August 23, 2019

Archives for June 9, 2013

Tenth Circuit: Plaintiff Could Not Show Police Department Caused Her Rape or Were Deliberately Indifferent to the Risk That It Would Happen as Required

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Schneider v. City of Grand Junction on Wednesday, June 5, 2013.

On September 27, 2009, Officer Glenn Coyne of the Grand Junction, Colorado, Police Department (“GJPD”) responded to Misti Lee Schneider’s 911 call about an altercation with her teenage son, who was making and detonating bombs and recording the explosions on his cell phone. The next day, Officer Coyne called Ms. Schneider with some questions for his investigation. He signed off-duty at 11:49 p.m. and went to Ms. Schneider’s house. During that visit late that night, Officer Coyne raped Misti Schneider. Officer Coyne was arrested and his employment with GJPD was terminated. He was released on bond and within days he committed suicide.

The attack on Ms. Schneider was the third incident in which Officer Coyne was alleged to have had improper sexual contact with a woman whom he met while working in law enforcement. One complaint was known to GJPD before the attack on Ms. Schneider, but the other was not. A.L. complained that on January 8, 2007, Officer Coyne sexually abused her during a nighttime drug raid at her house. V.W. complained on December 28, 2008, but Officer Coyne said he had consensual sex with V.W., and V.W.’s report was unreliable.

Ms. Schneider sued Officer Coyne’s supervisors and the GJPD under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of her substantive due process right to bodily integrity. She alleged that inadequate hiring and training of Officer Coyne, inadequate investigation of a prior sexual assault complaint against him, and inadequate discipline and supervision of him caused her to be raped.

In district court, the defendants did not contest Ms. Schneider’s allegations about Officer Coyne’s conduct. They moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Officer Coyne did not act under color of state law and that Ms. Schneider could not prove, as § 1983 law requires, that they caused the rape or were deliberately indifferent to the risk that it would happen.

The district court denied summary judgment on the first ground, but granted summary judgment on the second ground, concluding that Ms. Schneider could not prove essential facts to establish § 1983 liability. She appealed that ruling.


a.  Individual Liability

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

  1. Personal Involvement – The district court’s summary judgment conclusions were based on the second and third elements. The Tenth Circuit therefore assumed without deciding that Ms. Schneider presented sufficient evidence of the individual defendants’ personal involvement.
  2. Causation – “A plaintiff [must] establish the ‘requisite causal connection’ by showing ‘the defendant set in motion a series of events that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known would cause others to deprive the plaintiff of her constitutional rights.” Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1195 (10th Cir. 2010).
  3. State of Mind – Ms. Schneider asserted a violation of her right to bodily integrity, which is a substantive-due-process claim. See Abeyta ex rel. Martinez v. Chama Valley Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 19, 77 F.3d 1253, 1255 (10th Cir. 1996). In the district court, the parties agreed that the applicable state of mind for a substantive due process claim is deliberate indifference.

“‘[D]eliberate indifference’ is a stringent standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.” Bd. Of Cnty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 410 (1997). Deliberate indifference can be satisfied by evidence showing that the defendant “knowingly created a substantial risk of constitutional injury.” Dodds, 614 F.3d at 1206. “

b.  Municipal Liability

In order to establish municipal liability, Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691-92, 694 (1978), held that a plaintiff must identify “a government’s policy or custom” that caused the injury. In later cases, the Supreme Court required a plaintiff to show that the policy was enacted or maintained with deliberate indifference to an almost inevitable constitutional injury. See City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 389 (1989).


a.  Hiring

i.  Individual Defendants

Ms. Schneider asserted that Officer Coyne would not have been hired had there been an adequate background investigation into the previous complaints against him.

In Brown, the Supreme Court discussed the standards for evaluating whether a policymaker’s hiring decision reflects deliberate indifference:

A plaintiff must demonstrate that a municipal decision reflects deliberate indifference to the risk that a violation of a particular constitutional or statutory right will follow the decision. Only where adequate scrutiny of an applicant’s background would lead a reasonable policymaker to conclude that the plainly obvious consequence of the decision to hire the applicant would be the deprivation of a third party’s federally protected right can the official’s failure to adequately scrutinize the applicant’s background constitute “deliberate indifference.”

Here, the Tenth Circuit concluded the record did not support a finding that the background investigation of Officer Coyne was inadequate.

ii.   The City

The Supreme Court has emphasized:

Cases involving constitutional injuries allegedly traceable to an ill-considered hiring decision pose the greatest risk that a municipality will be held liable for an injury that it did not cause. In the broadest sense, every injury is traceable to a hiring decision. Where a court fails to adhere to rigorous requirements of culpability and causation, municipal liability collapses into respondeat superior liability.

Brown, 520 U.S. at 415. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that no reasonable jury could find that the City acted with deliberate indifference in its decision to hire Officer Coyne.

b.  Training Claim Against the City

“[T]here are limited circumstances in which an allegation of a ‘failure to train’ can be the basis for [municipal] liability under § 1983.” City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 387. “[T]he inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact.” Id. at 388.

