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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Roger Garling, Sheryl Garling, and their business, R and D Enterprises, Inc. sued the United States for damages arising from an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raid and investigation of their laboratory. The district court held the Garlings’ action was time-barred under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The Garlings appealed, arguing the EPA’s conduct was a continuing tort or, alternatively, that they were entitled to equitable tolling. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that sovereign immunity barred the Garlings’ claims and the district court thus lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Court therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded with directions to dismiss this action for lack of jurisdiction. View "Garling v. EPA" on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of a battle over Winter, a horse that belonged to Summer Colby. Colby and her mother grew estranged and argued over who owned Winter. The mother allegedly complained to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which responded by sending someone from the Brand Inspection Division to investigate. After investigating, the inspector seized the horse, prompting Colby and her mother to take the matter to court over ownership. After almost three years, Colby prevailed and got her horse back. When the horse was returned to Colby, she and her husband sued the Division and two of its officers, but the district court dismissed the action. The Colbys appealed, raising issues involving the Eleventh Amendment and the statute of limitations. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court properly dismissed all of the claims. View "Colby v. Herrick" on Justia Law

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The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration appealed a district court order reversing her decision to deny Marla Vallejo’s application for supplemental security income benefits and remanding the case for further administrative proceedings. Because the district court’s order rested on a misapplication of controlling law, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Vallejo v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a subpoena to TriCore Reference Laboratories (“TriCore”) seeking information relating to an individual’s charge of disability and pregnancy discrimination. After TriCore refused to comply, the EEOC asked the New Mexico federal district court to enforce the subpoena. The court denied the request, and the EEOC appealed. Although the Tenth Circuit disagreed with some of the district court’s analysis, it could not say it abused its discretion. View "EEOC v. TriCore Reference Laboratories" on Justia Law

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The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes jointly inhabited the Wind River Reservation. The State of Wyoming and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation challenged a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency granting the Tribes’ application for joint authority to administer certain non-regulatory programs under the Clean Air Act on the Reservation. As part of their application, the Tribes were required to show they possessed jurisdiction over the relevant land. The Tribes described the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation and asserted that most of the land within the original 1868 boundaries fell within their jurisdiction. Wyoming and others submitted comments to the EPA arguing the Reservation had been diminished in 1905 by act of Congress, and that some land described in the application was no longer within tribal jurisdiction. After review, the EPA determined the Reservation had not been diminished in 1905 and the Tribes retained jurisdiction over the land at issue. Because the EPA decided the Tribes otherwise satisfied Clean Air Act program requirements, it granted their application. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether Congress diminished the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in 1905. the Court found that it did. The Court therefore granted Wyoming's petition for review, vacated the EPA's order and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "State of Wyoming v. Environ. Protect. Ag'y" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review centered on whether a taxpayer may challenge a tax penalty in a Collection Due Process hearing (“CDP hearing”) after already having challenged the penalty in the Appeals Office of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). Keller Tank Services II, Inc. participated in an employee benefit plan and took deductions for its contributions to the plan. The IRS notified Keller of: (1) a tax penalty for failure to report its participation in the plan as a “listed transaction” on its 2007 tax return; and (2) an income tax deficiency and related penalties for improper deductions of payments to the plan. Keller protested the tax penalty at the IRS Appeals Office. It then attempted to do so in a CDP hearing but was rebuffed because it already had challenged the penalty at the Appeals Office. Keller appealed the CDP decision to the Tax Court, which granted summary judgment to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue (“Commissioner”). Finding no reversible error in the Tax Court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Keller Tank Services v. Commissioner, Internal Rev. Svc." on Justia Law

