Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Steven Williams alleged that his former employer, FedEx Corporate Services, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against him based on his actual and perceived disabilities, and by requiring his enrollment in the company’s substance abuse and drug testing program. Williams further alleges that Aetna Life Insurance Company, the administrator of FedEx’s short-term disability plan, breached its fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) when it reported to FedEx that Williams filed a disability claim for substance abuse. Both FedEx and Aetna filed motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed and remanded. An employer is liable for an improper medical examination or inquiry, “unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” FedEx argued that it satisfied the business necessity exception because its employee testing program “ensure[] that employees who seek assistance for drug abuse or dependencies are no longer abusing the drug if they return to FedEx.” The Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not address this argument. As a result, the Court did not have an adequate record from which it could decide this issue on appeal. The Court reversed for the district court to decide that issue, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Williams v. FedEx Corporate" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant David Thomas appealed his conviction by jury of four counts of robbery. On appeal, he challenged: (1) the sufficiency of the evidence on Count 1; (2) an in-court identification; and (3) the denial of his motion to sever the Count 1 robbery charge from the other robbery counts. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed defendant’s conviction. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes jointly inhabited the Wind River Reservation. The State of Wyoming and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation challenged a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency granting the Tribes’ application for joint authority to administer certain non-regulatory programs under the Clean Air Act on the Reservation. As part of their application, the Tribes were required to show they possessed jurisdiction over the relevant land. The Tribes described the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation and asserted that most of the land within the original 1868 boundaries fell within their jurisdiction. Wyoming and others submitted comments to the EPA arguing the Reservation had been diminished in 1905 by act of Congress, and that some land described in the application was no longer within tribal jurisdiction. After review, the EPA determined the Reservation had not been diminished in 1905 and the Tribes retained jurisdiction over the land at issue. Because the EPA decided the Tribes otherwise satisfied Clean Air Act program requirements, it granted their application. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether Congress diminished the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in 1905. the Court found that it did. The Court therefore granted Wyoming's petition for review, vacated the EPA's order and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "State of Wyoming v. Environ. Protect. Ag'y" on Justia Law

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Defendants in these consolidated appeals pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute “crack” cocaine. Because Defendants each had a prior felony drug conviction, they faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment. This mandatory minimum sentence was greater than the high end of Defendants’ respective advisory guideline ranges, so 20 years became Defendants’ “guideline sentence.” Due to their substantial assistance to the Government in its investigation or prosecution of others, however, the district court granted Defendants a downward departure pursuant to a statutory exception to their statutorily-mandated minimum sentence. The district court reduced C.D.’s sentence from 240 months to 180 months, E.F.’s sentence from 240 months to 170 months, and G.H.’s sentence from 240 months to 151 months. Defendants claimed 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2) provided an additional statutory exception to their original 20-year mandatory minimum sentence, and so unsuccessfully moved the district court to further reduce their sentences. After Defendants’ sentencings, the Sentencing Commission lowered by two offense levels the guideline sentencing ranges under which Defendants would have been sentenced but for 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A)’s mandatory minimum sentence. Under Tenth Circuit precedent, in particular "United States v. White," (765 F.3d 1240 (10th Cir. 2014)), Defendants were not “sentenced based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission.” Rather, the district court sentenced Defendants “based on” a mandatory minimum established by Congress of 20-years’ imprisonment, reduced by a departure as authorized by Congress “so as to reflect [their] substantial assistance.” As such, the Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s decisions denying Defendants’ respective motions and, consistent with controlling precedent, remanded with instructions to dismiss the motions for want of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Bruce Wright of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and of eleven counts of bank fraud arising from his participation in a scheme to submit false draw requests and invoices to obtain bank loans. The district court sentenced Wright to thirty-three months’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay over $1 million in restitution. Wright raised several issues on appeal, concerning jury instructions, withheld impeachment evidence, and bank loss and restitution amounts. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Wright" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant James Russian was charged with four drug- and gun-related offenses. Before trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search of two cell phones seized at the time of his arrest, arguing the search warrant was invalid for lack of particularity. The district court denied the motion, concluding even if the warrant was invalid, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied. At trial, text messages and photographs from the phones were introduced against defendant. After the jury convicted him on all counts, the court imposed a total sentence of 137 months’ imprisonment. Defendant challenged the admission of the evidence obtained from the cell phone searches, as well as the sentences imposed on several of the counts. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the convictions: the officers conducting the search acted in objectively reasonable reliance on the warrant, and even if that were not the case, any Fourth Amendment error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. As for defendant’s sentences, the Court remanded for resentencing, finding the district court erred in relying on an improperly calculated guidelines range for the sentences on the contested counts. View "United States v. Russian" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review centered on whether a taxpayer may challenge a tax penalty in a Collection Due Process hearing (“CDP hearing”) after already having challenged the penalty in the Appeals Office of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). Keller Tank Services II, Inc. participated in an employee benefit plan and took deductions for its contributions to the plan. The IRS notified Keller of: (1) a tax penalty for failure to report its participation in the plan as a “listed transaction” on its 2007 tax return; and (2) an income tax deficiency and related penalties for improper deductions of payments to the plan. Keller protested the tax penalty at the IRS Appeals Office. It then attempted to do so in a CDP hearing but was rebuffed because it already had challenged the penalty at the Appeals Office. Keller appealed the CDP decision to the Tax Court, which granted summary judgment to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue (“Commissioner”). Finding no reversible error in the Tax Court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Keller Tank Services v. Commissioner, Internal Rev. Svc." on Justia Law

