, TSA Agent Kendra Carlson, engaged in a heated exchange with Mr. Shimomura while Denver Police Officer Wade Davis watched. Agent Carlson eventually ordered Mr. Shimomura to “get the hell out of here,” and he turned to leave. As he was leaving, his roller bag may have struck Agent Carlson. Officer Davis immediately arrested Mr. Shimomura. He was detained for approximately 9o minutes, then was issued a summons and complaint, charging him with assault for pushing his roller bag into Agent Carlson. The prosecutor dismissed the criminal complaint after reviewing the charges.

Mr. Shimomura brought suit against Agent Carlson and Officer Davis, alleging 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violations of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment based on qualified immunity to Officer Davis on the Fourth Amendment claims and dismissed the claims against Agent Carlson based on failure to state a claim. The court also dismissed the causes of action based on violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments for failure to state a claim. Mr. Shimomura appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first determined that Officer Davis was entitled to qualified immunity because he had at least a modicum of reasonable suspicion that Mr. Shimomura had committed a crime. The majority panel determined that probable cause was at least “arguable” as to Officer Davis. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the crime of which Mr. Shimomura was charged, third-degree assault, which requires reckless or intentional commission of assault, which is separately defined as bodily injury, including pain. The majority panel determined that Officer Davis had at least arguable suspicion that Agent Carlson experienced pain, however minor or fleeting, from her contact with the roller bag, and therefore he was entitled to qualified immunity. Chief Judge Tymkovich dissented; he opined that the majority panel disregarded its role by impermissibly finding facts instead of questioning whether a reasonable jury could have taken Mr. Shimomura’s version of the events as true. Judge Tymkovich did not believe Officer Davis was entitled to qualified immunity.

The Tenth Circuit next evaluated the district court’s dismissal of Mr. Shimomura’s claims against Agent Carlson. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal, finding that even if Agent Carlson fabricated her version of the events, she did so after Mr. Shimomura’s arrest. Because Mr. Shimomura was arrested as a matter of law in the moments after his roller bag may have struck Agent Carlson, any withholding and fabrication of evidence took place after that moment. The Tenth Circuit found Mr. Shimomura’s Fourth Amendment claims against Agent Carlson failed.

The Tenth Circuit then turned to Mr. Shimomura’s conspiracy claims and disregarded them for the same reason. The Tenth Circuit determined that, because any conspiracy would have occurred after Mr. Shimomura’s arrest, his claims could not stand. The Tenth Circuit similarly disposed of Mr. Shimomura’s due process claims, finding that any due process issues related to unlawful arrest must be decided under the Fourth Amendment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. Chief Judge Tymkovich dissented as to the claims against Officer Davis.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Judge’s Ex Parte Communications Violated Defendant’s Constitutional Rights

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Guzman-Rincon on Thursday, November 19, 2015.

Sixth Amendment—Fourteenth Amendment—Jury—Ex Parte Communications.

The victim and her friends were standing across the street from Aurora Central High School when a vehicle drove by, made a U-turn, and drove back toward the group. A passenger from the vehicle then fired a single shot from the car. The bullet struck the victim in the spine, paralyzing her. A jury found him guilty of six counts of attempted extreme indifference murder (crime of violence).

During trial, the prosecutors requested ex parte communications with the judge to inform him that the investigating officer on the case had been contacted by a confidential informant, who warned the prosecutors that defendant or defense counsel had leaked information about witness interviews to defendant’s family and that gang members viewed the interviews. The court determined there were credible threats against the witnesses, investigating officer, prosecutor, and jurors. The court sequestered the jury based on this information; however, the court did not inform defendant’s counsel or the jury that the sequestration was based on a credible threat. During deliberations, the jury questioned the court about their safety, and the court informed the jury of the threat outside the presence of defendant.

