Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Lucas v. Turn Key Health Clinics, et al.
Michelle Caddell died from cervical cancer while in custody as a pretrial detainee in the Tulsa County Jail. Yolanda Lucas, as special administrator of decedent Caddell’s estate, initiated this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 bringing claims of deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments against Dr. Gary Myers and against Turn Key Health Clinics, LLC (“Turn Key”) and Sheriff Vic Regalado in his official capacity through municipal liability, violations of the Equal Protection clause against Turn Key and Sheriff Regalado, and negligence and wrongful death under Oklahoma state law against Dr. Myers and Turn Key. The three Defendants individually moved to dismiss all claims and the district court granted the motions. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the district court’s determinations that she failed to plausibly allege: (1) deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against Dr. Myers; (2) municipal liability against Turn Key and Sheriff Regalado; and (3) violation of the Equal Protection clause against Turn Key and Sheriff Regalado. She also challenged the finding that Dr. Myers and Turn Key were entitled to immunity for the state law claims under the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (“OGTCA”). The Tenth Circuit found it would need to determine the OGTCA's applicability to private corporations (and their employees) that contract with the state to provide medical services at the summary judgment stage if the factual record is sufficiently developed and the facts are uncontroverted. Accordingly, the Court reversed as premature the district court’s decision that Turn Key and Dr. Myers were immune under the OGTCA. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Lucas v. Turn Key Health Clinics, et al." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Reyna, et al.
Appellant Jabari Johnson, who proceeded pro se at district court but had counsel on appeal, alleged in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint against three prison officers that the officers slammed him on his untreated fractured jaw, stepped on his untreated injured foot, caused him excruciating pain, and inflicted further injury on his jaw and foot to the point that he needed physical therapy and surgery. He also alleged that the incident caused him depression and anxiety. The district court ruled that Johnson failed to allege a sufficient physical injury under § 1997e(e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to claim mental or emotional damages and dismissed his individual-capacity claims against the officers with prejudice. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded Johnson's allegations satisfied § 1997e(e)’s physical-injury requirement. The Court affirmed the dismissal of Johnson's § 1983 complaint against one officer, but reversed dismissal against the two others. The case was thus remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Reyna, et al." on Justia Law
Mahdi v. Salt Lake Police Department, et al.
A police chase ended when the fleeing armed robber crashed into Plaintiff Thaer Mahdi’s tailor shop. Officers fired scores of bullets at the driver, and many hit the shop. The shop was badly damaged, and Mahdi was psychologically traumatized. Mahdi filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD); the Unified Police Department (UPD); and four officers of the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP)—Superintendent Michael Rapich, Sergeant Chris Shelby, and Troopers Jed Miller and Jon Thompson. Plaintiff alleged: (1) the responding officers used excessive force in violation of his right to substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; and (2) that the officers’ unconstitutional use of force resulted from Superintendent Rapich’s failure to train and supervise his subordinates and from the defendant law-enforcement agencies’ policies and customs, including their failure to properly train or supervise their employees. Defendants moved to dismiss Mahdi’s first amended complaint for failure to state any claims. In response, Mahdi moved for leave to file a second amended complaint. The United States District Court for the District of Utah denied the motion as futile and granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss. The court held that Mahdi had not adequately alleged that any officers violated his constitutional right to substantive due process and that in the absence of any such violation the police agencies also could not be liable under § 1983. Mahdi appealed, challenging the dismissal of his claims and denial of his motion for leave to file his second amended complaint. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of plaintiffs claims and denial of his motion. View "Mahdi v. Salt Lake Police Department, et al." on Justia Law
Hennessey v. University of Kansas Hospital Authority
Tamatha Hennessey alleged a radiology technician sexually assaulted her during her visit to the University of Kansas hospital for emergency medical care. Proceeding pro se, Hennessey brought a civil action for negligent supervision against the University of Kansas Hospital Authority (“UKHA”), which oversaw operation of the hospital. UKHA moved to dismiss the action, arguing Hennessey failed to plead facts supporting subject matter/diversity jurisdiction and that it was entitled to sovereign immunity. UKHA premised both arguments on it being an arm of the state of Kansas and therefore entitled to the same immunities as the state. But the Tenth Circuit found UKHA failed to support its motion with any evidence demonstrating it was an arm of the state or any analysis of the factors governing whether a state-created entity is an arm of the state. The district court, relying on the statutory scheme creating UKHA, Kan. Stat. Ann. §§ 76-3301–3323 (the “University of Kansas Hospital Authority Act” or the “Act”), found the Act characterized UKHA as an entity of the state, UKHA was not autonomous from the state, and UKHA was concerned with state-wide rather than local functions. Therefore, the district court concluded UKHA was an arm of the state and, therefore, dismissed Hennessey’s action. Hennessey appeals, arguing: (1) a procedural argument that the burden was on UKHA to demonstrate it was an arm of the state and it failed to meet this burden by not presenting any evidence and not arguing the factors governing the arm-of- the-state analysis; (2) a substantive argument that, regardless of the burden, the University of Kansas Hospital Authority Act supported the conclusion that UKHA was not an arm of the state; and (3) a fallback argument that a remand for limited discovery and presentation of evidence was appropriate. The Tenth Circuit concluded the burden fell on the entity asserting it was an arm of the state, and UKHA did not meet its burden. While Tenth Circuit precedent permitted a district court to raise the issue sua sponge, the Tenth Circuit found the district court erred in concluding UKHA was not autonomous under the language of the Act. The district court’s order granting UKHA’s motion to dismiss was vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Hennessey v. University of Kansas Hospital Authority" on Justia Law
Surat v. Klamser
