Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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In this appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed a court of appeals' opinion in "Churchill v. Univ. of Colo. at Boulder," whereby the underlying civil action involved claims brought by Professor Ward Churchill pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 after his tenured employment was terminated by the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado. Churchill alleged that the Regents violated his constitutionally protected free speech rights by initiating an investigation into his academic integrity and by terminating his tenured employment in retaliation for his publication of a controversial essay. Churchill sought both compensatory and equitable relief. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Churchill's termination claim on grounds that the Regents' quasi-judicial actions were entitled to absolute immunity. It also affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Churchill's claim for equitable remedies because it concluded that such remedies were not available in a Section 1983 action against quasi-judicial officials. Lastly, based on its determination that allegedly retaliatory employment investigations are not actionable under Section 1983, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's directed verdict in favor of the University on Churchill's bad faith investigation claim. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed, but on different grounds: (1) the Court held that the Regents' decision to terminate Churchill's employment was a quasi-judicial action functionally comparable to a judicial process, and that the Regents were entitled to absolute immunity concerning their decision; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it ruled that Churchill was not entitled to the equitable remedies of reinstatement and front pay; and (3) Churchill’s bad faith investigation claim was barred by qualified immunity because the Regents' investigation into Churchill's academic record does not implicate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right or law. View "Churchill v. University of Colorado at Boulder" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Air Wisconsin Airlines Corporation employed Respondent William Hoeper as a pilot. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued Respondent a firearm under the federal statute that authorizes the TSA to deputize pilots as law enforcement officers to defend the aircraft should the need arise. After discontinuing its use of the type of aircraft Respondent had piloted for many years, Air Wisconsin required Respondent to undertake training and pass a proficiency test for a new aircraft. Respondent failed three proficiency tests, knowing that if he failed a fourth test, he would be fired. During the last test, Respondent became angry with the test administrators because he believed they were deliberately sabotaging his testing. Test administrators reported Respondent's angry outbursts during testing to the TSA that Respondent was "a disgruntled employee (an FFDO [Federal Flight Deck Officer] who may be armed)" and was "concerned about the whereabouts of [Respondents] firearm." Respondent brought suit against Air Wisconsin in Colorado for defamation under Virginia law. Air Wisconsin argued it was immune from defamation suits as this under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), and unsuccessfully moved for summary judgment. The jury found clear and convincing evidence that statements made by the airline test administrator were defamatory. Air Wisconsin appealed and the court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals determined that the question of whether the judge or jury decided immunity under the ATSA was a procedural issue determined by Colorado law, and concluded that the trial court properly allowed the jury to decide the immunity question. Air Wisconsin appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals, adding that the airline was not immune from suit or defamation under the ATSA. Furthermore, the Court held that the record supported the jury's finding of clear and convincing evidence of actual malice. View "Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper" on Justia Law