August 19, 2019

Archives for March 11, 2016

Colorado Judicial Institute Seeks Nominations for 2016 Judicial Excellence Awards

CJIOn Tuesday, March 8, 2016, the Colorado Judicial Institute announced that it is seeking nominations for its 2016 Judicial Excellence Awards. The awards acknowledge the efforts of Colorado’s outstanding jurists in three categories: district court judge, county court judge, and magistrate. Nominations may be submitted by justices, judges, magistrates, attorneys, clerks, court staff, and others closely involved with Colorado’s judicial system. The nomination form is available online at the Colorado Judicial Institute website.

The Colorado Judicial Institute set forth criteria for evaluating nominees in each category. The district court judge nominees should have five years’ experience on the district court bench; be creative and innovative in dealing with courtroom processes; exemplify high standards of judicial excellence through a distinguished career; display extraordinary courage, tenacity, and energy in dealing with high-profile, controversial, or difficult cases; objectively, expeditiously, and efficiently manage cases and dockets; and be recognized by members of the bar, courtroom staff, and others as respectful and even-handed but in firm control of the courtroom. County court judge nominees should have five years of experience as a judicial officer in the state court system and currently work full- or part-time; efficiently, expeditiously, and objectively manage cases and dockets; be recognized by members of the bar, courtroom staff, and others as respectful and even-handed but in firm control of the courtroom; and be respected by and have the confidence of other judges, attorneys, court staff, and others. Nominees for the magistrate award should have three years of full- or part-time experience on the bench; explain the law in terms understood by everyone who appears in the courtroom; possess a demeanor and attitude of court accessibility to all; display a high level of open communication; efficiently, objectively, and expeditiously manage cases and dockets; and be respected by and have the confidence of judges, lawyers, court staff, and others.

For more information about the Judicial Excellence Awards and to fill out the nomination form, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Qualified Immunity Appropriate Where Officers Arrested Entire Group Based on Conduct of Unidentifiable Members

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Callahan v. Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas on Monday, November 16, 2015.

In 2010, the Kansas City Police Department (KCKPD) received three allegations of theft when its specialized SCORE unit was involved in executing search warrants. As a result, the KCKPD and the FBI set up a sting operation, “Operation Sticky Fingers,” to determine the integrity of the SCORE unit. Operation Sticky Fingers involved the execution of a fictitious search warrant at a residence monitored via live video and audio. Bait items had been placed in a bedroom and the basement. During the execution of the search warrant, KCKPD Detective Jon Kelley observed several instances of actual theft but could not tell which officer was involved because of the protective gear worn by SCORE officers. Detective Kelley relayed his observations of the theft to Captain Lawson at another location, who then contacted Captain Nicholson at the residence. Because of the delay in relaying the information from Detective Kelley to Captain Nicholson, it was possible for the officers to have moved around the house before being identified.

After the sting, the SCORE officers returned to the parking garage at KCKPD headquarters and KCKPD commanders arrested all of the SCORE officers as they exited the van. It was later discovered that only Officers Forrest, Bell, and Sillings were involved in the theft. The other three officers, Officers Callahan, Pitman, and Hammons, brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City and various individual defendants, asserting violations of their Fourth Amendment rights for arrests without probable cause. The plaintiffs also moved for partial summary judgment on the issue. The district court denied summary judgment, finding that the record supported a finding that probable cause existed to arrest the entire SCORE unit. The individual defendants then moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which the district court denied without making specific findings on the issue. Defendants moved for reconsideration in one of the cases, requesting a more thorough explanation of the disputed material facts on which the district court relied, and simultaneously filed a notice of appeal. The district court denied the motion for reconsideration and later denied summary judgment in the other two cases. The Tenth Circuit consolidated the three plaintiff officers’ motions for purposes of appeal.

The Tenth Circuit evaluated whether qualified immunity was appropriate based on a clearly established right. The Tenth Circuit first questioned whether the law was clearly established such that defendants would know their actions were illegal, and determined that it was not. The Tenth Circuit noted that plaintiffs and the district court broadly asserted that making an arrest without probable cause was illegal without pointing to the specific inquiry of whether the law was clearly established that an officer cannot arrest an entire group when he knows that some unidentifiable members have committed a crime. The Tenth Circuit determined that Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366 (2003), provided the appropriate precedent under which to evaluate the officers’ actions in the instant case. The Tenth Circuit found that Pringle‘s application to this case was debatable, and concluded that qualified immunity applied. The Tenth Circuit remarked that qualified immunity exists to prevent officers from being held liable for making an incorrect legal determination on the spot without guidance from the courts.

