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

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Ting Xue, a native and citizen of China, applied to the Tenth Circuit for review of a Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) order affirming the denial of his petition for asylum, withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture ("CAT"). Xue claimed he was persecuted in his native China for his religious beliefs. He was smuggled to North America, ultimately entering the United States illegally through Mexico in July 2008. The IJ concluded Xue’s treatment at the hands of Chinese authorities before he came to the United States was not sufficiently severe to amount to past persecution. After review, the Tenth Circuit found that the BIA correctly concluded that because Xue failed to show a reasonable possibility of future persecution, he necessarily failed to meet the higher burden required for withholding of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Furthermore, the Court found the BIA correctly concluded that Xue failed to show his eligibility for relief under the CAT. With nothing more, the Court denied Xue's petition for review. View "Xue v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Zen Magnets, LLC (“Zen”) challenged a regulation promulgated by Respondent Consumer Product Safety Commission (“the Commission”) restricting the size and strength of the rare earth magnets that Zen sold. The sets consisted of small, high-powered magnets that users could arrange and rearrange in various geometric designs. The component magnets are unusually small (their diameters are approximately five millimeters) and unusually powerful. Magnets of this type have been marketed and sold to consumers (by Zen and other distributors) as desktop trinkets, stress-relief puzzles, and toys, and apparently also for educational and scientific purposes. Although the strength of these magnets was part of their appeal, it could also pose a grave danger when the magnets are misused, particularly if two or more magnets were ingested. During 2011, in response to reports of injured children, Commission staff began evaluating whether the magnet sets currently on the market complied with ASTM F963 (“the toy standard”). In May 2012, the Commission required the thirteen leading magnet set distributors to report any information of which they were aware reasonably supporting the conclusion that their magnets did not comply with an applicable safety standard, contained a defect, or created an unreasonable risk of serious injury. Four months after eliminating ten of the leading magnet set distributors, the Commission proposed a new safety standard aimed at regulating the size and strength of all magnet sets. Unlike the toy standard, the final rule was not limited to magnets designed or marketed as toys for children under fourteen years of age, but rather applied to all magnet sets. Zen was the only remaining importer and distributor of the magnet sets targeted by the final rule. Over the years, Zen made efforts to comply with the toy standard by implementing age restrictions and placing warnings on its website and packaging, as well as by imposing sales restrictions on its retail distributors. Its magnet sets, however, did not comply with the strength and size restrictions of the final rule. Zen sought judicial review of that safety standard. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Commission’s prerequisite factual findings, which were compulsory under the Consumer Product Safety Act, were incomplete and inadequately explained. Accordingly, the Court vacated and remanded this case back to the Commission for further proceedings. View "Zen Magnets v. Consumer Product Safety Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Defendants-Appellants Ultegra Financial, its CEO Muhammad Howard, (collectively Ultegra Defendants) and Clive Funding, Inc., appealed a district court’s order denying their motion to compel arbitration. In 2013, Ragab entered into business relationship with the Ultegra Defendants. The parties had six agreements. The agreements contained conflicting arbitration provisions; the conflicts involved: (1) which rules would govern, (2) how the arbitrator would be selected, (3) the notice required to arbitrate, and (4) who would be entitled to attorneys’ fees and on what showing. In 2015, Ragab sued the Ultegra Defendants for misrepresentation and for violating several consumer credit repair statutes. The district court found that Ragab’s claims fell within the scope of all six agreements. The Ultegra Defendants moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied the motion to compel, concluding that there was no actual agreement to arbitrate as there was no meeting of the minds as to how claims that implicated the numerous agreements would be arbitrated. The Ultegra Defendants appealed that finding, and seeing no reversible error in the judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ragab v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Danijela and Aleksandar Mojsilovic appealed the dismissal of their damages claim under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). The Mojsilovics are Serbian scientists recruited and hired by the University of Oklahoma to serve as research assistants at the University’s Health