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Defendants-Appellants El Tequila, LLC, and Carlos Aguirre (collectively, “El Tequila”) appealed a $2,137,627.44 judgment in favor of Plaintiff- Appellee, Secretary of the Department of Labor (Secretary). El Tequila was a restaurant with four locations (Harvard, Broken Arrow, Owasso, and Memorial) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In December 2010, an employee from the Harvard location complained to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The complaint prompted the WHD to investigate the Harvard location (First Harvard Investigation). The First Harvard Investigation consisted of interviews with employees and El Tequila’s owner, Aguirre; examining payroll documents; and touring the restaurant. The payroll records showed employees were paid $7.25 per hour (the minimum wage), worked about forty hours a week, and received overtime when required. Interviews with Aguirre and his employees confirmed this information.The WHD investigator only found recordkeeping violations, and closed the First Harvard Investigation. Additional employee complaints prompted the WHD to investigate the Harvard location a second time. This time, the WHD investigator arrived at the Harvard location unannounced, and discovered several violations. The records Mr. Aguirre provided during the First Harvard Investigation, known as middle sheets, were based on his false summaries of how many hours employees worked, rather than actual clock-in and clock-out times. During the Second Investigation, Aguirre provided the WHD investigator with time sheets that contained actual clock-in and clock-out times. Aguirre withheld these time sheets during the First Harvard Investigation, and many time entries had been “whited-out” and edited to conform with the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Second Investigation would reveal that Aguirre instructed employees to lie during their interviews. Time sheets and middle sheets were found to have been falsified. In September 2011, the WHD investigated El Tequila’s Memorial, Owasso, and Broken Arrow locations because Aguirre admitted the same impermissible payment practices were occurring there. In October 2012, the Secretary filed suit because El Tequila refused to pay its employees at the Broken Arrow, Owasso, and Memorial locations for wages from October 2009 to August 2011. On appeal, El Tequila challenged aspects of the investigations and subsequent trial, including the amount of damages ordered against it. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the judgment. View "Perez v. El Tequila, LLC" 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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In 2012, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) brought an administrative action against Colorado businessman David Bandimere, alleging he violated various securities laws. An SEC ALJ presided over a trial-like hearing. The ALJ's initial decision concluded petitioner Bandimere was liable, barred him from the securities industry, ordered him to cease and desist from violating securities laws, imposed civil penalties, and ordered disgorgement. The SEC reviewed the initial decision and reached a similar result in a separate opinion. In his petition to the Tenth Circuit, petitioner challenged the SEC's opinion as a whole, including both his securities fraud and registration liability, based on a constitutional argument, contending that the ALJ that presided over his hearing had been appointed in violation of Appointments Clause. The Tenth Circuit's decision with respect to this argument "relieves Mr. Bandimere of all liability." During the SEC's review, the agency addressed petitioner's argument that the ALJ was an "inferior officer," as was contemplated by the Federal Constitution. The SEC conceded the ALJ had not been constitutionally appointed, but rejected petitioner's argument because, in its view, the ALJ was not an inferior officer. The Tenth Circuit, after careful consideration, concluded that indeed, the ALJ was an inferior officer. "Nothing in this opinion should be read to answer any but the precise question before this court: whether SEC ALJs are employees or inferior officers. [. . .] Having answered the question before us, and thus resolved Mr. Bandimere's petition, we must leave for another day any other putative consequences of that conclusion." The SEC ALJ held his office unconstitutionally when he presided over petitioner's hearing. View "Bandimere v. U.S. SEC" on Justia Law

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Split Rail Fence Company, Inc., a Colorado business that sold and installed fencing materials, petitions for review of an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) summary decision. The decision imposed civil penalties on Split Rail for violating the Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”) by: (1) “hir[ing] for employment in the United States an individual without complying with the requirements of subsection (b)” of 8 U.S.C. 1324a in violation of section 1324a(a)(1)(B) (Count One); and (2) “continu[ing] to employ [an] alien in the United States knowing the alien is (or has become) an unauthorized alien” in violation of section 1324a(a)(2) (Count Two). ICE special agents conducted an inspection at Split Rail in 2009 and 2011 to determine its compliance with the IRCA. During the inspection, it examined Split Rail’s I-9 forms. ICE served Split Rail with an Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF), commencing this administrative proceeding against Split Rail. Split Rail management stated it “had absolutely no reason to believe either now or at any time in the past that any of [nine individuals identified as ‘current employees’ in the 2011 Notice of Suspect Documents] are anything but law abiding residents of the United States of America.” Split Rail noted many of them were long-term employees who, along with their families, had been involved in company activities, parties, and picnics. He further stated they each appeared authorized to work in the United States because they had bank accounts, cars, homes, and mortgages. He also noted many had valid driver’s licenses and some had filed successful workers’ compensation claims. He did not, however, state that Split Rail had taken any action regarding the employees’ I-9 forms. In 2012, ICE filed its complaint against Split Rail. The ALJ granted ICE summary decision on both counts. Split Rail timely filed its petition for review, but finding no reversible error as to the ALJ's decision, the Tenth Circuit denied Split Rail’s petition. View "Split Rail Fence Co. v. United States" on Justia Law