Court Opinion: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Nov. 30

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

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

Lucas v. Board of County Commissioners of Larimer County, et al.

Shannon Lucas appealed the district court’s order denying her motion to file a third amended complaint as futile and dismissing her claims. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

In April 2019, Lucas, who was serving an eight-year sentence in community corrections resulting from her conviction in Colorado state court for first-degree burglary, the opinion noted, filed a complaint under state law and various federal statutes, including 42 U.S. Code 1983, alleging claims against numerous individuals and entities for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. After conferring with the defendants’ counsel, Lucas filed an amended complaint that abandoned several claims and defendants, the opinion continued.

On the last day for amending the pleadings under the scheduling order, Lucas filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, which was granted. The result was a complaint that brought claims under U.S. Code 1983 for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, failure to provide medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment and conspiracy to violate the First and Eighth Amendments.

Defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds the First Amendment retaliation claim was barred under Heck v. Humphrey and Edwards v. Balisok, and the complaint failed to state plausible claims under either the Eighth Amendment or for conspiracy. The district court agreed and granted the motion to dismiss. It also granted Lucas permission to file a motion for leave to file a third amended complaint. Lucas filed a motion seeking leave to file a TAC, alleging the same three claims as the second amended complaint. The district court referred the motion to a magistrate judge.

While the motion was under consideration, the case was reassigned to a different district court judge. The magistrate judge issued an order granting Lucas’ motion. The defendants filed a timely objection. The district court considered the order as a report and recommendation, sustained the objection, vacated the magistrate judge’s order and denied Lucas’ motion to file the TAC as futile. In doing so, the district court dismissed the Eighth Amendment and conspiracy claims with prejudice and the First Amendment retaliation claim without prejudice. Lucas appealed. 

Based on the 10th Circuit’s de novo review, it agreed with the district court that Lucas’ First Amendment retaliation claim is barred under Heck and Edwards, but for a different reason. In Heck, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of when a prisoner may assert a U.S. Code 1983 claim relating to her conviction or sentence. The court held that in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a U.S. Code 1983 plaintiff must prove the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination or called into question by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.

In Edwards, the U.S. Supreme Court applied Heck to prison disciplinary proceedings and held that a prisoner may not bring a U.S. Code 1983 claim challenging a disciplinary hearing by seeking damages or declaratory relief when her claim would “necessarily imply the invalidity of the punishment imposed” unless she first demonstrates her disciplinary conviction or sentence was previously invalidated, the opinion explained. 

The 10th Circuit concluded as a matter of law that Lucas remained “in custody” when she was released from the residential facility into a nonresidential program and therefore had a habeas remedy. Further, it affirmed the district court’s order dismissing Lucas’ First Amendment retaliation claim without prejudice, citing the 10th Circuit case Fottler v. United States, holding that “[w]hen a § 1983 claim is dismissed under Heck, the dismissal should be without prejudice.”

For her Eighth Amendment claim, the third amended complaint alleged that various Larimer County Community Corrections personnel were deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs. 

According to the opinion, a deliberate indifference claim has two components, one objective and one subjective, citing the 10th Circuit case Al-Turki v. Robinson. The objective prong requires the prisoner to show her medical condition was serious enough to implicate the Eighth Amendment. This requirement is satisfied if her condition was diagnosed by a medical professional as requiring treatment or was “so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention.”

To satisfy the subjective prong, the prisoner must show the medical professional knew she faced “a substantial risk of serious harm and disregard[ed] that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it,” the opinion continued, citing Farmer v. Brennan. Moreover, to recover damages from each of these defendants under U.S. Code 1983, Lucas had to show each defendant personally participated in the alleged constitutional violation, citing the 10th Circuit case Robertson v. Las Animas County Sheriff’s Department.

After having failed four times to state a plausible Eighth Amendment claim, the opinion noted, the district court dismissed the claim with prejudice.

For a valid U.S. Code 1983 conspiracy claim, a plaintiff “must plead and prove not only a conspiracy but also an actual deprivation of rights; pleading and proof of one without the other will be insufficient,” the opinion noted, citing the 10th Circuit case Dixon v. City of Lawton. Because Lucas failed to plead an actual deprivation of her constitutional rights under either the First or Eighth Amendments, her conspiracy claim also failed.

After evaluation, the 10th Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Previous articleColorado lawmakers approve recommendation for basic jail standards
Next articleWoman Files Federal Lawsuit against Pueblo Police Officer and Police Chief


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here