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Court Won't Reconcile Conspiracy Theory and Subject Matter Jurisdiction

By Robyn Hagan Cain on July 15, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Leroy Fresquez, a Colorado state prisoner, filed a civil rights action against Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Baldwin and six Correctional Healthcare Management (CHM) nurses. His claims stemmed from an alleged delay in receiving medical care after he was assaulted by a fellow inmate.

Did the prison system violate Fresquez's rights? We'll never know; the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals doesn't have subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal because Fresquez didn't file his appeal on time.

In his lawsuit, Fresquez claimed that Baldwin was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that the CHM nurses engaged in professional negligence in violation of Colorado law. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and dismissed the case with prejudice.

Filing a timely notice of appeal is an absolute prerequisite to jurisdiction. Both federal statute and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a) require that an appeal be brought in a civil case within 30 days after the entry of the judgment, order, or decree.

Here, the district court entered judgment on Tuesday, March 8, 2011, so the notice of appeal was due on Thursday, April 7, 2011. Because Fresquez was an inmate confined in an institution, he had to deposit a notice of appeal in the institution's internal mail system on or before April 7, 2011.

The envelope containing Fresquez's notice of appeal was postmarked September 29, 2011, and the clerk of the court filed it on September 30, 2011. Appellees filed a joint motion to dismiss, arguing that Fresquez's untimely notice of appeal left the Tenth Circuit without jurisdiction to consider the appeal's merits.

Fresquez responded that various officials at the Denver Downtown Detention Center were motivated to intercept his legal mail, and claimed that he deposited the notice of appeal in the Center's internal mailbox on March 18, 2011.

The problem, however, is that the Tenth Circuit says that the party claiming appellate jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing our subject-matter jurisdiction. That means Fresquez would have to prove his conspiracy theory, and he was unable to do so.

The appellees offered the sworn affidavit of Denver Sheriff's Deputy Mark Padilla, who is assigned to the mail room at the Denver Downtown Detention Center. According to his affidavit, "it is the policy and practice of the Denver Sheriff's Department to make copies of all envelopes containing the outgoing legal mail of inmates who need postage prior to sending the legal mail out of the facility and to maintain copies of those legal mail records."

The appellees also submitted true and authentic copies of all envelopes containing inmate legal mail from March 14 through March 25, 2011, demonstrating that Fresquez did not deposit any legal mail in the Center's mailbox during the relevant time period.

Could Fresquez be the victim of an elaborate conspiracy theory? Sure. But without proof, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals doesn't have subject matter jurisdiction.

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