On appeal, defendant contended that the court’s ex parte communications with the prosecutors and the jurors violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and Fourteenth Amendment right to be present at all critical stages of his trial. Because a defendant is entitled to counsel and to be present at every critical stage of the proceedings, and the court’s discussions with the prosecutors and the jurors constituted critical stages, defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel and his Fourteenth Amendment right to be present were violated. Because the court could not conclude that these errors were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, reversal was required.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: No Qualified Immunity Where Officer Acted with Recklessly and with Deliberate Indifference

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Browder v. City of Albuquerque on Tuesday, June 2, 2015.

After finishing a shift, Sergeant Adam Casaus of the Albuquerque Police Department sped through city streets with his lights and sirens on, driving at an average of 66 miles per hour for 8.8 miles. He sped through a red light at one intersection and hit a car, killing Ashley Browder and causing serious injuries to her sister, Lindsay. Lindsay and her parents brought a § 1983 action in federal court, but Sergeant Casaus urged the district court to deny relief based on qualified immunity. The district court declined to dismiss the case and Casaus appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first noted that the parties did not dispute that Casaus’ conduct fell “under color of state law.” The Browders alleged a violation of their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The Tenth Circuit clarified that the alleged violation was a substantive due process claim, evaluating whether the claim was carefully described, whether the right is “fundamental,” and whether the government’s infringement was “direct and substantial,” next turning to the question of whether the government had substantial justification for its actions. Finally, the Tenth Circuit noted that when a state court claim can provide the same relief as a federal § 1983 claim, the federal court should abstain in favor of the state remedial process.

Evaluating the case at hand, the Tenth Circuit found no question that the Ashley’s death and Lindsay’s injuries qualified as direct and substantial impairments of their fundamental right to life, and that Sergeant Casaus’ actions were arbitrary in that they were performed capriciously or at his pleasure and without good reason. Although Casaus claimed he was acting on official business—pursuing a car operating in a dangerous manner—the facts in the complaint expressly contend Casaus was not pursuing official business of any kind. The Tenth Circuit also rejected Casaus’ contention that because he activated his lights and sirens he was not acting recklessly as a matter of law. Casaus argued he did not have time to form a reckless indifference to human life, because the accident occurred 2.5 seconds after he entered the intersection. However, the Tenth Circuit noted he had driven 8.8 miles at high speeds prior to the accident, and therefore he had about 8 minutes before the crash to form the requisite mens rea.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the law was clearly established at the time of Casaus’ accident. Noting that “some things are so obviously unlawful that they don’t require detailed explanation and sometimes the most obviously unlawful things happen so rarely that a case on point is itself an unusual thing,” the Tenth Circuit found that although there was not much case law regarding officers causing fatal accidents on their own time, the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that when a private person suffers a serious injury due to an officer’s intentional misuse of his or her vehicle a viable due process claim can arise, and the Tenth Circuit ruled in 1996 that a Fourteenth Amendment claim can arise from an officer speeding at 60 miles per hour. The Tenth Circuit also ruled in 2006 that a police officer could be liable under the Fourteenth Amendment for driving recklessly and with deliberate indifference. Taking all these cases together, the Tenth Circuit found ample support that the law was clearly established at the time of the accident.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. Judge Gorsuch wrote a concurrence about the preference for tort claims to be resolved under state law rather than federal law.

Tenth Circuit: Utah’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage and Refusal to Recognize Same Is Unconstitutional

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Kitchen v. Herbert on Wednesday, June 25, 2014.

In 2004, Utah legislators and citizens amended their statutes and state constitution (collectively referred to in the opinion as Amendment 3) to ensure that Utah “‘will not recognize, enforce, or give legal effect to any law’ that provides ‘substantially equivalent’ benefits to a marriage between two persons of the same sex as are allowed for two persons of the opposite sex.” Three same-sex couples filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Governor and Attorney General of Utah, and the Clerk of Salt Lake County, challenging the constitutionality of the two statutes and the constitutional provision. The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that Amendment 3 is unconstitutional and an injunction prohibiting its enforcement.