The Tenth Circuit declined to exercise pendant jurisdiction to address the Unified Government’s appeal, because it was not entitled to qualified immunity and the denial of summary judgment to the government was not immediately appealable.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to the individual defendants and dismissed the Unified Government’s appeal.

Tenth Circuit: ALJ Properly Considered Evidence as a Whole and Gave Good Reasons for Findings

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its previously issued opinion in Vigil v. Colvin on Monday, November 16, 2015.

Kenneth Vigil filed for Social Security disability benefits due to a “bad left knee and ankle, anxiety, depression, and pain in his left heel and back.” He requested and received a hearing before an ALJ, at which he was represented by counsel. Vigil and a vocational expert testified at the hearing. The ALJ denied Vigil’s claim for benefits, finding that although he demonstrated moderate impairment and was unable to return to his previous employment, he could perform unskilled work that existed in substantial numbers in the national economy. The ALJ denied Vigil’s claim for benefits based on the fifth part of the five-part analysis for determining disability. The Appeals Council denied review, and the district court affirmed.

The Tenth Circuit reviewed the ALJ’s decision to determine whether the factual findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Vigil first argued that the ALJ did not have a valid reason for rejecting the restrictions imposed by his consultative physician, Dr. Summerlin. The Tenth Circuit reviewed the record and found that the ALJ gave Dr. Summerlin’s opinion moderate weight. In his order, the ALJ found that Dr. Summerlin’s restrictions were inconsistent with his exam results and he did not explain the discrepancy. The Tenth Circuit determined that the ALJ’s findings were supported by substantial evidence and affirmed, noting that the ALJ considered all of the evidence as well as the record as a whole and gave good reasons for the weight he afforded Dr. Summerlin’s report. The Tenth Circuit found no error.

Vigil next argued that the ALJ failed to adequately account for his memory and concentration deficits in calculating his residual functional capacity (RFC). The Tenth Circuit again found no error. The ALJ found at step three of the analysis that Vigil demonstrated moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, and pace in social functioning. The ALJ accounted for those limitations by reducing Vigil’s RFC to one or two, meaning unskilled work. The Tenth Circuit noted that the evidence in the record supported the ALJ’s determination.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Second or Successive § 2255 Motion Requires Showing of New Evidence or New Rule of Constitutional Law

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Wetzel-Sanders on Monday, November 16, 2015.

Laura Wetzel-Sanders pleaded guilty to bank robbery and was sentenced to 151 months’ imprisonment because she was deemed a career offender based on two prior convictions. She did not file a direct appeal but filed two motions for relief under § 2255. The first motion claimed a deteriorating mental condition and was dismissed as untimely and outside the scope of the court’s jurisdiction. She then filed a second § 2255 motion based on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court deemed the motion successive and filed without authorization, and dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. Wetzel-Sanders then petitioned the Tenth Circuit to file a second or successive § 2255 motion, which the circuit denied. She filed another petition to the Tenth Circuit, which was also denied.

She then filed the present petition, joined by the government, arguing that she was sentenced based on materially incorrect information, namely that one of her prior convictions should not count toward the career offender designation because her sentence was for less than a year. The parties based their argument on the Tenth Circuit decision in United States v. Brooks, 751 F.3d 1204 (10th Cir. 2014). The district court was not convinced that Brooks applied and denied the motion but granted a certificate of appealability.

The Tenth Circuit found it a stretch to say that the instant motion was not a second or successive motion, because the same relief was sought in Wetzel-Sanders’ previous § 2255 motions. Although in the joint motion the government “waived any procedural hurdles” to § 2255 relief, the Tenth Circuit found that jurisdiction is not waivable. In order to file a second or successive § 2255 motion, Wetzel-Sanders needed to show the existence of newly discovered evidence or a new rule of constitutional law, neither of which was present. The Tenth Circuit noted that the district court should have either dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction or transferred it to the Tenth Circuit, but should not have decided the motion. The Tenth Circuit therefore vacated the district court’s decision for lack of jurisdiction.

The Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeal and vacated the district court’s order.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 3/10/2016

On Thursday, March 10, 2016, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

Gilkey v. Marcantel

Robinson v. Estrada

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.