Johnson v. Spencer, No. 17-8089 (10th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
In 2013, a Wyoming court declared Andrew Johnson actually innocent of crimes for which he was then incarcerated. In 2017, after his release, Johnson brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the City of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the Estate of Detective George Stanford (“the Estate”), and Officer Alan Spencer, alleging they were responsible for violations of his constitutional rights that contributed to his conviction. While incarcerated, however, Johnson had unsuccessfully brought similar suits against Cheyenne and Detective Stanford in 1991 (“1991 Action”) and against Officer Spencer in 1992 (“1992 Action”). The central question before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was what effect the judgments against Johnson in his 1991 and 1992 Actions had on his 2017 Action. Answering this question required the Court to resolve two primary issues: (1) in addition to filing the 2017 Action, Johnson moved the district court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) for relief from the judgments in the 1991 and 1992 Actions, which Johnson contended the district court erred in denying; and (2) Cheyenne, the Estate and Officer Spencer each successfully moved to dismiss the 2017 Action because its claims were precluded by judgments in the 1991 and 1992 Actions, and Johnson likewise contended the court’s decision was made in error. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred by denying Rule 60(b)(6) relief, and so those orders were vacated for reconsideration under the correct legal rubric. Because of the Court’s remand of Johnson’s Rule 60(b)(6) motions did not actually grant such relief (Rule 60(b)(6) relief is discretionary), the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s dismissal of the 2017 Action. Specifically, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of claims against Cheyenne and the Estate because the judgment in the 1991 action was entitled to claim--reclusive effect. The Court reversed, however, dismissal of the claims against Officer Spencer because the judgment in 1992 was not on the merits, and thus, was not entitled to claim--reclusive effect.