Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinions for Sept. 26

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

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

Davalos v. Gossett et al.

Pedro Davalos appealed the district court’s dismissal of his lawsuit for failure to follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Although this dismissal was without prejudice, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found they have jurisdiction under 28 U.S. Code 1291 and affirmed.

Davalos originally filed this action in Colorado state court in June 2022. At the time, he was an inmate at Colorado’s Limon Correctional Facility. Davalos alleged certain prison employees and administrators violated his federal and Colorado constitutional rights in two ways. First, they gave him photocopies of his mail, instead of the originals, apparently as part of a policy to prevent inmates from receiving narcotics by means of paper coated or infused with such substances, the opinion noted. Second, when prison officials disciplined him for allegedly having narcotic-infused paper, they denied his request to have the paper tested by an outside lab at his own expense.

The court can’t find anything in the record confirming when defendant Dean Williams was served with the process, the opinion added. The other four defendants were served July 8, 2022. They were all removed to Colorado federal district court Aug. 3, 2022, based on Davalos’s allegations they violated his federal constitutional rights.

Exercising its screening authority under 28 U.S.C. 1915A and 42 U.S.C. 1997e(c), the district court — via a magistrate judge — ordered Davalos to file an amended complaint clarifying his claims, such as identifying which defendants allegedly violated which rights. Davalos filed an amended complaint, but instead of clarifying his claims, he argued he was entitled to default judgment because the defendants defaulted before they were removed to federal court. Specifically, the Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 12(a)(1) requires a defendant to answer or respond within 21 days of service. In the defendants’ case, this deadline fell on July 29, 2022.

According to the opinion, no defendant answered by that date, but, as noted above, all defendants were removed to federal court Aug. 3, 2022. Thus, in Davalos’s view, he already had a right to judgment in his favor.

The magistrate judge screened this complaint and held the legal argument about default was meritless. The magistrate judge gave Davalos one more opportunity to file an amended complaint more clearly explaining his claims.

Davalos took the opportunity and filed a second amended complaint. He re-alleged the two claims from his original complaint and added a third claim challenging the constitutionality of the removal process to the extent it deprived him of the default judgment he believed he had obtained in state court.

The magistrate judge screened the second amended complaint and issued a recommendation. Regarding the first two claims, the magistrate judge recommended finding they still lacked important details needed to sort out which defendants allegedly violated which rights. As to the third claim, the magistrate judge recommended dismissal because removal was timely and proper. The magistrate judge ultimately recommended “the action be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 8.” 

Davalos objected. His objection focused exclusively on the question of defendants’ default in state court and the recommendation’s assertion that removal had been timely and proper.

Reviewing the recommendation, the district court held Davalos waived any objection he might have had to the dismissal of his first two claims. As to the third claim, the district court reviewed the recommendation de novo and agreed the defendants had been properly removed. The district court also cited decisions from other district courts holding that failing to timely answer in state court doesn’t prevent a party from removing to federal court. The district court therefore adopted the recommendation and ordered “that the second amended Prisoner Complaint and the action are dismissed without prejudice.” The court entered final judgment the same day.

After evaluation, the 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment and granted Davalos’s motion to proceed on appeal without prepayment of costs or fees.

Shannon v. Cherry Creek School District et al.

Leslie Shannon is a Black female who taught at a school in Colorado. Shannon’s teaching contract included a three-year probationary period. In the third year, the school district declined to renew Shannon’s contract. She sued, claiming racial discrimination, the existence of a hostile work environment and retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and after evaluation the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

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