The district court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs, holding that the statutes and amendment violated the fundamental right to liberty and denied plaintiffs equal protection because it classified based on sex and sexual orientation without a rational basis. The court permanently enjoined enforcement of the provisions. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the district court’s decision pending appeal to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit first considered the issue of standing because the Salt Lake County Clerk had not appealed the district court’s decision. The court held that because the governor and attorney general have actual supervisory power to compel county clerks to comply with Amendment 3, they had standing to appeal.

Next, the court held that the Supreme Court’s 1972 summary dismissal of Baker v. Nelson was not controlling precedent, especially after United States v. Windsor. In Baker, the Court dismissed, for lack of a substantial federal question, the appeal of a decision affirming Minnesota’s ban on same-sex marriage. Judge Kelly dissented from the portions of this decision regarding Baker v. Nelson and holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires Utah to permit same-sex marriage and to recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other states.

In holding that the right to marry is a fundamental liberty interest, the court rejected the arguments that only opposite-sex marriage is a fundamental right and marriage is only a fundamental right because of procreation. The court also rejected the argument that the definition of marriage by its nature excludes same-sex couples. In describing a liberty interest, “it is impermissible to focus on the identity or class-membership of the individual exercising the right.” Fundamental rights do not change based on who is seeking to exercise them.

After deciding that the right to marry is a fundamental liberty, the court applied strict scrutiny to Amendment 3. The appellants contended Amendment 3 “furthers the state’s interests in: (1) “fostering a child-centric marriage culture that encourages parents to subordinate their own interests to the needs of their children”; (2) “children being raised by their biological mothers and fathers—or at least by a married mother and father—in a stable home”; (3) “ensuring adequate reproduction”; and (4) “accommodating religious freedom and reducing the potential for civic strife.” The court found Amendment 3 was not narrowly tailored to further the first three interests as the state permitted marriage by many nonprocreative couples. It noted these same arguments were rejected in Windsor. As to the fourth alleged interest, the court pointed out that public opposition cannot provide cover for a violation of fundamental rights.

The Tenth Circuit held that “under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, those who wish to marry a person of the same sex are entitled to exercise the same fundamental right as is recognized for persons who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex, and that Amendment 3 and similar statutory enactments do not withstand constitutional scrutiny. . . . A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union.”

The court affirmed the district court and stayed its mandate pending the disposition of any petition for writ of certiorari.

Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant Must Point to Something in Record to Show Prejudice from Visible Shackles

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hoang v. People on Monday, April 21, 2014.

Shackling—Meaningful and Speedy Appeal.

In this appeal, the Supreme Court considered (1) whether shackling a defendant at trial in a manner not plainly visible to the jury violates a defendant’s due process right; and (2) whether delays and deficiencies in the record on appeal violate a defendant’s rights to a meaningful and a speedy appeal. The Court held that when the record does not show that restraints were plainly visible, the defendant must point to something in the record justifying an appellate court’s reasonable inference that at least one juror saw or heard them; if a defendant fails to meet that burden, then the constitutional harmless error standard announced in Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622 (2005), does not apply. The Court held that defendant was not deprived of his due process rights to a meaningful and a speedy appeal because he was not prejudiced by deficiencies in the record or by the delay. The Court relied on a modified version of the speedy trial factors in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), as the analytical framework for evaluating whether there has been a due process violation. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: In Sexual Harassment Case, Summary Judgment For County and Judge Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Eisenhour v. Weber County on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

Marcia Eisenhour worked for Weber County for 24 years, serving as the Court Administrator for the Weber County Justice Court under the direct supervision of Judge Storey. According to Ms. Eisenhour, Judge Storey began acting inappropriately toward Ms. Eisenhour in early 2008. He became “touchy” and would often stand so close to her that his groin rubbed against her. In addition to the touching, Judge Storey once told her that he had a dream about her in which she was naked. Ms. Eisenhour also found a poem by Judge Storey, which revealed his romantic feelings for her. According to Ms. Eisenhour, she was also subjected to unreasonable demands about her activities away from work.