Sciences Center. In that capacity, Aleksandar was hired to conduct DNA sequencing and tissue typing for research and clinical studies; Danijela was hired to make transfectants and tissue cultures. The Mojsilovics were retained by the University through the H-1B visa program, and they were supervised by Dr. William Hildebrand, the director of the medical research laboratory at the Health Sciences Center. Dr. Hildebrand also owned a biotechnology company called Pure Protein, which, through a contractual arrangement, shares the University’s facilities to perform similar work. According to the Mojsilovics, shortly after they were hired, Dr. Hildebrand demanded that they also work for Pure Protein. He allegedly required them to work longer hours than permitted by their visa applications, without pay, and threatened to have their visas revoked if they objected. Dr. Hildebrand became verbally abusive at times, and because he was authorized to make hiring and firing decisions, the Mojsilovics claimed they feared he would take action against their immigration status if they did not comply with his demands. The Mojsilovics eventually filed suit, naming the University, Dr. Hildebrand, and Pure Protein as defendants. With respect to claims against the University, the district court dismissed the Mojsilovic’s claims as barred by sovereign immunity. Finding no error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Mojsilovic v. Board of Regents University of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, defendant-appellant Eldon Boisseau was convicted of tax evasion The district court determined that Boisseau, a practicing attorney, willfully evaded paying his taxes by: (1) placing his law practice in the hands of a nominee owner to prevent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from seizing his assets; (2) causing his law firm to pay his personal expenses directly given an impending IRS levy, rather than receiving wages; and (3) telling a government revenue officer that he was receiving no compensation from his firm when in fact the firm was paying his personal expenses. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence and argued that the district court wrongly convicted him: (1) without evidence of an affirmative act designed to conceal or mislead; and (2) by concluding that proof satisfying the affirmative act element of tax evasion was sufficient to prove willfulness. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Boisseau" on Justia Law

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The Estate of Clayton Lockett, through its personal representative Gary Lockett, filed suit against the Governor of Oklahoma Mary Fallin; corrections officials, medical officials, EMTs and drug manufacturers, all in relation to the execution of Clayton Lockett. In 1999, Lockett kidnapped, assaulted, and killed nineteen-year-old Stephanie Neiman. Lockett shot Neiman with a shotgun and then had an accomplice bury her alive. In 2000, a jury found Lockett guilty of 19 felonies arising from the same incident, including the murder, rape, forcible sodomy, kidnapping, and assault and battery of Neiman. The jury recommended that the court impose the death penalty. Oklahoma used a common drug protocol previously administered in at least 93 Oklahoma executions: three drugs (1) sodium thiopental; (2) pancuronium bromide; and (3) potassium chloride. In 2010, facing difficulty obtaining sodium thiopental, Oklahoma officials amended the Field Memorandum to substitute in its place pentobarbital. In 2014, Oklahoma officials amended their “Field Memorandum” to allow several new alternate procedures for use in executions by lethal injection. As one of these new procedures, officials substituted midazolam as he first drug used in the protocol. Before Lockett’s execution, Oklahoma had not used midazolam during an execution. Warden Anita Trammell and Director of Corrections Robert Patton chose this new protocol. The Estate asserted several constitutional violations related to Lockett’s execution with respect to the new procedures, essentially arguing that changing of the drugs caused Lockett intense pain as additional drugs were entered into the mix. The State parties moved to dismiss the estate’s suit against them, asserting qualified immunity (among other defenses). The district court granted the motion, reasoning that the estate failed to show defendants violated any established law. Finding no error in this judgment, the Tenth Circuit agreed and affirmed. View "Estate of Clayton Lockett v. Fallin" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Jeremy Gilmore was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Due to two prior drug felonies, he was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence. He moved to have his sentence reduced in accordance with a retroactive sentencing amendment, arguing his prison term was not “based on” a guidelines sentencing range, as required by 18 U.S.C. 3582 (c)(2). To be afforded a sentencing reduction under section 3582(c)(2), a defendant had to show that his term of imprisonment was “based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission.” Defendant argued that his 168 month sentence mirrored the low end of a guideline sentence corresponding to a total offense level of 32 and a criminal history category of IV, and was thus “based on” a guidelines sentencing range. The district court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to reduce his sentence because the sentence was based on the parties’ stipulation and not on a “sentencing range” that had been subsequently lowered by the Sentencing Commission. Defendant argued to the Tenth Circuit that the district court erred in concluding it lacked jurisdiction, and that the stipulation did not bind the district court in reaching his sentence. