Lincoln County District Court No. 11CV45 Honorable Jeffrey K. Holmes, Judge
Announced March 10, 2016 Keith Clayton Brooks, Jr., Pro Se
Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, James X. Quinn, First Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees
¶ 1 Plaintiff, Keith Clayton Brooks, Jr., an inmate in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), appeals the district court judgment affirming two decisions by prison officials limiting the number of future grievances Brooks could file. On May 3, 2011, and again on September 7, 2011, officials temporarily limited Brooks's grievance filing based on determinations that he had recently filed multiple frivolous grievances.
¶ 2 Addressing an issue of first impression, we first conclude that prison officials engage in "quasi-judicial" action when they decide under their regulations to limit an inmate's ability to file future grievances. Accordingly, those decisions are subject to review under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4).
¶ 3 We further conclude that, concerning the September 7, 2011, restriction, officials did not abuse their discretion or exceed their jurisdiction in limiting the number of grievances Brooks could file. Consequently, we affirm the portion of the district court's judgment affirming the September 7, 2011, restriction decision. However, we vacate the portion of the judgment purporting to uphold the May 3, 2011, restriction decision because we conclude that the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider that decision.
¶ 4 On December 9, 2010, prison officials issued Brooks a warning letter indicating that he had filed nine frivolous grievances in the previous two months and that his grievance filing privileges could be suspended. On May 3, 2011, officials notified Brooks that he had filed eleven more frivolous grievances in the 142 days since the warning letter and that for the next sixty days he would be allowed to file only one grievance per calendar month.
¶ 5 In July 2011, Brooks again began filing multiple grievances. On September 7, 2011, officials issued Brooks another warning letter stating that he had filed eight frivolous grievances in the previous two months and six additional grievances that day. That same day, they notified Brooks that since May 3, 2011, he had filed fourteen frivolous grievances, and that for the next 180 days he would be allowed to file no more than one grievance per month.
¶ 6 Three weeks later, Brooks commenced this action in the district court against defendants ― the DOC's executive director and the warden of the facility in which he was housed. Brooks alleged that defendants had exceeded their jurisdiction in imposing the May 3, 2011, restriction and had abused their discretion in imposing the September 7, 2011, restriction.
¶ 7 Defendants moved to dismiss the action, arguing, in pertinent part, that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the decisions to restrict Brooks's grievance filing were not quasi-judicial and, therefore, not subject to review under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4). The district court ultimately denied defendants' motion. It determined that based on the nature of the decisions and "the structure and process of the DOC's grievance policy, " the decisions were quasi-judicial and subject to C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4) review.
¶ 8 Defendants then submitted an answer to the complaint and filed a certified administrative record with the district court. Following briefing by the parties, the district court upheld both the May 3, 2011, and September 7, 2011, grievance restrictions.
A. Quasi-Judicial Action
¶ 9 In their answer brief, defendants contend that the district court erred in denying their motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. They contend that decisions to limit inmate grievances are not quasi-judicial and, ...