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

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The Tenth Circuit found that Terry Margheim failed to show an essential element of his malicious prosecution claim against deputy district attorney Emela Buljko to establish a constitutional violation. For that reason, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to grant qualified immunity to Buljko. Margheim sued Buljko under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for malicious prosecution in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. This case arose from Margheim’s involvement in three state criminal matters - two domestic violence cases and a later drug case. His malicious prosecution claim was based on his prosecution in the drug case, but the three cases were tied together. When Buljko raised the qualified immunity defense in district court, Margheim had the burden to show a violation of clearly established federal law. (CA-D) Save Our Heritage Organization (McConnell) View "Margheim v. Buljko" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose out of the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The injunction followed the release, without a state permit, of two Mexican gray wolf pups on federal land located in New Mexico by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”). The district court’s order enjoined the Department of the Interior, FWS, and certain individuals in their official capacities from importing or releasing: (1) any Mexican gray wolves into the State without first obtaining the requisite state permits; and (2) any Mexican gray wolf offspring into the State in violation of prior state permits. Interior, FWS, Ryan Zinke, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Interior, Jim Kurth, in his capacity as Acting Director of FWS, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, in his capacity as Southwest Regional Director for FWS, and intervening defendants Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, separately filed timely appeals contending the district court abused its discretion in granting the Department a preliminary injunction. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the Department failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that it was likely to suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction. As a result, the district court abused its discretion in granting the Department’s request for injunctive relief. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed and vacated the district court’s order enjoining Federal Appellants from importing and releasing: (1) any Mexican gray wolves into the State without first obtaining the requisite state permits; and (2) any Mexican gray wolf offspring into the State in violation of prior state permits. The case was remanded back to the district court for further proceedings. View "NM Dept. of Game & Fish v. Dept. of Interior" on Justia Law

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The State of New Mexico sued the Department of the Interior (“DOI”) to challenge its authority to promulgate the regulations found at 25 C.F.R. 291 et seq. (“Part 291”). The challenged regulations concerned the process under which Indian tribes and states negotiate compacts to allow gaming on Indian lands. Congress established in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”). The Supreme Court would later decide, however, Congress lacked the authority to make states subject to suit by Indian tribes in federal court. However, the Court left intact the bulk of IGRA, and Congress has not amended it in the intervening years. As relevant here, the Part 291 process was implicated after the Pueblo of Pojoaque tribe sued New Mexico under IGRA and the State asserted sovereign immunity. Following the dismissal of the case on sovereign-immunity grounds, the Pojoaque asked the Secretary to prescribe gaming procedures pursuant to Part 291. Before the Secretary did so, New Mexico filed the underlying suit, seeking a declaration that the Part 291 regulations were not a valid exercise of the Secretary’s authority. The Pojoaque intervened. The district court granted New Mexico’s motion for summary judgment and denied that of DOI, holding that the Part 291 regulations were invalid and barred the Secretary from taking any further action on the Pojoaque’s request for the issuance of gaming procedures under them. DOI and the Pojoaque appealed that order, challenging the State’s standing, the ripeness of the dispute, and the district court’s holding that Part 291 was an invalid exercise of the Secretary’s authority. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "New Mexico v. Dept. of the Interior" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants, a certified class of Osage tribal members who owned headrights, appealed the district court’s accounting order. Plaintiffs alleged that the government was improperly distributing royalties to non-Osage tribal members, which diluted the royalties for the Osage tribal members, the rightful headright owners. The complaint attributed this misdistribution to the government’s mismanagement of the trust assets and the government’s failure to perform an accounting. Thus, Plaintiffs sought to compel the government to perform an accounting and to prospectively restrict royalty payments to Osage tribal members and their heirs. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ accounting claim because it found that the applicable statute only required the government to account for deposits, not withdrawals, and that such an accounting would not support Plaintiffs’ misdistribution claim. After review, the Tenth Circuit could not say the district court abused its discretion. "The accounting the district court fashioned will certainly inform Plaintiffs of the trust receipts and disbursements and to whom those disbursements were made." View "Fletcher v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant Gregory Jordan was sentenced to 168 months’ imprisonment pursuant to a Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) agreement that proposed a base offense level of 31 and a Guidelines range of 135 to 168 months. The district court accepted the plea agreement, despite a discrepancy between the parties’ agreed-upon sentencing range and the range calculated by the district court. After both ranges were subsequently lowered by the Sentencing Commission, Jordan moved for a reduced sentence under section 3582(c)(2). The district court denied relief, concluding that Jordan’s sentence was not “based on” the Guidelines and he was thus ineligible for a sentence reduction. The Tenth Circuit held, to the contrary, that Jordan’s sentence was “based on” the Guidelines for purposes of section 3582(c)(2). Accordingly, he was eligible for relief. View "United States v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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Adaucto Chavez-Meza pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges in 2013. He originally received a prison sentence of 135 months, the Sentencing Guidelines minimum. In 2014, the Sentencing Commission amended the Guidelines to reduce the relevant offense levels. Chavez-Meza then sought and was granted a sentence reduction to 114 months, the minimum under the revised guidelines range. In confirming the new sentence, the district court issued a form order stating it had “tak[en] into account the policy statement set forth at USSG sec. 1B1.10 and the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a).” Chavez-Meza appealed his reduced sentence, claiming the district court erred by failing to adequately explain how it applied the section 3553(a) factors in imposing a 114-month sentence. Finding no reversible error in the district court's sentence calculation, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. Section 3582(c)(2) does not require additional explanation when a district court imposes a guidelines sentence and affirmatively states that it considered the section 3553(a) factors in its decision. View "United States v. Chavez-Meza" on Justia Law

