Court Opinion: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Aug. 18

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Anthony v. Colorado Department of Corrections, et al.

Dion Anthony appealed a district court’s dismissal of his 42 U.S. Code 1983 action. Exercising jurisdiction, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

Anthony, an inmate in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections at the Colorado State Penitentiary, sued the CDOC, CSP and Raeanne Will, a CSP disciplinary officer. 

His amended complaint alleged Will violated his 14th Amendment due process rights at his penal disciplinary hearing for the destruction of property by denying him his “cell inspection sheet,” which allegedly would show the property “damage was preexisting.” He was convicted at the hearing and ordered to pay a $15.84 restitution deduction from his inmate bank account. He also claimed CSP violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by interfering with his legal mail and losing a box of his legal documents, which allegedly hampered his defense in a pending California criminal appeal. Anthony also alleged CDOC and CSP violated state and federal law for various reasons, including not promptly notifying him of pending criminal and disciplinary actions against him. He also argued Colorado Revised Statute 16-18.5-106, a CDOC restitution statute, is unconstitutionally vague.

He sought an injunction prohibiting CDOC and CSP from deducting restitution for disciplinary convictions from his inmate bank account and he asked for monetary damages from Will.

The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The district court referred the motion to a magistrate judge, who recommended the district court grant it and dismiss the case.

First, the magistrate judge determined the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over Anthony’s claims and against CDOC and CSP. He said those are effectively claims against the state of Colorado and the 11th Amendment grants immunity to the states so Anthony’s “claims against CDOC (and thereby CSP) are barred as a matter of law.”

Second, the magistrate judge concluded Anthony failed to state a 14th Amendment due process claim. He said, even assuming Will afforded Anthony deficient process and he had a property interest in the $15.84 sanction, Anthony alleged he had an adequate post-deprivation remedy — namely, “Step Three of the CDOC administrative remedy process for inmate grievances.” And even though Anthony’s step-three appeal was unsuccessful, the opinion noted, he was afforded due process. The magistrate judge also determined because Anthony didn’t allege personal participation by Will in any of his other claims, she was entitled to qualified immunity, the opinion added. 

Third, the magistrate judge found Anthony’s void-for-vagueness challenge was inapplicable because 16-18.5-106 “does not regulate any parties or entities such that they would need to know what is required of them.” 

Anthony objected to the magistrate’s recommendations.

First, he objected to the dismissal of his second and third claims, arguing qualified immunity protects government officials only if their conduct isn’t in violation of clearly established statutory or constitutional rights. The court rejected the objection, pointing out these claims were alleged only against the CDOC and CSP and agreeing they were essentially against the state and barred. 4.

Second, on his 14th Amendment claims against Will, Anthony argued he had a protectable property interest in the funds he received from outside sources. The court disagreed, and wrote “[d]eprivation of [a] property interest does not violate the 14th Amendment if a post-deprivation remedy is available” and concluded that due process was available to Anthony even though “he did not prevail in his grievance.” 

Third, on his vagueness claim, Anthony argued 16-18.5-106 is unconstitutionally vague and implicates his rights because it allows CDOC to take funds from inmate accounts. In overruling the objection, the court held the void-for-vagueness doctrine was inapplicable because 16-18.5-106 didn’t regulate Anthony’s conduct. Alternatively, the court determined even if the doctrine applied, Anthony didn’t allege sufficient facts to state a claim.

The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendation, granted the motion and dismissed the case. Anthony appealed.

The 10th Circuit reviews de novo dismissals for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the opinion noted, citing the decision Smith v. United States. Under this standard, the 10th Circuit accepted as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and viewed them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. 

On appeal, Anthony presented three arguments.

First, he contended the district court erred by dismissing his second and third claims against CDOC and CSP because “subject matter jurisdiction was not lacking as [he] asked a federal question of a state statute § 16-18.5-106(2).” This argument failed, the opinion noted, because the district court didn’t rule it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over Anthony’s constitutional challenge to that statute.

Second, he argued the district court incorrectly determined Will was entitled to qualified immunity because “qualified immunity is not a defense to liability pursuant to this section § 13-21-131.” This argument failed, the opinion added, because 13-21-131 is a state civil-rights statute, and Anthony brought a federal civil-rights claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Will.

Third, he challenged the district court’s dismissal for failure to state a claim regarding his voidness challenge to 16-18.5-106.2 Having considered Anthony’s arguments, the 10th Circuit discerned no reversible error in the district court’s decision and affirmed for substantially the same reasons stated by the district court.

The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment dismissing Anthony’s amended complaint and denied his motion for leave to proceed without prepayment of costs and fees.

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