Ellison v. Ladner, 040419 FED10, 18-3080

Docket Nº:18-3080
Opinion Judge:Gregory A. Phillips Circuit Judge
Party Name:TODD ELLISON, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. CHRISTINE M. T. LADNER, Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before HOLMES, BACHARACH, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:April 04, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

TODD ELLISON, Plaintiff - Appellant,


CHRISTINE M. T. LADNER, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 18-3080

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

April 4, 2019

D.C. No. 5:17-CV-04025-DDC-JPO, (D. Kan.)

Before HOLMES, BACHARACH, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.


Gregory A. Phillips Circuit Judge

Todd Ellison spent nearly five years-1, 705 days-in the Sedgwick County Adult Detention Facility awaiting trial on the state's civil petition to involuntarily commit him under the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act. The state district court eventually concluded that the extraordinary delay violated Ellison's due process rights and ordered him released. The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed. Ellison then filed this suit for damages in federal court alleging that the lengthy detention violated his rights under the United States Constitution. The district court concluded that the only defendant Ellison had sued was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity or, alternatively, to qualified immunity, and dismissed the case. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.


The Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act (KSVPA) authorizes the state of Kansas to commit an individual in a civil proceeding if the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he is a sexually violent predator. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 59-29a07(a) (2005 & 2008 Supp.).2 When the state files a petition for civil commitment under the KSVPA, a state court must determine whether the state has shown probable cause that the individual is a sexually violent predator. Id. § 59-29a05(a). If the court finds probable cause, it must order the individual detained. Id. The accused individual is entitled to a jury trial, and the trial must be held within 60 days after the probable cause hearing. Id. § 59-29a06(a), (c). But "[t]he trial may be continued upon the request of either party and a showing of good cause, or by the court on its own motion in the due administration of justice, and when the [individual] will not be substantially prejudiced." Id. § 59-29a06(a).

Ellison served a term of imprisonment in the custody of the Kansas Department of Corrections for committing a sex crime. Before his release, and based on certification by the Kansas DOC that Ellison met the statutory criteria, the state filed a petition against him under the KSVPA. On June 25, 2009, a state court judge found probable cause that Ellison was a sexually violent predator and ordered him detained in the county jail pending further proceedings.

Ellison's trial was set for September 21, 2009. A combination of multiple continuances, changes in Ellison's counsel, and reassignment to three different state-court judges resulted in a lengthy delay. On June 21, 2012, Ellison filed several motions advocating for his immediate release, including a motion arguing that the KSVPA violated due process. On June 7, 2014, the state-court judge concluded that the delay had violated Ellison's due process rights, dismissed the case, and ordered him released. The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed, and in doing so decided for the first time in Kansas that the Sixth Amendment speedy-trial factors applying in criminal prosecutions supplied the appropriate framework for assessing delay in a civil-commitment proceeding. In re Ellison, 385 P.3d 15, 22-25 (Kan. 2016). Ellison spent 1, 705 days, more than 56 months, in state custody without a trial on the state's KSVPA petition.

Ellison filed suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Christine Ladner, the Assistant Attorney General for the State of Kansas assigned to civil-commitment actions under the KSVPA during the time Ellison was in custody. He alleged that she had violated his constitutional rights by detaining him for 56 months without trial and by not taking any action to advance his case.

Ladner moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) and (6).3 She argued that the complaint failed to state a claim and that she was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity and qualified immunity. The district court concluded that Ladner was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity or, in the alternative, qualified immunity. The court did not decide whether the allegations in the complaint stated a claim for a constitutional violation. Ellison appeals both immunity determinations.


We review the district court's immunity determinations de novo. Snell v. Tunnell, 920 F.2d 673, 675 (10th Cir. 1990). Because we are reviewing an order granting a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), we accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and construe them in favor of Ellison. Thomas v. Kaven, 765 F.3d 1183, 1190 (10th Cir. 2014).

Absolute Immunity

"State attorneys and agency officials who perform functions analogous to those of a prosecutor in initiating and pursuing civil and administrative enforcement...

To continue reading