The County launched an investigation, but ultimately decided not to discipline Judge Storey. The matter was later referred to Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, which the Commission dismissed.

Between August and December 2009, the County Commissioners closed the Justice Court, which meant the loss of Ms. Eisenhour’s job. Ms. Eisenhour applied to the County for three vacant positions. Unsuccessful, she lost not only her job but also the potential for retirement benefits. She eventually spoke to the media about the Judicial Conduct Commission’s investigation of Judge Storey.

Marcia Eisenhour sued Weber County, three of its county commissioners, and Judge Storey. She claimed violations of Utah’s Whistleblower Act, the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, and Title VII. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all claims. Ms. Eisenhour appealed.

Ms. Eisenhour first challenged the district court’s exclusion of her testimony on disciplinary proceedings involving the judge. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The exclusion of Ms. Eisenhour’s testimony during the disciplinary proceedings involving Judge Storey was proper, since, under the applicable Utah statute, section 78A-11-112(1), testimony taken during the course of proceedings before the Judicial Conduct Commission cannot be introduced in a civil action.

Ms. Eisenhour asserted a claim under Title VII for retaliation. The district court held that it lacked jurisdiction over the claim because Ms. Eisenhour failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The Tenth Circuit agreed. Ms. Eisenhour filed an EEOC claim for sexual harassment, but this claim did not refer to any of the retaliatory acts underlying the eventual cause of action under Title VII. As a result, the court affirmed the award of summary judgment to the County on the Title VII retaliation claim.

Next, Ms. Eisenhour invoked the First Amendment, claiming that the County retaliated against her by closing the Justice Court when she spoke to the media about the Judicial Conduct Commission’s investigation of Judge Storey. The Tenth Circuit held that triable issues of fact existed and that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the County. When the court is faced with a First Amendment claim by a public employee, the district court must balance the First Amendment interests of that employee, speaking as a concerned citizen, with the government’s interests in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees. The Tenth Circuit held that her comments to the media involved protected speech and that she presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to infer that her comments were a motivating factor in the County’s decision to close the Court. The evidence also created a genuine issue of fact about the legitimacy of the County’s explanation for closing the Justice Court.

On the First Amendment claim for retaliation, Ms. Eisenhour also sued three county commissioners in their personal capacities. This claim was based on the Commissioners’ decision to close the Justice Court. Their motivation, according to Ms. Eisenhour, was to retaliate for her comments to the media. Like the County, the Commissioners argued that Ms. Eisenhour’s speech was not protected under the First Amendment and that the County closed the courthouse because of budgetary considerations rather than a retaliatory motive. As discussed above, these arguments involved factual issues turning on the resolution of conflicting evidence, thereby preventing summary judgment for the County.

Ms. Eisenhour further alleged that the County violated Utah’s Whistleblower Act, which prohibits government employers from retaliating against employees who report employer misconduct. According to Ms. Eisenhour, the County violated the state law by closing the Justice Court and refusing to hire her. Ms. Eisenhour waited more than 180 days from the alleged violation to assert a Whistleblower Act claim, so this claim was time-barred. However, for her claim relating to the closing of the court, the claim did relate back to the original filing, so it was not time-barred.

Ms. Eisenhour argued that the County deprived her of a property interest in her job without due process of law. The district court held that Ms. Eisenhour had failed to establish a protected property interest. The Tenth Circuit agreed. For purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, property interests must derive from some independent source, such as state law, contract, or other understandings that give rise to a claim of entitlement. However, her employment was at-will. And at-will employees lack a property interest in continued employment.

