Big Cats of Serenity Springs was a Colorado-based non-profit that provided housing, food, and veterinary care for exotic animals. The facility was regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Three APHIS inspectors accompanied by sheriff’s deputies broke into the Big Cats facility without its permission to perform an unannounced inspection of two tiger cubs. But at the time the inspectors entered the facility, the cubs were at a veterinarian’s office receiving treatment, just as Big Cats had promised the APHIS inspectors the previous day. Big Cats and its directors sued the APHIS inspectors for the unauthorized entry pursuant to "Bivens v. Six Unknown Narcotics Agents," (403 U.S. 388 (1971)) and 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting the entry was an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied the APHIS inspectors’ motion to dismiss the complaint and they filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the court’s failure to grant qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Big Cats’ complaint stated a claim for relief under "Bivens." No APHIS inspector would reasonably have believed unauthorized forcible entry of the Big Cats facility was permissible, and therefore Big Cats and its directors could have a claim for violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search. But the Court reversed on Big Cats’ civil rights claim because the federal inspectors were not liable under section 1983 in the circumstances here. View "Big Cats of Serenity Springs v. Vilsack" on Justia Law
Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries
Municipalities City of Spencer and the Town of Forest Park, and Blaze’s Tribute Equine Rescue, acting under a search warrant, seized 44 abused and neglected horses from plaintiff-appellant Ann Campbell’s properties. After a forfeiture hearing, a state district court in Oklahoma issued an order granting Spencer and Forest Park’s joint forfeiture petition. Campbell later sued the municipalities (and Blaze) in federal court under 42 U.S.C. section 1983. The district court dismissed Campbell’s complaint, applying both claim and issue preclusion to prevent relitigation of matters common to the state court forfeiture proceeding. Campbell appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court properly dismissed Campbell’s 1983 claims: because Campbell could have raised her constitutional claims in the forfeiture proceeding but did not do so, and because the Court's allowing her to raise these claims in this appeal would impair the Municipalities’ rights established in that proceeding, the Court held that the district court properly concluded that claim preclusion disallowed Campbell from pursuing her constitutional claims. View "Campbell v. City of Spencer" on Justia Law
Defendant Steven Romero appealed his three year sentence for aggravated animal cruelty. In 2009, Defendant tied a rope around the neck of "Buddy," a dog belonging to a family in Delta, Colorado, and dragged him to death behind a pick-up truck on federal land. The United States Probation Office prepared a pre-sentence investigation report (PSR), indicating that while Defendant was in jail for killing Buddy and before pleading guilty, he made a series of telephone calls attempting to silence witnesses and procure false grand jury testimony. The PSR recounted Romero’s ten prior felony convictions, poor physical health, mild mental retardation, amphetamine dependence, depression, and “[i]ntermittent [e]xplosive [d]isorder." The presumptive sentence for aggravated animal cruelty was 12-18 months, but that maximum could be doubled under certain circumstances. Upon review of the sentencing court's record, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court did not impose a substantively unreasonable sentence when sentencing Defendant to 36-months' imprisonment. The Court affirmed the lower court's judgment.
Wilgus was arrested for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. 668, which prohibits possession of eagle feathers, but excepts possession for religious purposes of Indian tribes. Wilgus is a follower of a Native American faith and blood-brother to a Paiute, but not a member of a recognized tribe, nor is he Indian by birth. He received at least one feather for religious purposes. Following a remand, the district court held that application of the Eagle Act to Wilgus would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1 (RFRA), which prohibits government from substantially burdening religious freedom, except to forward a compelling governmental interest via the least restrictive means. The Tenth Circuit reversed. The government has competing compelling interests in protecting eagles and in preserving Native American religion and culture. The RFRA exception is intended to protect the religion and culture of tribes, not individual practitioners. Tribes are quasi-sovereign political entities; protection of faith practices among the general public might violate the Establishment Clause. The government need not refute every option to satisfy the least restrictive means prong of RFRA; the RFRA exception balances the competing interests. Proposed alternatives, involving creation of a feather repository, opening permits to all sincere adherents to Native American religion, or allowing Native Americans to gift feathers, would either be impractical or have a negative impact on governmental goals.