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Defendant Harold Creighton was indicted on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute, 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Because Defendant had multiple prior felony drug convictions, he qualified for a sentence enhancement that would raise his statutory sentence on conviction from “ten years or more” to “a mandatory term of life imprisonment without release.” He appealed the conviction, arguing the sentence was the result of prosecutorial vindictiveness in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The Tenth Circuit no evidence of vindictiveness, and affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Creighton" on Justia Law

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Percy Holcomb invoked U.S. Sentencing Guidelines section 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) in 2014, seeking reduction of the sentence that he had received in 2002. But in 2011, the U.S. Sentencing Commission tightened 1B1.10(b)(2)(B)’s eligibility requirements. This tightening worked against Holcomb: Under the 2002 version, he would have been eligible for relief; under the 2014 version, he was not. The district court applied the 2014 version and held that Holcomb was ineligible for relief under 1B1.10(b)(2)(B). According to Holcomb, application of the 2014 version resulted in a violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause, exceeded the Sentencing Commission’s statutory authority, and usurped the judiciary’s authority to determine an appropriate sentence. The Tenth Circuit rejected these challenges: Tenth Circuit precedent foreclosed relief under the Ex Post Facto Clause, Congress authorized the Sentencing Commission to determine the retroactivity of its amendments, and § 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) did not usurp a judicial function. View "United States v. Holcomb" on Justia Law

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Kent Duty filed suit against BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”), after he applied to work there as a locomotive electrician. Duty had an impairment that limits his grip strength in his right hand. Fearing that Duty would fall from ladders, BNSF revoked his offer for employment. Duty and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “Commission”) sued BNSF for employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). The ADA limits its protection by recognizing that not all impairments are disabilities. Applying the ADA’s definition of “disability,” the district court found that Kent Duty was not disabled and granted summary judgment to BNSF. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "EEOC v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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A New Mexico county board filed a lawsuit in state court against its securities broker and registered agent. The board refrained, however, from serving process while it determined whether arbitration was available. The securities broker and agent nonetheless removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss the suit. Four days after briefing was complete and about three months after the board had filed suit, the board voluntarily dismissed the case and filed for arbitration. The securities broker and agent then filed this action to enjoin arbitration, arguing the board waived its right to demand arbitration when it filed the state court action. The district court disagreed and instead granted the board’s counterclaim to compel arbitration. The broker and registered agent appealed the waiver issue. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "BOSC v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law