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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of entities and individuals that owned businesses or real property located on Central Avenue in Albuquerque, New Mexico, filed suit seeking to enjoin the City of Albuquerque from proceeding with construction of a rapid transit bus system along Central Avenue. Plaintiffs claimed, in pertinent part, that the City and the Federal Transit Administration (from whom the City sought federal funding for the project), violated the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act, in the course of planning the project. The district court denied plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs filed an interlocutory appeal challenging that ruling. Finding no reversible error, however, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Coalition of Concerned Citizen v. Federal Transit" on Justia Law

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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

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While incarcerated at the Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF - an all-female state prison), Plaintiff-Appellant Tracy Keith was raped by a prison maintenance employee. Plaintiff filed a section 1983 suit alleging that prison officials, including Warden Richard Koerner, violated her Eighth Amendment rights by creating an environment in which sexual misconduct was likely to occur. The Warden defended primarily on qualified immunity grounds. The district court granted summary judgment to Warden Koerner on qualified immunity. Plaintiff appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit found that a reasonable jury could have concluded that Warden Koerner created an atmosphere where “policies were honored only in the breach, and, as a result, he failed to take reasonable measures to ensure inmates were safe from the risk of sexual misconduct by TCF employees.” Because plaintiff possessed “a clearly established constitutional right” and presented evidence of a constitutional violation by Warden Koerner, the Tenth Circuit concluded summary judgment was inappropriate on qualified-immunity grounds. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Keith v. Koerner" on Justia Law

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A New Mexico statute and a resolution adopted by the Otero County Board of County Commissioners purported to authorize the Board to mitigate fire danger in the Lincoln National Forest without first obtaining permission from the U.S. Forest Service. The United States obtained a judgment from the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico invalidating the statute and the resolution. The Board appealed. but finding no error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. "The Property Clause of the United States Constitution authorizes the federal government to promulgate regulations governing use of national forest lands; and under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause and binding precedent, those regulations prevail over any contrary state or local law." View "United States v. Board of Commissioners of Otero County" on Justia Law

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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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Plaintiff-Appellant Hardscrabble Ranch, L.L.C. appeals from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the government. Hardscrabble sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act in connection with the Forest Service’s response to the Sand Gulch Fire, which damaged Hardscrabble’s land. On April 26, 2011, lightning ignited a wildfire in the Wet Mountains of Colorado, in a remote area of the San Carlos Ranger District in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, and the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands. When the United States Forest Service (USFS) responded, the fire was still small and could have been extinguished then and there. The USFS instead instituted a partial suppression strategy, with the twin goals of allowing the fire to continue burning on Forest Service land while at the same time containing the fire from spreading onto private property, which bordered about half a mile to the east. High winds in advance of a snow storm caused the fire to jump the containment lines the USFS had created, and the fire grew from covering 25–30 acres to a size of more than 200 acres. The USFS changed to a full suppression strategy. That evening the predicted snow came and partially smothered the fire. By the time the fire was declared fully contained several days later, it had burned 496 acres, 154 of which were owned by Hardscrabble Ranch. Hardscrabble contends that the USFS failed to follow numerous policies, regulations, and protocols in its handling of the fire, and that as a result the government was responsible for the harm caused to the Ranch. The district court held that the discretionary function exception to the FTCA barred jurisdiction. Finding no error with that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Hardscrabble Ranch v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) sought to recover on a financial institution crime bond and appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee Kansas Bankers Surety Co. (KBS) and the subsequent denial of reconsideration. The district court held that the underlying bank, the New Frontier Bank of Greeley, Colorado, (Bank) had failed to submit a timely and complete proof of loss, thereby barring FDIC’s recovery on the bond. Finding no error in the district court's decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "FDIC v. Kansas Bankers Surety Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s denial of their request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the drilling of certain oil and gas wells in the Mancos Shale formation of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. The district court concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to satisfy three of the four elements required to obtain a preliminary injunction: (1) Plaintiffs had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims; (2) the balance of harms weighed against Plaintiffs; and (3) Plaintiffs failed to show that the public interest favored an injunction. Finding no reversible error in the district court's denial, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Dine Citizens v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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Petitioners American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, The Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, Carol Walker, and Kimerlee Curyl filed this action against Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, and Neil Kornze, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), seeking review of BLM’s decision to remove wild horses in certain areas of public land located in southwestern Wyoming within an area known as the “Checkerboard.” The Checkerboard was comprised of over one million acres of generally high desert land, and “derives its name from the pattern of alternating sections of private and public land which it comprises.” Under a 2013 consent decree, BLM agreed to remove all wild horses located on private lands in the Checkerboard. BLM maintained that “due to the unique pattern of land ownership” within the Checkerboard, “and as recognized in the Consent Decree, it is practically infeasible for the BLM to meet its obligations under Section 4 of the [Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act ("the Act")] while removing wild horses solely from the private lands sections of the [C]heckerboard.” Petitioners alleged, in pertinent part, that the removal violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). The district court rejected these claims. Petitioners appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding it was "improper" for BLM to construe the unambiguous terms “privately owned land” and “private lands,” as used in Section 4 of the Act, to include the public land sections of the Checkerboard. And, in turn, with respect to the FLMPA claims, it was improper for BLM to conduct what it described as a Section 4 gather on the public land sections of the Checkerboard. "By doing so, BLM violated the duties that Section 3 clearly imposes on it with respect to wild horses found on the public land sections of the Checkerboard." The Court reversed the district court and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "American Wild Horse v. Jewell" on Justia Law