Churchill v. University of Colorado at Boulder, 2012CO54 (September 10, 2012)

Suing for civil rights violations is complicated. Concluding a years-long controversy regarding the termination of Ward Churchill, the Supreme Court held that the CU Regents were absolutely immune from suit for claims arising from his termination. Churchill was given 5 internal hearings, presented evidence, examined witnesses, and made arguments under a clear standard of review. The Court held that the Regents are immune from suit for their quasi-judicial decisions. Plus, CRCP 106 review can also prevent constitutional violations. The acrimony between CU and Churchill meant that reinstatement plus wages was not equitable or justified. Finally, even if the investigation was bad faith retaliation for free speech, there is no clear law on that point, so, the Regents could not know if they actually violated his Constitutional rights, and thus also had qualified immunity.

http://www.courts.state.co.us/userfiles/file/Court_Probation/Supreme_Court/Opinions/2011/11SC25.pdf

http://www.cobar.org/opinions/opinion.cfm?opinionid=8655&courtid=2

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1 Comment

Filed under Constitutional, Government

One response to “Churchill v. University of Colorado at Boulder, 2012CO54 (September 10, 2012)

  1. A significant point in this case relates to a stipulation that was signed before trial. According to the Court, the stipulation was meant to clear up the confusion that is created when governmental entities and the individuals who represent them in both their official and individual capacities are all sued. Each group (CU, the Regents in their official capacity, and the Regents in their individual capacity) has different immunity defenses. From the Court’s opinion, it appears that, although Churchill seemed to have gotten a waiver of the state’s sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment to the US Constitution, in exchange for dropping the Regents from the suit, he allowed the state to preserve all defenses the Regents had available to them when sued in their official capacity. One such defense is 11th Amendment immunity. So, CU did not give up any immunity defenses, including absolute immunity, as part of the stipulation, had the claims against the Regents dropped, and left the remaining immunity question for after the trial. After the trial, and after the jury’s verdict finding CU had violated Churchill’s First Amendment rights, the trial court then granted CU immunity. That immunity was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court in this opinion.

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