Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinions for Aug. 22

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

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

Pittman v. Kramer, et al.

Emanuel Pittman, a Colorado inmate, sued prison mailroom employees under 42 U.S. Code 1983. Pittman claimed the employees mishandled his medical records, preventing him from obtaining a social security card. The employees’ conduct, Pittman alleged, violated his rights under the First and 14th Amendments. The district court dismissed the case without prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) based on its conclusion Pittman’s complaint didn’t comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

Confined in a Colorado prison, Pittman was trying to obtain a social security card. His complaint alleged two employees in the prison mailroom prevented him from obtaining the card by mishandling medical records and “taking them out of their original form.” The complaint alleged the employees should have treated the documents “as legal mail” by opening them in front of Pittman and giving them back to him as he had “sent them out.” The employees’ conduct, the complaint asserted, violated Pittman’s First Amendment rights and his 14th Amendment right to equal protection. The complaint didn’t make clear, however, exactly what the mailroom employees allegedly did to any documents or how their actions prevented Pittman from obtaining a social security card, the opinion noted.

A magistrate judge reviewed Pittman’s complaint and ordered him to amend it. The order summarized First Amendment principles related to inmate mail and directed Pittman to include “sufficient factual allegations” in his amended complaint to show he was entitled to relief under those principles. The order informed Pittman his amended complaint should “allege in a clear, concise, and organized manner what each defendant did to him, when the defendant did it, how the defendant’s action harmed him, what specific legal right he believes the defendant violated, and what specific relief he requests.” The order warned Pittman the case would be dismissed “without further notice” if he didn’t file an amended complaint. 

According to the opinion, Pittman never filed an amended complaint. The magistrate judge recommended the district court dismiss the case without prejudice under Rule 41(b) because Pittman’s complaint didn’t satisfy Rule 8, a provision requiring a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”. Adopting the recommendation over Pittman’s objection, the district court dismissed the case without prejudice. Pittman appealed.

The 10th Circuit reviewed the district court’s dismissal for an abuse of discretion, the opinion noted, citing a previous 10th Circuit decision Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents.

The 10th Circuit saw no abuse of discretion. The main problem with Pittman’s complaint was it didn’t clearly allege what each defendant did or how that action harmed him, the opinion noted, and because the complaint left out this vital information, it failed to show Pittman was entitled to relief. 

According to the 10th Circuit, the district court correctly concluded Pittman’s complaint didn’t satisfy Rule 8 and that court didn’t abuse its discretion when it dismissed this case without prejudice. Because the dismissal was without prejudice, Pittman remained free to pursue his claims by filing a new complaint that complied with Rule 8.

The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment and granted Pittman’s motion to proceed on appeal without prepaying costs or fees.

StreetMediaGroup, et al. v. Stockinger, et al.

StreetMedia and Turnpike Media are companies that are in the sign business, owners of billboards and other advertising signs. They contended Colorado’s regulatory scheme violates the First Amendment because it treats billboards, so-called “advertising devices,” differently depending on whether the message was paid for or not. The district court disagreed and dismissed the case.

Applying recent Supreme Court precedent, the 10th Circuit affirmed. Colorado’s signage act is a constitutionally permissible policy choice — it furthers Colorado’s objectives of promoting roadside safety and aesthetics, the opinion noted. 

The Highway Beautification Act is a federal statute encouraging states to control outdoor advertising, primarily billboards under 23 U.S. Code 131. 

Following the requirements of the Highway Beautification Act, in 1971 Colorado enacted statutes and implemented rules regarding outdoor advertising. The Colorado Outdoor Advertising Act comprehensively regulates outdoor signage on public and private property. Its purpose is “to control the existing and future use of advertising devices in areas adjacent to the state highway system in order to protect and promote the health, safety, and welfare of the traveling public and the people of Colorado and such purposes are declared to be of statewide concern,” according to Colorado Revised Statute 43-1-402(1)(a). 

StreetMedia and Turnpike are businesses that purchase, lease, license and seek easements to install roadside signs and billboards to which the act applies. The act requires permits for all “advertising devices” that have “the capacity of being visible from the travel way of any state highway.” 

In turn, advertising devices include “any outdoor sign [or] billboard … used to advertise or inform, for which compensation is directly or indirectly paid or earned in exchange for [the sign’s] erection or existence,” according to CRS 43-1-403(1). The act defines “compensation” as “the exchange of anything of value, including money, securities, real property interests, personal property interests, goods or services, promise of future development, exchange of favor, or forbearance of debt,” according to CRS 43-1-403(1.3). If a company like StreetMedia constructs or maintains a sign or billboard for paid advertising, it is operating an advertising device for which a permit is required, according to the 10th Circuit.

Under the act and implementing regulations, advertising devices must meet certain location, size, lighting and spacing restrictions. Advertising devices may not be erected within “bonus areas,” which are “any portion of the area within six hundred sixty feet of the nearest edge of the right-of-way of any portion of the federal interstate system of highways which is constructed upon any part of right-of-way,” according to CRS 43-1-406(1), (2)(b). The rules also establish reasons why a permit must or may be rejected, under 2 Colo. Code Reg. 601-3(2.3), (2.11).

StreetMedia challenged the act as facially unconstitutional contending it enacts a content-based regulatory scheme without adequate justification. It further contended that the act is unconstitutionally vague and susceptible to arbitrary enforcement by the government.

Finally, it said the distinction violates the Equal Protection Clause by singling out its business for heavy regulation. The district court dismissed StreetMedia’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and entered final judgment. 

StreetMedia appealed.

StreetMedia made three arguments on appeal: the act regulates messages based on their content; the act is unconstitutionally vague; and the act unconstitutionally treated StreetMedia differently than advertisers who aren’t paid for their services.

The 10th Circuit reviewed a district court’s grant of a motion to dismiss de novo, citing the decision.

StreetMedia contended the act is facially unconstitutional and unconstitutional as applied to some of its signs. A facial challenge is “a challenge to the terms of the statute” according to the 10th Circuit decision Doe v. City of Albuquerque and analyzing a facial challenge, the 10th Circuit looks to the “relevant constitutional test.” 

As the 10th Circuit explained, StreetMedia’s First Amendment challenges were foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent.

After evaluation, the 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment to dismiss the case without prejudice.

Carraway v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company

After his property was damaged by hail and wind, Robert Carraway filed an insurance claim with his provider, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company. State Farm inspected the property and extended coverage, but Carraway believed the estimate severely undervalued the loss he had suffered. Eventually, appointed appraisers valued the loss at a far-higher number, but State Farm declined to cover a depreciation amount based on Carraway’s failure to complete repairs during the two-year timeframe required by his insurance policy.

Carraway sued in federal district court in Colorado, alleging breach of contract as well as common-law and statutory bad faith claims. State Farm moved to dismiss, contending Carraway failed to include the basic factual allegations necessary to plausibly allege his three claims. The district court agreed and granted the motion, dismissing Carraway’s case with prejudice and denying leave to amend. Carraway appealed on multiple grounds.

The 10th Circuit reviewed de novo, and concluded the district court properly dismissed Carraway’s case, but because the record was unclear as to why the district court dismissed Carraway’s case, the opinion noted, with prejudice, the 10th Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal and remanded for further proceedings.

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