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court however, that Defendant’s sentence was not “based on” a guidelines sentencing range, and affirmed. View "United States v. Gilmore" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Luna County Deputy Sheriff Gabriel Maynes attempted to pull over plaintiff Anna Gutierrez for running a stop sign. Instead of pulling over, Gutierrez sped up, driving to an apartment complex where her mother, plaintiff Patsy Flores, lived. The deputy managed to taser Gutierrez as she exited her vehicle. When the deputy caught up with her, a scuffle ensued. Flores came out of her apartment and pleaded for the deputy to stop hitting her daughter, but she too was tasered. The State of New Mexico would later charge Gutierrez with several offenses, but those charges were dismissed. Because of the traffic stop and later scuffle, Gutierrez suffered multiple injuries, including two fractured ribs. Plaintiffs Gutierrez and Flores appealed a district court’s grant of summary judgment (based on qualified immunity) to Deputy Maynes on three of their 42 U.S.C. 1982 claims: excessive force, unlawful entry, and unlawful seizure. The district court concluded plaintiffs failed to meet their burden to overcome the qualified immunity defense. They appealed the district court’s judgment, but after careful consideration of the arguments the parties made at trial and on appeal, the Tenth Circuit agreed plaintiffs failed to meet their burden, and affirmed judgment in favor of the deputy. View "Gutierrez v. Luna County" on Justia Law

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Terrill Graf, bought his fiancee a van for her 50th birthday. Celebrating the birthday and new purchase, Graf drank liquor and then gathered four friends in the van. Plaintiff Wendy Peden was one of those friends. She says that she expected Graf only to show off the van and to photograph the group. But Graf drove away with his friends in the van, crashing it, and causing serious injuries to Peden. She obtained $240,000 in insurance benefits. But Peden claimed more under her insurance policy for underinsured-motorist benefits. The insurer (State Farm) initially denied the claim, but ultimately paid her an additional $350,000, the maximum amount that she could receive under the underinsured-motorist coverage. Peden sued State Farm under Colorado’s common law and statutory law, claiming an unreasonable denial or delay in paying benefits. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that State Farm unreasonably denied or delayed payment of benefits. The district court answered “no.” But the Tenth Circuit disagreed after careful consideration of the facts of this case, and reversed the grant of summary judgment to State Farm. The denial of Peden’s motion for partial summary judgment was vacated, and the entire matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Peden v. State Farm Mutual Auto Ins Co" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee James Durkee sued defendants Sheriff John Minor, Sheriff, and Sergeant Ron Hochmuth, both of Summit County Sheriff’s Department, in their individual capacities. Plaintiff argued defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when he was attacked by Ricky Michael Ray Ramos, a fellow inmate, at the Summit County Detention Center. In a written order, the district court denied defendants qualified immunity in the context of their motion for summary judgment, and they appealed. Ramos had a history of aggressive behavior at the jail, and had been charged with several violations of jail rules on several occasions for threatening behavior towards jail staff, including a threat to stab a deputy in the neck, and toward other inmates, including the Plaintiff. Ramos had threatened Plaintiff shortly after Plaintiff’s arrival at the jail, and Plaintiff requested that he be reassigned to another housing pod away from Ramos. After an argument between Ramos and Plaintiff, Plaintiff again expressed concern about Ramos’ aggression toward him. In 2012, Ramos was being escorted back from a court proceeding by Defendant Hochmuth, and was unshackled in the booking area of the jail, which was adjacent to the professional visitation room. At that time, Plaintiff was in the visitation room, meeting with a mental health counselor. Defendant Hochmuth proceeded to unshackle Ramos in the booking area, and instructed him to return to his housing pod. After taking one or two steps toward the housing pod door, Ramos suddenly turned around and ran into the visitation room through its unlocked door and assaulted Plaintiff. Although the altercation was brief, Plaintiff suffered a facial fracture from the assault. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial of immunity as to Defendant Hochmuth and reversed as to Defendant Minor. View "Durkee v. Minor" on Justia Law