Ms. Schneider failed to show that “the need for more or different training [was] so obvious” that a violation of her constitutional right to bodily integrity was likely to result from not providing it.

c.  Investigation of V.W. Complaint

The Tenth Circuit again agreed with the district court that a rational jury could not find that the individual defendants acted with deliberate indifference in their investigation of a prior complaints against Officer Coyne.

d.  Discipline

i.  Individual Defendants

The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the decision to discipline and not terminate Officer Coyne based on the previous complaint did not reflect deliberate indifference. Chief Gardner took the V.W. complaint seriously. He disciplined Officer Coyne with a pay cut and probation, and the resulting notice of discipline told Officer Coyne that his conduct was unacceptable.

ii.  The City

The discipline claim against the City is based on the Chief’s disciplinary decision. Rarely if ever is “the failure of a police department to discipline in a specific instance . . . an adequate basis for municipal liability under Monell.” Butler v. City of Norman, 992 F.2d 1053, 1056 (10th Cir. 1993).

e.  Supervision

Ms. Schneider objected to GJPD’s policy that Internal Affairs Investigations be kept confidential, and an unwritten custom at GJPD of not holding a Staff Review in matters involving sexual misconduct. Consistent with this practice, a Staff Review was not convened following the investigation of the V.W. complaint. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment in favor of the defendants for lack of sufficient evidence of causation

i.  Individual Defendants

To prevail, Ms. Schneider had show that the policy and custom set into motion a series of events that the individual defendants knew or should have known would result in Officer Coyne committing an intentional, criminal assault. The Tenth Circuit could not say that lack of knowledge of the specific details of the V.W. complaint set in motion a series of events that caused the constitutional violation. To establish this, Ms. Schneider would need to show that if the relevant details had been known, specific actions would have been taken that would have prevented Officer Coyne’s attack. The Court held she had not provided such evidence.

ii.   The City

As with the individual defendants, to proceed against the City, Ms. Schneider must present sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to causation. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 692. For the same reasons discussed above, Ms. Schneider failed to satisfy her burden.


Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant’s Prior Felony Convictions were “Grave and Serious” and Merited Habitual Offender Sentence Enhancer

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Foster on Thursday, June 6, 2013.

Sex Offender Registration—Evidence—Prior Act—Character—Sentence Enhancer—Habitual Criminal Sentence—Undue Delay—Due Process.

Defendant appealed the judgment entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of one count for failure to register as a sex offender. He also appealed the proportionality of the twelve-year sentence imposed under the habitual criminal statute. The judgment and sentence were affirmed.

Defendant contended that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of his previous failure to register as a sex offender. Defendant’s knowledge of the registration requirements relates to whether he knowingly failed to register as a sex offender. Because this evidence was relevant and was not unfairly prejudicial, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting this evidence.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred in deciding that the prior offense sentence enhancer had been proven, rather than submitting a special interrogatory on this issue to the jury. However, defense counsel chose to have the court, not the jury, decide the enhancer. Because of defense counsel’s affirmative conduct, invited error precludes review of the trial court’s decision not to submit the prior conviction aggravator to the jury.

Defendant contended that record evidence was insufficient to support the conclusion that he “established a residence” and was present at his new address. Although defendant introduced evidence to the contrary, the record contains sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict, including the fact that defendant told the Department of Corrections more than two weeks before his arrest that he had changed his residence and provided his new address, which he referred to as his home.

Defendant also challenged his twelve-year habitual criminal sentence as “grossly disproportionate” under the Eighth Amendment, alleging that none of his prior felonies was grave and serious. Although defendant’s triggering offense was not grave and serious under the circumstances, the felonies underlying the sentence collectively were grave and serious. Therefore, because defendant’s sentence did not raise an inference of gross disproportionality, the sentence was affirmed.

Defendant further contended that “the excessive and undue delay in the Attorney General’s filing of the Answer Brief” constituted a denial of due process. Because defendant did not demonstrated prejudice, he was not entitled to relief.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Sentence of Life Without Possibility of Parole Unconstitutional for Juvenile Offender

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Valles on Thursday, June 6, 2013.

Juvenile—Direct File Statute—Unconstitutional—Speedy Trial—Continuance—Hearsay—Sentence—Parole.

Defendant Alberto Valles appealed the trial court’s judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of one count first-degree extreme indifference murder and four counts of attempted extreme indifference murder. He also appealed the sentence imposed. The judgment was affirmed, the sentence was vacated, and the case was remanded.

Valles was a member of a gang that was feuding with another gang. When Valles was 17 years old, he fired multiple rifle shots at rival gang members in another car. One of the shots hit R.S., fatally wounding him.

On appeal, Valles argued that a previous version of Colorado’s direct file statute, which allowed prosecutors to directly file criminal charges against certain juveniles in district court, is unconstitutional under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). Specifically, Valles contended that a jury was required to make the factual findings required by the direct file statute—that he was a juvenile and that he was alleged to have committed, and was convicted of, a class 1 felon—before the prosecution could file charges in the district court. The direct file statute, however, involves a prosecutor’s pretrial exercise of discretion, not a post-trial finding of fact. Therefore, Apprendiand Blakelydo not apply to the direct file statute.

Valles asserted that the trial court violated his statutory and constitutional rights to a speedy trial by granting the prosecution a continuance six weeks beyond his statutory speedy trial date. The record supports the trial court’s findings that (1) a material witness’s live testimony was unavailable; (2) the prosecution used due diligence to secure it; and (3) it would be available at a later date. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by extending Valles’s statutory speedy trial date and granting the prosecution’s requested continuance. Furthermore, the trial court did not err by denying Valles’s motion to dismiss for violation of his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Valles also asserted that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his rights under the Confrontation Clauses of the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions by admitting hearsay evidence that exculpated the co-conspirator/declarant and inculpated Valles. The statement, however, fell within the hearsay exception allowing the introduction of statements against self-interest and was admissible.

Valles contended that the trial court erred by sentencing him to life without the possibility of parole, because the sentence was unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders. Accordingly, defendant’s sentence as to life imprisonment was affirmed, but it was vacated to the extent it denied him the possibility of parole. The trial court was directed on remand to sentence Valles to life in prison with the possibility of parole after forty years.

Summary and full case available here.