September 21, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: “Legal Disability” Means Inability to Bring Lawsuit Due to Some Policy of Law

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in T.D. v. Wiseman on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

“Legal Disability” for Tolling Statute of Limitations—C.R.S. § 13-80-103.7(3.5)(a).

T.D.’s complaint alleged she had endured 10 years of sexual and physical abuse from defendant, her former stepfather. She alleged that she was 7 years old when the abuse began and that it continued until about 1990, when she was in high school. She alleged that the abuse caused her to become dependent on drugs and alcohol, and she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological disorders, self-mutilation, eating disorders, depression, and a cycle of abusive relationships.

In August 2005, T.D. disclosed defendant’s alleged abuse to the doctors who had been treating her. She attempted suicide in 2012. Thereafter she was able to maintain sobriety. T.D. filed a lawsuit in 2015 asserting assault, battery, sexual assault and battery, extreme and outrageous conduct, and false imprisonment. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that T.D.’s claims had accrued in 2005 when she disclosed the alleged abuse to her doctors. Consequently, her claims were time-barred by the six-year statute of limitations in C.R.S. § 13-80-103.7(1). T.D. argued that the record contained genuine issues of material fact concerning whether she had been a “person under disability” until 2012 because of her addictions and psychiatric disorder, so the statute would have been tolled until her disability was lifted. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding no genuine issues of material fact in the record about when her claims accrued or whether the statute of limitations barred those claims.

The court of appeals determined that the issue of when the claim accrued was not properly before it, and assumed it accrued at the latest in 2005. The court then considered whether there was a factual dispute about whether the applicable statute of limitations was tolled because T.D. was a “person under disability.” Under C.R.S. 13-80-103.75(3.5)(a), a “person under disability” is a person who is (1) a minor under 18 (2) “declared mentally incompetent”; (3) “under other legal disability and who does not have a legal guardian”; or (4) “in a special relationship with the perpetrator of the assault” and “psychologically or emotionally unable to acknowledge the assault or offense and the resulting harm.” T.D. was 43 when the trial court granted the summary judgment motion, so she was not a minor from 2005 to 2011, when the statute of limitations was running. The record did not contain disputed facts about whether she was mentally incompetent during the years during which the statute of limitations ran. The court concluded that “legal disability” denotes an inability to bring a lawsuit based on a “policy of the law.” No facts in the record indicated that T.D. lacked the power to timely bring her suit. Lastly, while a familial relationship can constitute a “special relationship,” T.D. did not demonstrate that she was “psychologically or emotionally unable to acknowledge the assault or offense and the resulting harm.”

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: District Court Did Not Abuse Discretion by Denying Competency Based Stay of Habeas Proceedings

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ryder v. Warrior on Monday, January 11, 2016.

In 1999, James Ryder killed Daisy Hallum and her adult son Sam in a dispute over personal property. Mr. Ryder had been storing supplies at the Hallum residence for his upcoming move to the Yukon Territory, where he was planning to flee and live in the wild in order to avoid an impending apocalypse, but when he went to collect them the Hallums refused to give him his supplies so he murdered them. The State of Oklahoma charged him with two counts of first degree murder. Before trial, psychologist Dean P. Montgomery issued a report to Mr. Ryder’s trial counsel expressing his belief that Mr. Ryder suffered from a longstanding schizoid personality disorder and was incompetent to stand in his own defense. Mr. Ryder’s trial counsel did not inform the court of Dr. Montgomery’s conclusions, however, because based on his own interactions with Mr. Ryder counsel did not have a “good faith doubt” as to Mr. Ryder’s competency to stand trial.

Mr. Ryder was convicted on both counts. Before the penalty phase of the trial, Mr. Ryder’s counsel filed an application for determination of competency supported by Dr. Montgomery’s report. The trial court held a hearing outside the presence of the jury, and denied the request for a separate competency hearing, instead questioning Mr. Ryder. Mr. Ryder assured the court that he understood that he had been convicted of two counts of first degree murder and the state was pursuing the death penalty. He testified that he understood the purpose of mitigation evidence and did not want to present any, and informed the court that he had never been treated for mental illness. During this hearing, the court questioned Mr. Ryder’s counsel about the mitigation witnesses he wished to call. Mr. Ryder became upset and exclaimed that he did not want anyone to testify and did not want a second stage. He left the courtroom. After Mr. Ryder returned, the court ruled he was competent to stand trial and to waive his right to present mitigation evidence. Mr. Ryder’s counsel requested leave to present mitigation evidence anyway, arguing that Mr. Ryder had a Sixth Amendment right to effective representation. The court granted counsel’s request. Mr. Ryder was eventually given a sentence of life without parole for Sam’s death and the death penalty for Daisy’s.

