August 24, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Inmate’s Challenge to DOC Policies Not Barred by 30-Day Claims Limit

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Garcia v. Harms on Thursday, November 6, 2014.

Timely Filing—Code of Penal Discipline Claim.

Garcia was charged with assault under the Code of Penal Discipline (COPD) after a corrections officer accidentally pricked herself on a sewing needle he kept in his cell. Garcia was not present at the time, but he was charged and found culpable and disciplined. He was also required to pay restitution.

Garcia challenged his conviction, claiming: (1) his disciplinary hearing did not comply with constitutional due process requirements; (2) the COPD definition of “assault” was unconstitutionally vague on its face as applied to him; (3) the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) exceeded its authority when it ordered him to pay restitution; (4) CRS §17-1-111, which exempts CDOC from certain provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, violates constitutional separation of powers principles; and (5) the collection of restitution unjustly enriched CDOC. The district court dismissed Garcia’s complaint—filed nearly two years after his COPD conviction became final—as time-barred under CRCP 106.5.

Garcia challenged the dismissal, except as to claims one and five. He arguedthat claims two through four challenged “CDOC’s establishment of policies and general application of those policies” and not his disciplinary conviction and therefore were not barred under CRCP 106.5. The Court of Appeals agreed as to Garcia’s fourth claim and portions of his second and third claims.

Portions of Garcia’s second and third claims challenged only quasi-judicial action. However, the part of claim two asserting that the COPD definition of assault under which Garcia was convicted was unconstitutionally vague on its face, as well as the portion of claim three asserting the CDOC has adopted a monetary restitution policy that violates the Separation of Powers Clause, are not related to quasi-judicial actions. Also, claim four asserted that CRS §17-1-111 facially violates separation of powers principles. The Court held that these claims were covered by CRS §13-80-102(1)(h) as “actions against any public or governmental entity . . . ” insofar as defendants Governor Hickenlooper and the State of Colorado are concerned, and were subject to the one-year statute of limitations under the exceptions listed in CRS §13-80-103 insofar as CDOC officials and employees were concerned.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order dismissing Garcia’s as applied constitutional challenges in claims two and three and the remaining clams against the executive director of the CDOC, the warden of the Sterling Correctional Facility, the hearing officer who presided over his disciplinary hearing, and two unnamed correctional officers. It reversed the order dismissing Garcia’s fourth claim against Governor Hickenlooper and the State of Colorado. It also reversed the dismissal of Garcia’s facial constitutional challenge against those defendants in claim two and his facial constitutional challenge to CDOC policies in claim three. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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

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