Ms. Eisenhour asserted that the County violated her right to equal protection, and the district court granted summary judgment to the County on the ground that Judge Storey was not an official policymaker. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision. A municipality can be liable under Section 1983 for the acts of a municipal official only when the official possesses final policymaking authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the acts in question.

Judge Storey lacked policymaking authority to touch Ms. Eisenhour inappropriately under the County’s sexual harassment policy. Further, his monitoring of her whereabouts (when missing work) did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. As a result, the County was entitled to summary judgment on the equal-protection claim.

Ms. Eisenhour further asserted an equal-protection claim against Judge Storey. The district court concluded that Judge Storey was entitled to qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Judge Storey, concluding that he was not entitled to qualified immunity and that there was a fact-issue about whether Judge Storey inappropriately touched Ms. Eisenhour.

To overcome a defense of qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the defendant’s conduct violated the law, and (2) the law was clearly established when the violation occurred. The Tenth Circuit held that Ms. Eisenhour made the threshold showing and that issues of fact precluded summary judgment.

For the reasons stated above, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the award of summary judgment on Ms. Eisenhour’s claims against the County under the: (1) Whistleblower Act for a refusal to rehire her, (2) Title VII, and (3) § 1983 based on a deprivation of due process and denial of equal protection. The court also held that the district court properly excluded Ms. Eisenhour’s testimony taken during the judicial-misconduct investigation. But the court agreed with Ms. Eisenhour that genuine issues of fact precluded summary judgment on: (1) her § 1983 claim against the County and the County Commissioners based on the First Amendment, (2) the Whistleblower Act claim against the County based on the court closing, and (3) the § 1983 claim against Judge Storey based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Accordingly, the case was REMANDED to the district court with instructions to VACATE the award of summary judgment on these claims.

—–

Defendant Craig Storey requested rehearing, arguing in part: (1) The panel opinion erroneously relied in part on sworn testimony before the Judicial Conduct Commission even though the testimony was deemed inadmissible; and (2) the evidence did not support Ms. Eisenhour’s claim that Defendant Storey knowingly and intentionally committed sexual harassment by telling her about a dream. On these issues, Defendant Storey also requested en banc consideration. In addition, he sought en banc consideration on the issue of qualified immunity.

The panel granted rehearing on the first issue, which involved reliance on the Commission testimony by Ms. Eisenhour. The remainder of the petition for panel rehearing was denied. In light of the partial grant of the petition, however, the panel vacated the opinion issued on December 31, 2013. The clerk was directed to substitute the amended decision above and to file it contemporaneously with this order.

Tenth Circuit: Denver Police Officers Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity on Excessive Force Claims at Summary Judgment Stage

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Estate of Marvin L. Booker v. Gomez on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.

Denver police arrested Marvin Booker on a warrant for failure to appear at a hearing regarding a drug charge. During booking, Mr. Booker died while in custody after officers restrained him in response to his alleged insubordination. Several officers pinned Mr. Booker face-down to the ground, one placed him in a chokehold, and another tased him. After the officers sought medical help for Mr. Booker, he could not be revived.

Mr. Booker’s estate sued Deputies Faun Gomez, James Grimes, Kyle Sharp, Kenneth Robinette, and Sergeant Carrie Rodriguez (collectively “Defendants”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging they used excessive force against Mr. Booker and failed to provide him with immediate medical care, which resulted in Mr. Booker’s untimely death. The Defendants moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. The district court denied their motion because disputed facts precluded summary judgment. Defendants appealed.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 allows an injured person to seek damages against an individual who has violated his or her federal rights while acting under color of state law. Individual defendants named in a § 1983 action may raise a defense of qualified immunity, which shields public officials  from damages actions unless their conduct was unreasonable in light of clearly established law. Generally, when a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff carries a two-part burden to show: (1) that the defendant’s actions violated a federal constitutional or statutory right, and, if so, (2) that the right was clearly established at the time of the defendant’s unlawful conduct.

