Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinions for the Week of April 11

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

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

Estate of Susanne Burgaz, et al. v. Board of County Commissioners, et al.        

Susanne Burgaz was arrested and booked into the Jefferson County Detention Facility on August 30, 2017. At her booking, a deputy decided — based on a variety of factors, including a previous suicide attempt at the same jail — to place Burgaz in the Special Housing Unit, an area of the jail where detainees with special medical needs are placed. Deputies use the jail’s information management system, named Tiburon, to view information about inmates, including health information, criminal history, and prior incarcerations.

The Tiburon system noted Burgaz had significant medical needs including the use of a walker, a history of self-harm, drug addiction, and a previous suicide attempt at the same jail. The complaint, however, does not allege that Burgaz was placed on suicide watch at booking.

The day after Burgaz was booked, she attended a hearing about her charges and a judge ordered her released. After the hearing, Burgaz was transported back to the jail and placed in the SHU dayroom while she awaited her release. The dayroom is a small room, filled with only a book cart, a table, chairs and a mounted television. The dayroom’s only door has a frosted glass pane, and the inside of the dayroom is only visible from the adjacent hallway through a tiny, transparent slit on the frosted glass.

At about 9:02 p.m., Burgaz, who was alone in the dayroom, used her walker to walk to the window and get the attention of a deputy. About a minute later, Deputy Petrina Pesapane walked to the window and spoke to Burgaz. She asked for an update about her release, at which point Pesapane went to the control room and learned Burgaz had two outstanding warrants in a different jurisdiction. Because of the warrants, Pesapane informed Burgaz she would not be released that night. Pesapane then helped Burgaz gather some documents she had left in her cell and escorted her back to the dayroom.

At about 9:09 p.m., Pesapane left Burgaz alone again in the dayroom. At 9:17 p.m., Burgaz began to peer through the door’s viewing pane and banged on the door, attempting to get a deputy’s attention. About a minute later, she walked back to the table where she had been sitting. At about 9:22 p.m., Burgaz shuffled over to the wall-mounted television and began to fashion a noose from the wires and cords.

Around that time, at 9:25 p.m., Deputy Joseph Scalise conducted a walk-through of this portion of the jail. During the walk-through, Scalise walked down the hallway and past the dayroom where Burgaz was attempting to hang herself. Scalise did not look directly into the dayroom. Instead, he walked briskly on the far side of the hallway. At 9:28 p.m., he finished his walk-through.

From 9:22 p.m. to 9:29 p.m., Burgaz twice attempted to hang herself, but the noose did not hold. On her third attempt, she hanged herself. Deputies found her at about 10:00 p.m. Despite medical attention, she died two days later. 

Burgaz’s children and estate sued two individual Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies on duty the night she died, and various other county officials. 

They argued the deputies were deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs and the county and sheriff negligently operated the jail.

The county and sheriff moved to dismiss the complaint and the district court granted the motion. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that both individual deputies are entitled to qualified immunity because the estate failed to allege either deputy violated Burgaz’s constitutional rights. The claim against the sheriff was also properly dismissed. And because all the claims arising under federal law were properly dismissed, the 10th Circuit found the district court correctly dismissed the remaining state-law claims.

The 10th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all the claims. 

Glapion-Pressley v. City and County of Denver, et al.        

Meleaha Glapion-Pressley worked for the City and County of Denver, Department of Human Services from April 2016 until December 2018, when she was fired.

In 2019, she filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC notified the city of the complaint but indicated no response was required at that time because “[a] perfected charge (EEOC Form 5) [would] be mailed to [the City] once it [had] been received from the Charging Party.” The EEOC interviewed Glapion-Pressley and required that she review and sign a formal charge by July 31, 2019. She apparently never signed it, however, because on August 23, the EEOC notified her it had not received the charge and therefore no further action would be taken in her case. The EEOC deemed this its final action and provided Glapion-Pressley with a right-to-sue letter. She then initiated this suit.

The district court determined the third-amended complaint, which was the operative complaint, alleged three claims under Title VII, and a fourth claim under state law. The city moved to dismiss, arguing that the Title VII claims were unexhausted because Glapion-Pressley failed to file a verified EEOC charge. Glapion-Pressley responded that her EEOC complaint was verified because she referred to Section 28 of the U.S. Constitution in her declaration. Adopting a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation, the district court dismissed the Title VII claims for failure to satisfy the verification requirement. Glapion-Pressley moved to vacate the dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), but the district court denied her motion. This appeal followed.

