JONATHAN APODACA; JOSHUA VIGIL, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
RICK RAEMISCH, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Corrections, in his individual capacity; TRAVIS TRANI, Warden, Colorado State Penitentiary, in his individual capacity, Defendants-Appellants.
from the United States District Court for the District of
Colorado (D.C. No. 1:15-CV-00845-REB-MJW)
W. Alber, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado
(Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, with him on the
briefs), for Defendants-Appellants.
Elisabeth L. Owen, Prisoners' Justice League of Colorado
LLC, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.
TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, BACHARACH, and MORITZ, Circuit
BACHARACH, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
inmates were kept in administrative segregation at a Colorado
prison for roughly eleven months. During that time, the
inmates were allegedly prohibited from exercising outdoors,
although they were brought to a "recreation room"
five times each week. The alleged prohibition on outdoor
exercise led the two inmates to sue the prison warden and the
director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, invoking
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and claiming violation of the Eighth
Amendment. For these claims, the inmates relied largely on a
published opinion in our court, Perkins v. Kansas
Department of Corrections, 165 F.3d 803 (10th Cir.
warden and director moved to dismiss, arguing that (1) the
alleged prohibition on outdoor exercise did not violate the
Eighth Amendment and (2) qualified immunity applies. For
these arguments, the warden and director distinguish
Perkins, relying largely on an unpublished opinion
in our court, Ajaj v. United States, 293 F.App'x
575 (10th Cir. 2008).
district court denied the motion to dismiss, reasoning that
the two inmates had stated a plausible claim for relief.
Because the warden and director enjoy qualified immunity, we
reverse. We conclude that even if the alleged prohibition on
outdoor exercise had violated the Eighth Amendment, the
underlying constitutional right would not have been clearly
right would not have been clearly established because
existing precedent would have left the constitutional
question within the realm of reasonable debate. The
underlying right turns on our opinion in Perkins.
But Perkins can be read either expansively or
narrowly. Under an expansive reading, Perkins would
squarely prohibit the alleged denial of outdoor exercise for
eleven months. But, under a narrow reading, Perkins
would apply only to denials of out-of-cell
exercise-a situation not present here. We need not decide
which reading is correct. Because Perkins is
ambiguous, our opinions do not clearly establish that an
eleven-month deprivation of outdoor exercise would violate
the Eighth Amendment.
addressing the merits, we must ensure our jurisdiction.
Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523
U.S. 83, 94 (1998). The two inmates challenge jurisdiction
based on the absence of certain factual findings in district
court. This challenge fails, for we have jurisdiction under
the collateral-order doctrine.
appeals from district court decisions, we generally obtain
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, which creates
appellate jurisdiction over "final decisions." In
this case, the warden and director are appealing the district
court's denial of a motion to dismiss. This denial is
not a final judgment. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 671-72 (2009) (recognizing that a similar denial
did not constitute a final judgment). But under the
collateral-order doctrine, some rulings are immediately
appealable notwithstanding the absence of a final judgment.
Id.; Cohen v. Beneficial Indus. Loan Corp.,
337 U.S. 541, 546 (1949). These rulings contain decisions
that are collateral to the merits but too important for us to
deny review and too independent of the underlying claim for
us to postpone review. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 671.
the district court denied qualified immunity to the warden
and director, reasoning that the underlying constitutional
right had been clearly established. This ruling generally
falls within the collateral-order doctrine, for qualified
immunity serves to protect the defendant not just from
personal liability but also from the ordeal of litigation.
Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2019 (2014).
collateral-order doctrine is triggered only if the appeal
turns on a "'purely legal issue.'"
Ortiz v. Jordan, 562 U.S. 180, 188 (2011) (quoting
Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 313 (1995)). Thus,
we may not reconsider a district court's assessment of
which facts could be proven at trial. Walton v.
Powell, 821 F.3d 1204, 1209-10 (10th Cir. 2016).
issue here is legal, not factual. Because qualified immunity
arises here on a motion to dismiss, we must credit all of the
plaintiffs' well-pleaded allegations. Schwartz v.
Booker, 702 F.3d 573, 579 (10th Cir. 2012). Thus, our
decision regarding qualified immunity does not hinge on any
factual disputes. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
In the absence of factual disputes, we confront a purely
legal issue: whether the underlying constitutional right was
clearly established. Ortiz, 562 U.S. at 188. Thus,
we have appellate jurisdiction under the collateral-order
Standard of Review, the Standard for Qualified Immunity, and
the Plaintiffs' Pleading Burden
immunity protects public officials who are required to
exercise their discretion, shielding them from personal
liability for civil damages. Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 807 (1982); Schwartz, 702 F.3d at 579.
This type of immunity applies when a public official's
conduct does not violate clearly established rights that a
reasonable person would have known about. Schwartz,
702 F.3d at 579.
review de novo the district court's denial of a motion to
dismiss based on qualified immunity. Id. In
conducting this review, we consider ...