The court discerned five issues from the Defendants’ appeal: (A) whether the district court erred by considering Plaintiffs’ excessive force claim under both the Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendment standards; (B) whether the district court erred in failing to conduct an individualized analysis of each Defendant’s actions; (C) whether the district court erred in denying qualified immunity on Plaintiffs’ excessive force claim; (D) whether the district court erred in denying qualified immunity on Plaintiffs’ claim for failure to provide medical care; and (E) whether the district court erred in failing to grant qualified immunity to Sergeant Rodriguez on the Plaintiffs’ supervisory liability claim.

(A)   The District Court Did Not Err by Considering Plaintiffs’ Excessive Force Claim Under Both the Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendments

Determining which amendment applies to an allegation of excessive force requires consideration of where the plaintiff finds himself in the criminal justice system. It is well-established that the Fourteenth Amendment governs any claim of excessive force brought by a “pretrial detainee.” On the other hand, the Fourth Amendment governs excessive force claims arising from treatment of an arrestee detained without a warrant and prior to any probable cause hearing. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err in considering Plaintiffs’ excessive force claim under both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Rather, the district court did what many courts do: it analyzed the case under more than one legal rule and made alternative rulings, holding that Defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiffs’ excessive force claim under either the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment.

The court held the Fourteenth Amendment applied to Plaintiffs’ excessive force claim in any event, because Mr. Booker was a pre-trial detainee.

(B) Individualized Analysis of Each Officer’s Use of Force

Defendants argued the district court should have assessed their actions individually, rather than judging the conduct of all the deputies as a whole. The Tenth Circuit disagreed and concluded that individualized analysis was not necessary at the summary judgment stage: all Defendants actively and jointly participated in the use of force, and even if a single deputy’s participation did not constitute excessive force, that deputy could be liable under a failure-to-intervene theory. The court concluded that the district court did not err in failing to consider each officer’s use of excessive force individually.

(C)   Qualified Immunity on Plaintiffs’ Excessive Force Claim

The Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity unless the Plaintiffs could show  (a) a reasonable jury could find unconstitutional the deputies’ use of force—a carotid restraint, pressure on Mr. Booker’s back, and application of a taser—once Mr. Booker was fully restrained; and (b) this use of force violated clearly established law.

The Tenth Circuit concluded Plaintiffs met both burdens. The court looked to these three factors in evaluating the excessive force claim under the Fourteenth Amendment: (1) the relationship between the amount of force used and the need presented; (2) the extent of the injury inflicted; and (3) the motives of the state actor.

The evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, showed the deputies used various types of force—including substantial pressure on his back, a taser, and a carotid neckhold—on Mr. Booker while he was not resisting. Because Mr. Booker was handcuffed and on his stomach, the court concluded the force was not proportional to the need presented. Second, the autopsy report concluded that Mr. Booker died of cardiorespiratory arrest as a result of restraint. A reasonable jury could conclude this evidence of Mr. Booker’s cause of death supported the Plaintiffs’ claim of excessive force. Next, the subjective intent standard for an excessive force due process violation is force inspired by unwise, excessive zeal amounting to an abuse of official power that shocks the conscience, or by malice rather than mere carelessness. A reasonable jury could conclude that the Defendants’ use of substantial pressure on Mr. Booker’s back, a two-minute carotid hold on his neck, and a taser while Mr. Booker was subdued and struggling to breathe in a prone position demonstrated the requisite level of culpability for a due process violation. The Tenth Circuit held that the Plaintiffs met their burden to show the Defendants violated Mr. Booker’s constitutional rights because a reasonable jury could conclude the Defendants engaged in excessive force in violation of the Due Process Clause.

Second, the legal norms underlying the three-factor due process analysis—proportionality, injury, and motive—were clearly established at the time of Mr. Booker’s death. The court therefore affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ excessive force claim.