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Defendants were charged in a two-count superseding indictment with child sex trafficking and conspiracy to engage in child sex trafficking. The superseding indictment asserted only one basis by which the government would seek to prove mens rea as to the child victim’s age: that Defendants had a reasonable opportunity to observe the child before engaging in a commercial sex transaction. Defendants moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing it failed to allege the mens rea element of child sex trafficking. The district court agreed and dismissed the indictment. The government appealed, arguing it could meet its burden with regard to Defendants’ awareness of the child victim’s age by showing only that Defendants had “a reasonable opportunity to observe” the victim. The Tenth Circuit agreed and reversed the district court. View "United States v. Duong" on Justia Law

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Howard Collins was serving a term of supervised release as part of his sentence for knowingly and intentionally distributing more than five grams of a mixture or substance containing cocaine base (i.e., crack cocaine). His supervised release was revoked after he failed several drug tests. He was reincarcerated and received a new term of supervised release. His supervised release was revoked a second time after he again failed multiple drug tests and failed to participate in a required substance-abuse program. Following his second revocation, the district court sentenced Collins to twelve months’ imprisonment, having determined that the maximum term of imprisonment that it could impose under 18 U.S.C. 3583(e)(3) was one year. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of section 3583(e)(3), reversed the court’s sentencing order and remanded the case for resentencing. View "United States v. Collins" on Justia Law

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In 2009, as part of a federal law-enforcement investigation, FBI and Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) agents arrested twenty-three people and searched twelve properties in and near three Utah cities. The operation targeted persons possessing and trafficking in Native American artifacts illegally taken from the Four Corners region of the United States. One day after agents searched Dr. James D. Redd’s home, arrested him as part of this operation, and released him on bond, Dr. Redd committed suicide. Dr. Redd’s Estate (“the Estate”) sued sixteen named FBI and BLM agents and twenty-one unnamed agents under “Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics,” (403 U.S. 388 (1971)), claiming that the agents had violated Dr. Redd’s Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss all of the Estate’s claims except one: a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim against the lead BLM agent, Daniel Love. Later, on qualified-immunity grounds, the district court granted Agent Love summary judgment on that final claim. The Estate appealed the district court’s dismissal of the excessive-force claim. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Estate of James Redd v. Love" on Justia Law