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

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Based on a confidential informant's report that defendant-appellant Michael Simpson had drugs and guns, law enforcement officers obtained a search warrant for his house. The search revealed cocaine, firearms and ammunition. A jury would ultimately find defendant guilty of thirteen counts relating to possession of the drugs and firearms. The district court imposed concurrent sentences of 240 months' imprisonment for possession with intent to distribute the cocaine (count 1), and 120 months' imprisonment for the remaining counts. Defendant argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that the Court should reverse the conviction or, alternatively, the sentence. Finding no reversible error with respect to the conviction on Count 1 (possession of cocaine with intent to distribute) and Counts 2 and 5 (possession of an unregistered shotgun and ammunition), the Court affirmed. But it reversed the conviction on the other counts based on plain error in the jury instructions, remanding for a new trial. The Court rejected defendant's challenge to the sentence on Counts 1, 2, and 5. View "United States v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Marcus Washington sought to set aside his Kansas-state-court murder conviction. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a certificate of appealability (COA) so that he could appeal the denial of four claims raised in his application for relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. In his petition, petitioner claimed: (1) the State exercised peremptory jury challenges against African Americans in violation of "Batson v. Kentucky," (476 U.S. 79 (1986)); (2) his rights under "Miranda v. Arizona," (384 U.S. 436 (1966)), were violated by the use of statements he made while in custody; (3) his trial attorney was ineffective in not calling him as a witness on the Miranda issue to show that he was in custody; and (4) the prosecutor’s closing argument improperly challenged his mental-disease defense. The United States District Court for the District of Kansas rejected petitioner's claims and dismissed his petition. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Washington v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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LeGrand Belnap, M.D., was a surgeon at the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center (“SLRMC”). Dr. Belnap and SLRMC entered into a Management Services Agreement under which he would provide consulting services to help SLRMC develop a new surgical center. The Agreement contained an arbitration provision, including an agreement to arbitrate questions of arbitrability. SLRMC subsequently disciplined Dr. Belnap for alleged misconduct and then reversed course and vacated the discipline. As a result, Dr. Belnap brought various claims against SLRMC, its alleged parent company, and several of its individual employees. These Defendants moved to compel arbitration on the basis of the arbitration provision in the Agreement. The district court determined that most of the claims fell outside the scope of the Agreement, and granted in part and denied in part the motion. Defendants appealed the portions of the district court’s order denying their motion to stay litigation and to compel arbitration, arguing: (1) because the parties agreed to arbitrate arbitrability, the district court erred when it failed to submit all questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator; and (2) even if the parties did not agree to arbitrate arbitrability, the district court erred when it found that any of Dr. Belnap’s claims fell outside the scope of the Agreement, despite also finding that the Agreement’s dispute-resolution provision was broad. The Tenth Circuit found that by incorporating the JAMS Rules into the Agreement, Dr. Belnap and SLRMC evidenced a clear and unmistakable intent to delegate questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator. Nevertheless, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court reached the right outcome regarding Dr. Belnap’s first claim against SLRMC (compelling that claim to arbitration) and upheld that portion of its order. The Court felt “constrained,” however, to reverse the order as to the remainder of the SLRMC claims. The Court remanded, instructing the court to compel all of Dr. Belnap’s claims against SLRMC to arbitration. With respect to Defendants wh did not sign the Agreement, the Court held they were not entitled to enforce the arbitration provision of the Agreement. Thus, the Court affirmed the district court’s order in this respect. View "Belnap v. Iasis Healthcare" on Justia Law

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Firma Helget worked for the City of Hays, Kansas, as the administrative secretary for the Hays Police Department. In 2012, the City terminated Helget, and she initiated this 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the City, City Manager Toby Dougherty, and Police Chief Donald Scheibler, alleging they violated her First Amendment rights. Helget claims they terminated her in retaliation for her voluntarily providing an affidavit in support of a former police officer's wrongful-termination litigation against the City. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Helget's First Amendment retaliation claims, concluding the City's interest as a public employer outweighed Helget's interest in her speech regarding a former employee's litigation. The court also granted qualified immunity to Dougherty and Scheibler. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Helget v. City of Hays" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Matthew Vogt was employed as a police officer with the City of Hays. In late 2013, Vogt applied for a position with the City of Haysville's police department. During Haysville's hiring process, Vogt disclosed that he had kept a knife obtained in the course of his work as a Hays police officer. Notwithstanding this disclosure, Haysville conditionally offered Vogt the job only if he reported his acquisition of the knife and returned it to the Hays police department. Vogt satisfied the condition, reporting to the Hays police department that he had kept the knife. The Hays police chief ordered Vogt to submit a written report concerning his possession of the knife. Vogt complied, submitting a vague one sentence report. He then provided Hays with a two-week notice of resignation, intending to accept the new job with Haysville. In the meantime, the Hays police chief began an internal investigation into Vogt's possession of the knife, including requiring a more detailed statement to supplement the report. Vogt complied, and the Hays police used the additional statement to locate additional evidence. Based on Vogt's statements and the additional evidence, the Hays police chief asked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to start a criminal investigation, supplying Vogt's statements and the additional evidence. The criminal investigation led the Haysville police department to withdraw its job offer. Vogt was ultimately charged in Kansas state court with two felony counts related to his possession of the knife. Following a probable cause hearing, the state district court determined that probable cause was lacking and dismissed the charges. This suit followed, with Vogt alleging his constitutional rights were violated because his statements were used: (1) to start an investigation leading to the discovery of additional evidence concerning the knife; (2) to initiate a criminal investigation; (3) to bring criminal charges; and (4) to support the prosecution during the probable cause hearing. Vogt argued that these uses of compelled statements violated his right against self-incrimination. Based on the alleged Fifth Amendment violation, Vogt also invoked 42 U.S.C. 1983, suing: (1) the City of Hays; (2) the City of Haysville; and (3) four police officers. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, reasoning that: the right against self-incrimination was only a trial right, and Vogt's statements were used in pretrial proceedings, not in a trial. The Tenth Circuit, after review, concluded: (1) the Fifth Amendment is violated when criminal defendants are compelled to incriminate themselves and the incriminating statement is used in a probable cause hearing; (2) the individual officers were entitled to qualified immunity; (3) the City of Haysville did not compel Vogt to incriminate himself; (4) Vogt stated a plausible claim for relief against the City of Hays. The Court therefore affirmed dismissal of claims against the four officers and Haysville, and reversed dismissal against the City of Hays. View "Vogt v. City of Hays" on Justia Law

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The government appealed defendant-appellee John Walker's sentence. Walker was a serial bank robber who pleaded guilty to two counts of bank robbery. Walker attributed his criminal history to an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Hoping to overcome this addiction, Walker asked for an opportunity to attend in-patient treatment before he was sentenced. The district court agreed and the treatment program appeared to be successful. Walker's success in the treatment program led the district court to impose a sentence of time served, giving credit for the 33 days spent in pretrial detention. The Tenth Circuit found this sentence was "unreasonably short" based on the statutory sentencing factors and its precedent. As a result, the Court reversed. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a property damage claim filed by the Hayes Family Trust with its insurer, State Farm Fire & Casualty. When the parties could not agree on the amount of loss, Hayes invoked an appraisal process provided by the policy to calculate the loss incurred. After Hayes sought the district court's assistance with the appointment of an umpire, the parties participated in the appraisal process, which resulted in a unanimous award. State Farm paid the balance of that award, and Hayes accepted payment. But despite State Farm's payment, at Hayes's request, the district court confirmed the award and entered judgment in favor of Hayes. Hayes promptly moved for an award of prejudgment interest, attorney's fees, and costs under a prevailing party statute. In response, State Farm moved to vacate or amend the judgment. Finding that the parties settled any dispute over the amount of loss, the court agreed with State Farm and vacated its order confirming the appraisal award and the judgment. Hayes appealed the order vacating judgment in an attempt to recover prejudgment interest, fees, and costs. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "In re: Hayes Family Trust" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Michael Harris pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The maximum sentence for a felon-in-possession conviction is typically ten years. But because the sentencing court found Harris had three qualifying "violent felonies" or "serious drug offenses," as defined by the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), the court applied the section 924(e)(1) enhancement and sentenced Harris to the fifteen-year mandatory minimum. Harris moved to vacate his sentence due to a change in the law, particularly with regard to what then constituted a "violent felony." Statutory robbery was a "violent felony" under the ACCA. But the Tenth Circuit found that eleven circuit-level decisions reached varying results on the narrow question of whether robbery was considered a "violent felony." In examining various state statutes, five courts found no violent felony and six found a violent felony. Upon independent examination of the Colorado robbery statute here, however, the Tenth Circuit believed Colorado robbery qualified as a violent felony. "Although requiring more analysis than needed at first blush, we, in the end, return to the obvious: Statutory robbery in Colorado is a violent felony under the ACCA" because it had as an element the use or threatened use of "physical force" against another person that is capable of causing physical pain or injury. Accordingly, the Court affirmed Harris' sentence. View "United States v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Between fiscal years 2006 and 2011, Congress prohibited the use of funds for inspection, thereby preventing commercial equine slaughter. In fiscal year 2012, Congress lifted the ban on funding and Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) received several applications for inspection. The agency issued grants of inspection to two commercial equine slaughter facilities: Valley Meat Company, LLC and Responsible Transportation, LLC. Front Range Equine Rescue, the Humane Society of the United States, and several other individuals and organizations (collectively, "Front Range") sued officials of the USDA, seeking a declaration that grants of inspection generally violated the National Environmental Policy Act and requesting that the court set aside the specific grants of inspection. Front Range also moved to enjoin the Federal Defendants from authorizing equine slaughter during the pendency of the claims. The district court granted Front Range's motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), prohibiting the Federal Defendants from sending inspectors to the equine slaughterhouses of, or otherwise providing equine inspection services. The court additionally sua sponte enjoined Valley Meat and Responsible Transportation from engaging in commercial equine slaughter. Valley Meat opposed Front Range's motion, arguing that it should be restrained and Front Range should be required to post a bond because an injunction against the Federal Defendants effectively also enjoined its operations. The district court never ruled on Front Range's motion, but denied Front Range's request for a permanent injunction and dismissed the action. Front Range immediately appealed the decision to the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit temporarily enjoined the Federal Defendants from sending inspectors but did not enjoin Valley Meat or Responsible Transportation. Then, the Court dismissed the appeal as moot: (1) because Congress once again made it unlawful to engage in commercial equine slaughter for human consumption; and (2) while the appeal was pending, Valley Meat "decided to abandon all plans to slaughter equines and asked FSIS to withdraw its grant of inspection." The Tenth Circuit then vacated the district court's order denying a permanent injunction, "based on the underlying equitable principle that a party should not have to bear the consequences of an adverse ruling when frustrated by the vagaries of the circumstances." Valley Meat and Responsible Transportation moved to recover an injunction bond. A magistrate judge recommended that the motion be denied, and the district court adopted the magistrate's recommendation in full. Valley Meat appealed the denial of damages on the injunction bond. To this point, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying recovery against the injunction bond because there was never a ruling that Valley Meat was wrongfully enjoined. "This conclusion alone is enough to affirm the district court's decision." View "Front Range Equine Rescue v. Vilsack" on Justia Law

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Relator-Appellant Jack Grynberg appealed two district court orders awarding attorney fees. In 1995, Grynberg filed an action in federal district court for the District of Columbia alleging 70 companies in the natural gas industry violated the False Claims Act (FCA). Specifically, he accused the defendants of using techniques that under-measured the gas they extracted from federal and Indian lands under lease agreements. Sixty of the defendants filed motions to dismiss, which the district court granted. It held the defendants were improperly joined under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20, and that Grynberg's complaint failed to satisfy the particularized pleading requirement of Rule 9(b). Three months after "Grynberg I's" dismissal, Grynberg began filing 73 separate lawsuits against more than 300 companies in the natural gas industry. The 73 complaints, which closely resembled one another, formed the basis of this case. In this, "Grynberg II," Grynberg moved to consolidate the cases as an Multi-District Litigation (MDL), and they were eventually consolidated in federal district court for the District of Wyoming. Between the dismissal in Grynberg I and filing the complaints in Grynberg II, Grynberg served Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") requests with the Minerals Management Service ("MMS"), seeking data on pipeline company-purchasers of natural gas. Grynberg created "Exhibit B's" to his complaints from that MMS data, which allegedly showed the defendants were mismeasuring gas. The inaccuracy of the Exhibit Bs did not surface until long after the complaints were filed and after the government conducted a time-consuming investigation. Without yet knowing the Exhibit Bs were inaccurate, the district court denied motions to dismiss for lack of particularity under Rule 9(b), which the court read as requiring a complaint to state the "time, place and contents of the false representation, [and] the identity of the party making the false statements." After surviving the motions to dismiss, Grynberg then faced the defendants' motions for summary judgment, which argued the complaints were based on publicly disclosed information and Grynberg was not an "original source" of the information. Following discovery, a special master recommended 40 of the 73 cases be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The district court went further by holding that all 73 cases were jurisdictionally barred. Following the dismissal of the claims and the Tenth Circuit's decision in the first appeal, the district court entered two orders awarding attorney fees: (1) under the FCA's fee-shifting provision; and (2) fees relating to the first appeal on the original-source question. Between the two orders, the court granted 35 defendant groups attorney fees totaling nearly $17 million. As to the remaining defendants in this appeal, around $5.5 million of attorney fees was awarded to the FCA Appellees for district court proceedings, and around $1 million of attorney fees was awarded to the Appellate-Fee Appellees for the first appeal. Grynberg appealed the award of fees under the FCA as to seven defendant groups. He appealed the award of fees to 13 other defendant groups. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the FCA fees, but reversed the appellate-related attorney fees. View "In re: Natural Gas Royalties Qui Tam Litigation" on Justia Law