On direct appeal to the OCCA, Mr. Ryder was represented by different counsel. Appellate counsel argued that the trial court erred in failing to make a proper competency determination prior to the sentencing phase and the trial counsel was ineffective for failing to apprise the court of Mr. Ryder’s competency issues before trial. The OCCA remanded to the trial court to determine whether a retrospective competency evaluation was feasible and, if so, to conduct the evaluation. The trial court determined it was feasible and held a retrospective competency evaluation. During voir dire, defense counsel told the jury that Mr. Ryder was on death row, and prospective juror asked the prosecutor about it. The court instructed the jurors that their only task was to determine whether Mr. Ryder was competent. During trial, defense counsel called one witness—Dr. Montgomery. Dr. Montgomery testified that he believed Mr. Ryder suffered from a serious delusional disorder under the schizophrenic group of disorders. The State called three witnesses, who all testified as to their interactions with Mr. Ryder and their perceptions of those interactions. The jury found Mr. Ryder had been competent at the time of his first trial. Mr. Ryder appealed to the OCCA, which affirmed. He then filed a motion for postconviction relief with the OCCA, which was denied, and petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari, which was also denied.

Mr. Ryder then filed a habeas petition in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. He raised eleven grounds for relief and asked that the petition be held in abeyance based on his incompetency. The district court ordered an evidentiary hearing and referred the matter to a magistrate judge for a determination of competency. After a court-ordered competency evaluation and its follow up, the state and defense counsel entered into a stipulation that each of their experts would testify that Mr. Ryder was not competent. The magistrate judge entered an order that Mr. Ryder was not competent, and the district court thereafter ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Mr. Ryder was competent when the statute of limitations ran on his habeas proceedings. After a hearing, the court concluded that Mr. Ryder had failed to show he was incompetent when the statute of limitations ran. The district court subsequently entered an order denying habeas relief. The Tenth Circuit later granted a COA on three grounds, which are the subject of this appeal.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed the district court’s denial of a competency-based stay to the habeas proceedings. The Tenth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court recently determined that there is no right to competency during habeas proceedings, but district courts retain discretion to issue stays where proper. The Tenth Circuit noted that the merits of Mr. Ryder’s claims were adjudicated in the OCCA, and therefore were subject to the limits imposed in § 2254. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a competency based stay.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the merits of Mr. Ryder’s habeas claims, noting that its review was constricted by AEDPA. In reviewing his ineffective assistance of counsel claim during the retrospective competency evaluation, the Tenth Circuit found that Mr. Ryder could not prove deficient performance, because his counsel’s strategic decisions were reasonable and well within the broad spectrum of competent representation. The Tenth Circuit thoroughly evaluated each of Mr. Ryder’s claims and denied relief as to each one. The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected Mr. Ryder’s ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims, thoroughly examining each one and denying relief.

The Tenth Circuit remarked that the tragic reality in this case is that Mr. Ryder’s untreated mental illness likely influenced his decision to withhold mitigating evidence from the jury, and the condition responsible for Mr. Ryder’s unwillingness to present mitigating evidence may have been the very evidence that could have persuaded the jury to have leniency. However, the Tenth Circuit could only presume that Mr. Ryder’s mental condition had not yet deteriorated to the point of incompetency by the time he made the decision to withhold mitigating evidence from the jury.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Specific Treatment Plan Required Before Court can Order Involuntary Medication of Incompetent Defendant

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Chavez on Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

Reydecel Chavez was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm, and reentry of a removed alien. Chavez was found incompetent to stand trial and he refused antipsychotic medication that would render him competent. The district court ordered Chavez to be involuntarily medicated.

Under United States v. Sell, “the government may involuntarily administer drugs to a mentally ill, non-dangerous defendant in order to render him competent to stand trial only upon a four-part showing. The government must establish that: (1) “important governmental interests are at stake;” (2) the “involuntary medication will significantly further” those interests; (3) the “involuntary medication is necessary to further those interests,” e.g., less intrusive alternative treatments are unlikely to be effective; and (4) the administration of the medication is “medically appropriate” and in the defendant’s best medical interests.”

Chavez argued that the lack of an individualized treatment plan could not satisfy the requirements of Sell. The Tenth Circuit agreed and held that “an order to involuntarily medicate a non-dangerous defendant solely in order to render him competent to stand trial must specify which medications might be administered and their maximum dosages.” Without this information, a court could not be sure any side effects would be unlikely to significantly interfere with the defendant’s ability to assist in his trial defense, or that the medication is medically appropriate. The court held that a list of possible medications and their maximum dosages was adequate because medical staff require flexibility to provide effective treatment.

The court vacated the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings.