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

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Zachery Edens was killed in when an oncoming car turned in front of his motorcycle. David Edens, Zachery's father and the Chief Executive Officer of Edens Structural Solutions LLC (Edens LLC), and Rhonda Edens, Zachery's mother, sent a demand letter to The Netherlands Insurance Company, claiming that Zachery was an insured under Edens LLC’s Netherlands insurance policy and demanding $1,000,000 in underinsured motorist benefits. After Netherlands denied coverage, David, Rhonda, and Edens LLC sued Netherlands. On summary judgment, the district court concluded that David was an insured under the policy because he was an executive officer of Edens LLC, and that Zachery was an insured as David's family member. Despite this, because David and Rhonda Edens owned Zachery's motorcycle, the district court concluded that the Netherlands policy didn’t cover his accident. David, Rhonda and Edens LLC appealed, arguing, among other things, that the policy’s coverage terms were ambiguous and should be construed in their favor. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Edens v. Netherlands Insurance" on Justia Law

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Richard George, Steven Leavitt, Sandra Leavitt, and Darrell Dalton appealed the district court’s dismissal of their putative class action against Urban Settlement Services, d/b/a Urban Lending Solutions (Urban) and Bank of America, N.A. (BOA). Plaintiffs asserted a claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against BOA and Urban. Plaintiffs also brought a promissory estoppel claim against BOA. Both claims arose from the defendants’ allegedly fraudulent administration of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The district court granted the defendants’ Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss both claims, denied the plaintiffs’ request for leave to amend their first amended complaint, and dismissed the case. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs’ first amended complaint stated a facially plausible RICO claim against BOA and Urban and a facially plausible promissory estoppel claim against BOA. As such, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. This reversal mooted plaintiffs’ challenge to the district court’s denial of their request to further amend the complaint. View "George v. Urban Settlement Services" on Justia Law

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Former FBI agent Robert Lustyik wanted to help his friend and business partner, Michael Taylor, in return for payment. Taylor owned American International Security Corporation (AISC), a company that offered security and defense contracting services. The Department of Defense awarded AISC a contract in 2007 to provide training and related services to Afghan Special Forces. In mid-2010, the United States began investigating AISC regarding fraud and money laundering in connection with the 2007 contract. In September 2011, the United States filed a civil forfeiture action against assets owned by Taylor and AISC, which resulted in the seizure of more than $5 million dollars from AISC’s bank account. Lustyik used his status as an FBI agent to impair the government’s investigation of Taylor, including attempting to establish Taylor as a confidential source. Lustyik was indicted on charges related to the obstruction of justice. Prior to trial, Lustyik pleaded guilty to all charges in the indictment without a plea agreement. After his plea, his lead counsel withdrew and Lustyik obtained new counsel. On the eve of sentencing, counsel sought an order allowing him to obtain security clearance to review classified material he believed might be relevant for sentencing. The district court, having previously reviewed the documents, deemed them irrelevant to the sentencing issues, denied the motion, and subsequently sentenced Lustyik to 120 months’ imprisonment. Lustyik argued on appeal that the district court’s order denying his counsel access to the classified materials violated his Sixth Amendment rights at sentencing. Finding that the district court’s decision was not presumptively prejudicial to Lustyik’s advocacy at sentencing, nor did the district court abuse its discretion in concluding the documents were not relevant for sentencing, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Lustyik" on Justia Law

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This case centered on a rural water conservation program administered in part by Defendants-Appellees United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), the Secretary of the USDA, the Farm Service Agency (“FSA”), and the Administrator of the FSA (collectively, “the agency”). Plaintiffs-Appellants Cure Land, LLC, and Cure Land II, LLC (collectively “Cure Land”) argued that the agency’s handling of a proposed amendment to the conservation program violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”). The district court upheld the agency’s actions. Finding no reversible error after review of this matter, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Cure Land v. USDA" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Ernest Marquez challenges the two-level sentence enhancement imposed under United States Sentencing Guideline section 3B1.1(c) for his role as an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in criminal activity. A jury convicted Marquez of three drug charges, including, as relevant to this appeal, possession with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of methamphetamine. The testimony and evidence at trial showed that Marquez obtained the "meth" in question by arranging for two women, Veronica Hernandez and Belinda Galvan, to drive from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to the vicinity of Tucson, Arizona, exchange money he had provided them for a brick of meth, and deliver the meth to him back in Las Cruces. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's sentencing decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Marquez" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from the sentencing and resentencing of defendant-appellee Gregory Womack, who was convicted of federal crimes involving the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine. In a prior appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the initial sentence based on the sentencing guidelines in effect at the time of the crimes. But after issuance of that decision, the U.S. Sentencing Commission adopted two guideline amendments: Amendment 782 and Amendment 750. Amendment 782 lowered the base offense levels for certain drug weights. But Amendment 750 had the opposite effect for crimes involving methamphetamine, promulgating a revised drug-equivalency table in which each gram of methamphetamine had a higher marijuana-equivalent weight than when defendant had committed his crimes. Defendant successfully moved for a reduction in his sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), arguing that the only relevant amendment was Amendment 782. After its review, the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding that Amendment 750 was relevant and precluded defendant from obtaining a reduction in his sentence. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s order and remanded with instructions to dismiss defendant's motion based on a lack of jurisdiction. View "United States v. Womack" on Justia Law

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Defendant Shannon Armstrong was standing alongside his patrol car conversing with Dusti Mowrey, a local resident and, by happenstance, a friend of Plaintiff Thomas Culver, when he witnessed a Chevrolet pickup with two individuals inside approach the Maverick Country Store without headlights and then disappear behind the store. The dash camera on Defendant’s patrol car revealed that shortly after 2:26 a.m., the white Chevrolet pickup deactivated its headlights before moving left off the public thoroughfare and over the sidewalk adjacent to a delivery area at the back of the store. The dash camera indicated Defendant activated his flashing lights at 2:27:06 a.m. and proceeded south on 6th Street in pursuit of the pickup. The pickup was approximately three blocks ahead of the patrol car when it turned right or south on North 3rd Street. The morning ended with Plaintiff being arrested for public intoxication. The charges would ultimately be dropped, but Plaintiff sued Defendant for unlawful arrest based on the exchange between him, his passenger and Defendant the night of his arrest. On Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the district court held probable cause supported Plaintiff’s arrest and granted Defendant qualified immunity. Plaintiff appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected Plaintiff’s claim and affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to Defendant. View "Culver v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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Thirty years ago, the Tenth Circuit decided all boundary disputes between the Ute Indian Tribe, the State of Utah, and its subdivisions. The only thing that remained was for the district court to memorialize that mandate in a permanent injunction. Twenty years ago, the Court modified its mandate in one respect, but stressed that in all others, the Court's earlier decision remained in place. The matter came before the Tenth Circuit again: the State of Utah, one of its cities, and several of its counties sought to relitigate the same boundaries. "Over the last forty years the questions haven’t changed - and neither have our answers." This case and all related matters were reassigned to a different district judge. The court and parties were directed to proceed to a final disposition both promptly and consistently with the Tenth Circuit's mandates in "Ute V," "Ute VI," and this case. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. Myton" on Justia Law

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Alphonse Maddin worked as a truck driver by Petitioner TransAm Trucking (“TransAm”). In January 2009, Maddin was transporting cargo through Illinois when the brakes on his trailer froze because of subzero temperatures. After reporting the problem to TransAm and waiting several hours for a repair truck to arrive, Maddin unhitched his truck from the trailer and drove away, leaving the trailer unattended. He was terminated for abandoning the trailer. Both an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) and Respondent, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) Administrative Review Board (“ARB”), concluded Maddin was terminated in violation of the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (“STAA”). He was ordered reinstated with backpay. TransAm filed a Petition for Review of the ARB’s Final Decision and Order to the Tenth Circuit which concluded that there was no reversible error in the ARB's decision, and affirmed. View "Transam Trucking v. Administrative Review Bd." on Justia Law

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In 2011, city officials of West Valley City terminated Plaintiff Karen Bird from her position as manager of the city’s Animal Shelter. During the latter half of Plaintiff’s employment, the environment of the Animal Shelter was toxic. Plaintiff was one of the biggest contributors to this tumultuous environment. During the high point of what staffers at the shelter dubbed "the little war," the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about a cat that had survived two euthanization attempts in the Animal Shelter’s gas chamber. A reporter called a West Valley City official and informed the official that he (the reporter) had received an anonymous telephone call alleging that the shelter had ordered a mass execution of animals due to overpopulation. Other shelter managers were under the impression that Plaintiff, who was notoriously against using the gas chamber to euthanize animals and who was one of the few individuals privy to the meeting discussing the shelter’s overpopulation, was the source of these leaks. Around the same time as the anonymous phone call to the press, Plaintiff finally decided she "had enough" and filed the formal complaint that belied this lawsuit before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit could not find that Plaintiff had been fired because of her gender, any hostile work environment she experienced, and West Valley City did not form any contract with her that mandated it would protect her from workplace violence or prevent her from being retaliated against. The Court did find, however, that the district court did not determine whether Plaintiff raised a genuine issue of material fact that this belief substantially motivated West Valley City officials’ decision to terminate Plaintiff. Nor did it determine whether the leaks to the press qualified as “constitutionally protected activity.” The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bird v. West Valley City" on Justia Law