Plaintiff-Appellee Michaella Surat filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant-Appellant Officer Randall Klamser, alleging he violated her right to be free from excessive force during her arrest for misdemeanor charges of obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. Officer Klamser moved to dismiss, arguing Surat’s claim was barred by her underlying convictions. The district court granted Officer Klamser’s motion, in part, holding that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) did not bar Surat’s claim that Officer Klamser used excessive force to overcome her resistance when he slammed her face-first into the ground. Officer Klamser then moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, but the district court denied his motion. The district court concluded a reasonable jury could have found Officer Klamser used excessive force to overcome Surat’s resistance to arrest. Additionally, the district court determined Officer Klamser’s force violated clearly established law. In this interlocutory appeal of the denial of summary judgment, Officer Klamser claimed the district court erred because his use of force was reasonable and, alternatively, because the law did not clearly establish that his action during the arrest violated the Fourth Amendment. Although the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that Officer Klamser’s use of force violated the Fourth Amendment, it disagreed that clearly established law existing at the time of the incident would have put a reasonable officer on notice that his conduct was unlawful. Accordingly, judgment was reversed. View "Surat v. Klamser" on Justia Law
Vincent v. Nelson
Plaintiff-appellant Wesley Vincent and Defendant-appellee Ava Nelson were involved in a collision while working as coal-haul truck drivers at a mine in Campbell County, Wyoming. Vincent filed a personal-injury case in Wyoming federal district court. Following a two-week trial, a jury concluded that Nelson did not act with willful and wanton misconduct, and thus was not liable for Vincent’s damages. Vincent appealed, arguing the trial court erred in its evidentiary rulings during trial, its denial of his pre-trial motion to compel the introduction of evidence regarding the mine’s financial interest in the litigation, and the denial of his motion for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Vincent v. Nelson" on Justia Law
Energy West v. Bristow
Cecil Bristow suffered from a chronic lung disease, COPD, and attributed it to coal-mine dust from years of working in coal mines. An administrative law judge and the Benefits Review Board agreed with Bristow and awarded him benefits. Bristow's most recent employer, Energy West Mining Company, petitioned the Tenth Circuit for judicial review of the Board's decision, and the Tenth Circuit denied the petition, finding the Board did not err in upholding the administrative law judge's award of benefits. View "Energy West v. Bristow" on Justia Law
Lewis, et al. v. City of Edmond, et al.
Officer Denton Scherman of the Edmond, Oklahoma Police Department shot an unarmed assailant, Isaiah Lewis, four times. Lewis died as a result of his wounds. Plaintiffs, the representatives of Lewis’s estate, brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Defendant Scherman used excessive force against the decedent in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Scherman appealed the district court’s decision denying his motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding its jurisdiction was limited because at this intermediate stage of the litigation, and controlling precedent generally precluded the Court from reviewing a district court’s factual findings if those findings have (as they did here) at least minimal support in the record. In such case, “[t]hose facts explicitly found by the district court, combined with those that it likely assumed, . . . form the universe of facts upon which we base our legal review of whether [a] defendant [is] entitled to qualified immunity.” The Tenth Circuit's review was de novo; Defendant Scherman did not dispute the facts recited by the district court, when viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs, sufficed to show a violation of the decedent’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. What Scherman did dispute was the district court’s holding that the law was clearly established at the time of the incident such “that every reasonable [officer] would have understood” Scherman’s actions, given the facts knowable to him, violated decedent’s constitutional right. The Tenth Circuit concluded Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of showing the law was clearly established such “that every reasonable [officer] would have understood” that the force Scherman used against Lewis was excessive under the facts presented at trial. The judgment of the district court denying Defendant Scherman qualified immunity is reversed and this case is remanded for entry of judgment in his favor. View "Lewis, et al. v. City of Edmond, et al." on Justia Law
Day v. SkyWest Airlines
Kelly Day appealed the district court’s dismissal of the diversity action she filed against SkyWest Airlines for personal injuries she allegedly sustained when a SkyWest flight attendant carelessly struck her with a beverage cart. The district court granted SkyWest’s motion to dismiss the action as preempted under the Airline Deregulation Act (“ADA”), which preempted state laws “related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.” The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with sister circuits that personal-injury claims arising out of an airline employee’s failure to exercise due care were not “related to” a deregulated price, route, or service. Therefore, the Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Day’s action and remanded for further proceedings. View "Day v. SkyWest Airlines" on Justia Law
Mitchell v. Roberts
In 1981, defendant-appellee Richard Roberts was a federal prosecutor preparing for a murder trial. Appellant Terry Mitchell, then a teenager, was a key trial witness for the prosecution. Thirty-five years later, Mitchell sued Roberts alleging he sexually assaulted her through the criminal trial proceedings. Roberts moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice, contending Mitchells’ claims were time barred. Mitchell conceded the claims had expired under the original statute of limitations, but claimed Utah’s Revival Statute made them timely. At Mitchell’s request, the magistrate judge certified questions to the Utah Supreme Court concerning the validity of the Revival Statute. The Utah Supreme Court issued a detailed opinion concluding the Utah legislature was prohibited from retroactively reviving time-barred claims in a manner that deprived defendants like Roberts of a vested statute of limitations defense. Based on the Utah Supreme Court’s conclusion that the Revival Statute was unconstitutional, Roberts again moved to dismiss with prejudice. Mitchell sought voluntary dismissal without prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). According to Mitchell, the Utah Supreme Court had not foreclosed the possibility that the Utah Constitution would be amended to permit legislative revival of time-barred child sexual abuse claims, and on that basis, she proposed a curative condition that would allow her to sue Roberts if such an amendment came to pass. The magistrate judge rejected Mitchell’s argument and dismissed her complaint with prejudice. She appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the magistrate judge’s decision. View "Mitchell v. Roberts" on Justia Law