Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.
Marcus Murphy, a Colorado state prisoner, sought a certificate of appealability to challenge the district court’s denial of his 28 U.S. Code 2241 application for a writ of habeas corpus. Murphy also sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Exercising jurisdiction, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a certificate of appealability, denied Murphy’s request to proceed in forma pauperis and dismissed this matter.
Murphy was a pretrial detainee at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In February, Murphy initiated proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado by filing a pro se application for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2241 and a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. 1915. Murphy challenged his confinement following his arrest for criminal trespass and asked the district court to “perfect his removal” of his state criminal case, grant an eviction hearing and order his immediate release.
On April 6, the assigned magistrate judge recommended the dismissal of Murphy’s action for lack of jurisdiction under the decision Younger v. Harris’ abstention doctrine. Murphy objected to the recommendation. But, upon de novo review, the district court agreed with the magistrate judge’s recommendation and issued an order of dismissal on May 18. And, relying on 28 U.S.C. 1915(a)(3), the district court certified the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals shouldn’t take this appeal in forma pauperis because it lacked good faith. Murphy appealed.
According to the opinion, a certificate of appealability is necessary to appeal the district court’s denial of a 2241 application. The district court’s denial based on Younger abstention constitutes dismissal on procedural grounds because the court didn’t reach the merits of the applicant’s constitutional claims, the opinion noted, citing the decisions Slack v. McDaniel, Haff v. Firman and Strickland v. Wilson.
When a district court denies a 2241 application on procedural grounds, the 10h Circuit may issue a certificate of appealability only when the applicant shows “jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim of the denial of a constitutional right” and “jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the district court was correct in its procedural ruling,” wrote the court, citing Slack and Haff.
Federal courts are generally prohibited from interfering with ongoing state criminal prosecutions as established by Younger, the court noted. Younger abstention applies when “the state proceedings are ongoing; the state proceedings implicate important state interests; and the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to present the federal constitutional challenges,” the opinion added, citing the 10th Circuit decision Phelps v. Hamilton.
Murphy acknowledged state court proceedings are ongoing in El Paso County. The Supreme Court “has recognized that the State’s interest in administering their criminal justice systems free from federal interference is one of the most powerful of the considerations that should influence a court considering equitable types of relief,” the opinion noted, citing the decision Kelly v. Robinson and Younger.
According to the 10th Circuit, the first two prongs of Younger abstention were met. Murphy couldn’t overcome the third prong — the state court proceedings afford him an adequate opportunity to present his federal constitutional challenges. Before the district court, Murphy made only a conclusory allegation with respect to this prong and Murphy made no effort to explain why the state proceedings were inadequate for his claims, according to the opinion.
The 10th Circuit was unpersuaded that the state court proceedings didn’t offer a chance for Murphy to present his constitutional challenges. Nor did Murphy provide any factual allegations demonstrating he meets any exception to Younger abstention, the opinion added.
In sum, Murphy didn’t show that “jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the district court was correct in its procedural ruling” Younger abstention applies, the court wrote citing Slack..
Murphy also moved to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. 1915(a)(1). The district court certified “pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal . . . is not taken in good faith” is not eligible to forma pauperis, the opinion added. The 10th Circuit agreed with the district court’s certification under the statute and, therefore, denied Murphy’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis.
Because no reasonable jurist could debate the district court’s dismissal, the opinion noted, the 10th Circuit denied Murphy’s application for a certificate of appealability and dismissed his appeal. It also denied Murphy’s request to proceed in forma pauperis. The 10th Circuit further denied Murphy’s motion captioned “Notice of Appeal,” as, at the time it was filed, it had issued no ruling in this case from which Murphy could request review.
Colorado Union of Taxpayers spent money to advocate on issues appearing on Colorado ballots. Colorado Union’s advocacy allegedly violated state requirements for disclosure and registration. However, Colorado Union challenged these requirements, invoking the First Amendment in a pre-enforcement action.
Responding to these challenges, the defendants, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and the Colorado Department of State Director of Elections Judd Choate moved for summary judgment on standing and the merits. For standing, Colorado Union argued it fears an enforcement action. The credibility of that fear involves a fact issue that prevented summary judgment.
The defendants argued the case became moot when the period of limitations expired for Colorado Union’s advocacy in 2019 and 2020. The 10th Circuit disagreed.
A case becomes moot when circumstances change, preventing meaningful relief, the opinion noted, citing the 10th Circuit decision S. Utah Wilderness All. v. Smith. This case isn’t moot, the opinion added, because Colorado Union wanted to continue advocating on ballot issues and declaratory relief for past advocacy triggers an exception to mootness.
Because the district court found that standing didn’t exist, the district court didn’t address the merits of Colorado Union’s challenge based on the First Amendment. The 10th Circuit remanded for the district court to consider the merits of the First Amendment challenge, the opinion added, citing the decision Pac. Frontier v. Pleasant Grove City.
The 10th Circuit reversed the dismissal for lack of standing and remanded the district court to consider the merits of the parties’ motions for summary judgment.