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Friday, April 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Nixes Claim Over Flood-Pollution Warning

(CN) - The 10th Circuit affirmed dismissal of a Kansas woman's claim that Coffeyville police arrested and harassed her for trying to warn people about toxic contamination after a 2007 flood of the Verdigris River.

Melissa Phillips appealed her pro se action, which a federal judge dismissed on the ground that she didn't notify the state before suing several police officers and the Coffeyville Police Department.

Phillips claimed that she had been wrongfully silenced, arrested and harassed for trying to warn about the post-flood contamination.

During the flood, at least 40,000 gallons of crude oil from a refinery were deposited downriver, including in Coffeyville, Phillips claimed.

The Denver-based 10th Circuit agreed that Phillips' action could be liberally construed to include federal constitutional claims. But because Phillips did not argue the federal claims on appeal, they were properly dismissed, the appellate panel ruled.

Phillips' claim of sexual battery against a police officer for an allegedly "overly intrusive" bathroom search, "although it may have crossed the lines of reasonableness and propriety," still constitutes an act within the police officer's line of work and was also properly dismissed, the court ruled.

The Kansas Constitution reasonably placed limits, including the notification requirement, on the rights of people to sue, the court noted.

The opinion cites language in the lower court's decision indicating that Phillips may provide notice and refile her claim.

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