Glapion-Pressley appealed pro se from the district court’s dismissal of her employment discrimination suit and denial of post-judgment relief. But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed and ruled the district court acted within its discretion to dismiss the claims. 

United States v. Maxton 

Theron Maxton is a 67-year-old who, at the time of his motion for compassionate release, was incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary in Victorville, California. In 2015, Maxton was sentenced by the district court in the District of Colorado to 100 months’ imprisonment plus three years of supervised release for four counts related to threatening federal prison officials and their family members. This sentence was imposed consecutively to two federal sentences Maxton had received in the District of South Carolina, the first of which Maxton had been serving when he made the threats at issue in his 2015 conviction.

In 2020, while Maxton was still serving his prior sentence imposed by the District of South Carolina, he filed a pro se motion for compassionate release. He was later appointed counsel, who filed a supplement to his pro se motion. In his motion and supplement, Maxton asserted that his sentence should be reduced because of his serious medical issues — including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, “asthma, severe headaches, chronic sinusitis, recurrent eye infections, hypertension, chronic constipation, poor dentition, degenerative cervical spine changes, and . . . a sizeable cyst on his kidney.”

Maxton further asserted that the prison’s failure to properly treat his health conditions constituted an extraordinary and compelling reason for relief under U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual and that the sentence Maxton had already served was sufficient to satisfy the purpose of sentencing in light of his age and decreased likelihood of recidivism. The district court, however, denied Maxton’s request.

The court noted that the government didn’t dispute Maxton’s medical conditions nor his risk of severe illness from COVID-19, but instead contended Maxton couldn’t show extraordinary and compelling circumstances falling within the categories provided in the guidelines. Agreeing with the government, the court found Maxton failed to demonstrate that his medical condition “substantially diminishes [his] ability . . . to provide self-care within the environment of a correctional facility.” 

Additionally, the court found unpersuasive “Maxton’s arguments that the Bureau of Prisons is frustrating his attempts at self-care by withholding medical treatment or by failing to adequately control the spread of COVID-19.” It noted that Maxton had been receiving medical treatment — despite his refusal of certain treatments — and that there were few active COVID-19 cases at USP Victorville. 

Maxton, proceeding pro se, appealed from the denial of his motion for a sentence reduction as a motion for compassionate release. Maxton also requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this appeal. 

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s order and granted Maxton’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis. 

Henard v. Jefferson Cty Jail, et al.        

Bobby Henardis a pretrial detainee at Jefferson County Jail in Golden, Colorado. Henard filed a pro se prisoner complaint in the District of Colorado. He presented a long list of grievances: illegal eviction during the pandemic, excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, denial of adequate medical care, denial of access to the courts, racial discrimination, theft of property, illegal seizure and denial of Islamic meals in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment. Henard also filed a motion for immediate preliminary injunction seeking accommodations for various medical conditions.

The next day, a magistrate judge ordered Henard to cure certain deficiencies in his pleadings. Specifically, Henard was directed to file his complaint on a court-approved Prisoner Complaint form, and to either pay the $402 filing fee or file a motion to proceed in forma pauperis on the court-approved form. Additionally, Henard was instructed to provide addresses for each defendant in a specific section of the prisoner complaint form. The magistrate judge cautioned that the action would be dismissed without further notice if Henard failed to cure the designated deficiencies within 30 days.

In response, Henard filed a notice identifying defendants and addresses, which provided all known addresses of the defendants. Shortly thereafter, Henard filed his motion to proceed in forma pauperis. However, he failed to cure all of the deficiencies previously identified by the magistrate judge. Consequently, the magistrate judge issued a second order again directing Henard to file his complaint and provide addresses for the defendants using the court-approved prisoner complaint form. Additionally, the magistrate judge advised that the names on the caption of Henard’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis did not match the names on the caption of the prisoner complaint. Finally, the magistrate judge again warned Henard that the action would be dismissed without further notice if the deficiencies were not cured within 30 days.

In response, Henard submitted a revised motion to proceed in forma pauperis and a motion to cure deficiencies for civil claim. The district court concluded these filings didn’t remedy all of the deficiencies that the magistrate judge had identified. It entered an order dismissing the complaint without prejudice, noting that Henard had “been provided two opportunities to cure specified deficiencies in his filings, but . . . failed to cure the specified deficiencies within the time allowed.”

The court also denied Henard leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal, certifying that any appeal would not be taken in good faith. Henard filed a timely notice of appeal and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis.

Henard, proceeding pro se, appealed the district court’s dismissal of his civil action. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment.

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