Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Feb. 15

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

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

Richeson v. Weiser 

Pro se litigant David Richeson sued Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser alleging 14th Amendment Due Process violations. His complaint arose out of proceedings in state courts in 2010 that led to his adjudication as a “protected person” under Colorado law. He claims that status adjustment led to a series of personal and property losses, totaling $4.5 million in damages. 

The district court, relying on the Constitution’s 11th Amendment, dismissed Richeson’s claim without prejudice for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed the 11th Amendment bared Richeson’s suit and affirmed. Under that provision, a state official cannot be sued in their official capacity unless Colorado waives its sovereign immunity, and it has not done so here.

Richeson’s due process claim stemmed from when he was declared in 2010 a “Colorado State Adult Protected Person.” Richeson alleged this designation, which the 10th Circuit noted apparently means he was deemed mentally incapacitated, caused him to lose “all his hard earned personal and professional possessions.” He demanded $4.5 million in damages.

Because an 11th Amendment defense concerns subject-matter jurisdiction, the 10th Circuit said it needed to first address Richeson’s assertion that the district court erred in finding Weiser immune from liability. The appeals court reviewed a district court’s dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction de novo. 

The 10th Circuit noted the 11th Amendment provides: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” In general, a state may not be sued in federal court for damages unless it waives sovereign immunity. A state officer sued in his official capacity is also protected, the court noted.

Because Richeson sued Weiser in his official capacity, Richeson effectively sued the state of Colorado, which triggered the state’s sovereign immunity defense. There is no indication in the record — nor did Richeson claim — that Colorado waived its immunity in this case, according to the 10th Circuit opinion. The appeals court determined Richeson’s suit was barred for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. 

Because it agreed with the district court that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction in this case, the appeals court ruled it couldn’t proceed to the merits of Richeson’s claim and it need not consider any other issues. 

The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court ruling and denied Richeson’s motion to supplement the record on appeal as described. 

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