(D)   Defendants Were Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity on Plaintiffs’ Claim for Failure to Provide Medical Care

Prison doctors and prison guards may be liable under § 1983 for indifference manifested in their response to the prisoner’s needs or by intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care or intentionally interfering with treatment once prescribed. This standard applies to pretrial detainees. First, the detainee must produce objective evidence that the deprivation at issue was in fact sufficiently serious. A medical need is sufficiently serious if it is one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention. Second, under the subjective component, the detainee must establish deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by presenting evidence of the prison official’s culpable state of mind.

First, Plaintiffs’ experts provided sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the Defendants’ delay in seeking medical care contributed to Mr. Booker’s death, which was without doubt, sufficiently serious to meet the objective component necessary to implicate the Fourteenth Amendment. Second, the disputed facts regarding Mr. Booker’s condition after the use of force ended precluded summary judgment.

There is little doubt that deliberate indifference to an inmate’s serious medical need violates a clearly established constitutional right. The court stated that any reasonable officer in the Defendants’ position (and with their training) would have known that failing to check Mr. Booker’s vital signs, perform CPR, or seek medical care for three minutes when he was limp and unconscious as a result of the Defendants’ use of force could violate the Constitution.

(E)    Sergeant Rodriguez Was Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity on the Plaintiffs’ Supervisory Liability Claim

A plaintiff must satisfy three elements to establish a successful § 1983 claim against a defendant based on his or her supervisory responsibilities: (1) personal involvement; (2) causation; and (3) state of mind.

The court held that a reasonable jury could find Sergeant Rodriguez actively participated in—and failed to intervene and prevent—the use of excessive force to satisfy the first and second elements. Similarly, the court’s earlier conclusion that a reasonable jury could find Sergeant Rodriguez exhibited excessive zeal—by using the taser on Mr. Booker for 60 percent longer than the recommended time period when he was no longer resisting and fully subdued by handcuffs, and the carotid neck hold, satisfied the third element. Finally, the court’s previous conclusion regarding clearly established law, also precluded summary judgment on this claim.

 AFFIRMED.

Tenth Circuit: Disparity in Contribution Limits Among Candidates for Same Office Violated Equal Protection of Contributors

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Riddle v. Hickenlooper on Thursday, January 23, 2014.

In 2010, three individuals ran for the Colorado House of Representatives, House District 61: Kathleen Curry, Roger Wilson, and Luke Korkowski. Curry was a write-in candidate, Wilson was the Democratic nominee, and Korkowski was the Republican nominee. Under Colorado law, individual contributions to Curry were capped at $200, and individual contributions to each of her opponents were capped at $400. Contributors to Curry’s campaign (along with others) sued state officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming violation of the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The district court rejected the claims and granted summary judgment to the state officials.

Amendment 27 of the state constitution limits campaign contributions to state office candidates from single contributors to $200 for the primary and $200 for the general election. In 2004, the legislature removed time limits as to when a candidate could accept and spend contributions when a primary is involved. Because Republican and Democratic candidates must run in a primary to get on the ballot even if unopposed, but minor party, unaffiliated, or write-in candidates are only required to run in a primary when multiple candidates seek the nomination, the Secretary of State interprets the amendment and statute to allow candidates with a primary to accept $400 and those without to accept only $200.

The plaintiffs made an as applied argument to the statute and challenged the disparity rather than the amount of the limit. The Tenth Circuit focused on the contributors, not the candidates, in finding that contributors to all three candidates were similarly situated. It then applied the intermediate level of scrutiny the U.S. Supreme Court applied in the First Amendment context of contribution limits — whether the limits are closely drawn to a sufficiently important governmental interest.

The court found that the defendant’s asserted interest of anticorruption was not advanced by the statute so it was not closely drawn. It held that the statutory classification violates the right to equal protection for individuals wishing to contribute to write-ins, unaffiliated candidates, and minor-party candidates when each candidate runs unopposed for the nomination. The court reversed and remanded for summary judgment to be awarded to the plaintiffs.