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

Articles Posted in Non-Profit Corporations

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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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Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams appealed a district court order enjoining him from enforcing Colorado's issue-committee registration and disclosure requirements against the Coalition for Secular Government (Coalition), a nonprofit corporation that was planning to advocate against a statewide ballot initiative in the 2014 general election. Under Colorado law, the Coalition's activities triggered various issue-committee registration and disclosure requirements. Once a person or group of persons qualified as an issue committee under this definition, a substantial set of registration and disclosure requirements apply. Since 2008, the Coalition has either registered or considered registering as an issue committee in four general elections: 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014. As the 2012 election neared, the Coalition filed in federal district court a declaratory-judgment suit against Scott Gessler, the then-Colorado Secretary of State. Among other relief, the Coalition requested the court to declare that the Coalition's "expected activity of $3,500 does not require registration as an issue committee." Because a certain constitutional amendment (the "personhood amendment") failed to qualify for the general-election ballot, the Coalition had neither registered as an issue committee nor published an updated policy paper. After the Colorado Supreme Court's decision in "Gessler v. Colorado Common Cause," (327 P.3d 232 (Colo. 2014)), the Coalition renewed its preliminary-injunction motion in federal district court. By then, the personhood amendment had qualified for the 2014 general-election ballot, and Dr. Diana Hsieh (Coalition founder) and her co-author again wanted to update and expand the policy paper urging readers to vote "no" on the latest iteration of the personhood ballot initiative. The district court consolidated the hearing on the preliminary-injunction motion with a hearing on the merits of the case. As Dr. Hsieh testified at the hearing, the Coalition planned to raise about $1,500 in 2014 to fund the policy paper but still opposed registering as an issue committee. By October 3, 2014, the day of the preliminary-injunction hearing, the Coalition had already received pledges totaling about $2,000. On October 10, 2014, the district court "ORDERED and DECLARED that [the Coalition]'s expected activity of $3,500 does not require registration or disclosure as an 'issue committee' and the Secretary is ENJOINED from enforcing" Colorado's disclosure requirements against the Coalition. The Secretary appealed the district court's order granting the Coalition declaratory and injunctive relief, presenting as grounds for appeal: (1) whether Colorado's $200 threshold for issue-committee registration and reporting violated the First Amendment; and (2) could Colorado require issue-committee registration and disclosure for a group that raises and spends $3,500 to influence an election on a statewide ballot initiative? The Tenth Circuit concluded that Colorado's issue-committee regulatory framework was unconstitutional as applied to the Coalition. Therefore it did not address the facial validity of the $200 threshold. View "Coalition for Secular Govt v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Independence Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, conducts research and educates the public on public policy. During the 2014 Colorado gubernatorial campaign, the Institute intended to air an advertisement on Denver-area television that was critical of the state’s failure to audit its new health care insurance exchange. The Institute was concerned that the ad qualified as an “electioneering communication” under the Colorado Constitution and, therefore, to run it the Institute would have to disclose the identity of financial donors who funded the ad. The Institute resisted the disclosure requirement, arguing that the First Amendment prohibited disclosure of donors to an ad that is purely about a public policy issue and is unrelated to a campaign. The Tenth Circuit court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Colorado Secretary of State. "Colorado’s disclosure requirements, as applied to this advertisement, meet the exacting scrutiny standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. . . . The provision serves the legitimate interest of informing the public about the financing of ads that mention political candidates in the final weeks of a campaign, and its scope is sufficiently tailored to require disclosure only of funds earmarked for the financing of such ads." View "Independence Institute v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Since 2004, Citizens United has produced and released 24 films on various political and religious topics. Citizens United completed a 30-minute film called "Rocky Mountain Heist," the subject of which was the alleged impact of various advocacy groups on Colorado government and public policy. The film and some of its advertising unambiguously referred to elected Colorado officials then-running for office in the general election and included footage of events where participants advocated the election or defeat of Colorado candidates. As such, "Rocky Mountain Heist" came under provisions of Colorado’s campaign-practices laws that required certain disclosures with respect to what were termed “electioneering communications” and “independent expenditures.” Citizens United brought suit against the Colorado Secretary of State federal district court to challenge under the First Amendment the disclosure provisions both on their face and as applied to Citizens United because it was treated differently from various media that are exempted from the provisions. It sought a preliminary injunction against enforcing the provisions that did not apply to exempted media. The district court denied relief, and Citizens United appealed. After review, though the Tenth Circuit agreed with much of what the district court said, it reversed: on the record, Citizens United would likely prevail on the merits, and therefore was entitled to a preliminary injunction. "In light of (1) the Colorado disclosure exemptions for printed periodicals, cable and over-the-air broadcasters, and Internet periodicals and blogs, (2) the rationale presented for these exemptions, and (3) Citizen United’s history of producing and distributing two dozen documentary films over the course of a decade, the Secretary has not shown a substantial relation between a sufficiently important governmental interest and the disclosure requirements that follow from treating Rocky Mountain Heist as an 'electioneering communication' or treating the costs of producing and distributing the film as an 'expenditure' under Colorado’s campaign laws." View "Citizens United v. Gessler" on Justia Law

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A three-person nonprofit, Free Speech, brought facial and as-applied challenges against 11 C.F.R. Sec. 100.22(b). The district court dismissed, concluding that Free Speech's claims that its First Amendment rights were violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) were implicated only to disclosure requirements subject to exacting scrutiny and requiring a "substantial relation between the disclosure requirement and a sufficiently important governmental interest." Free Speech appealed to the Tenth Circuit. On appeal, the group argued that the district court erred in its conclusion, arguing that policies and rules of the FEC were unconstitutionally vague, overbroad and triggered burdensome registration and reporting requirements on the group that acted as the functional equivalent of a prior restraint on political speech. After careful review of the appellate filings, the district court’s order, and the entire record, the Tenth Circuit Court affirmed the dismissal for substantially the same reasons stated by the district court. View "Free Speech v. Federal Election Commission" on Justia Law