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

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Kenneth Theis appeals his conviction and sentence for attempted sexual exploitation of a child. Theis used hidden cell phones to secretly record his girlfriend’s eleven-year-old daughter while she showered and used the toilet. He transferred the recordings to his computer and created still images, some of which focused on her genital and pubic area. As a result, Theis was indicted on two counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a child. Theis filed a motion to dismiss the indictment arguing the facts were insufficient to establish an offense under the applicable statute. He asserted that the statute required a causal, interactive relationship between the defendant and the minor, and that his conduct (which he contended amounted to mere voyeurism) was insufficient to establish a violation of the statute. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Theis" on Justia Law

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Defendant Raymond Alcorta was charged with conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine with Javier Vega, Karmin Salazar, Adrienne Lopez, and Angela Lopez, who acted as drug couriers. They all lived in California; the drugs were delivered to Kansas City. Vega and Salazar pleaded guilty, while Defendant, Adrienne, and Angela proceeded to a joint trial in Kansas. All three were found guilty of conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, and the couriers were also convicted of possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the convictions of Adrienne and Angela because the search of their vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment. But because Defendant had no standing to complain about that search and did not complain about it, the Court could consider on this appeal the evidence obtained in that search. Defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence and the admission of recorded jailhouse conversations of coconspirators. The Tenth Circuit concluded defendant’s conviction was supported by sufficient evidence, and his arguments challenging the admission of the conversations were unpersuasive. View "United States v. Alcorta" on Justia Law

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VR Acquisitions, LLC (VRA) owned a roughly 6,700-acre property in Utah’s Jordanelle Basin. VRA brought this action in 2015, asserting three federal constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and five state-law claims. All claims rested, to some degree, on VRA’s assertion that an invalid assessment lien was recorded against the property three years before VRA bought the property. The district court dismissed all eight claims with prejudice under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), and VRA appealed. Because the district court properly dismissed VRA’s section 1983 claims for lack of prudential standing, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims with prejudice. But because the district court should have declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over VRA’s state-law claims, the Tenth Circuit reversed its dismissal with prejudice of those claims and remanded with directions for the district court to dismiss those claims without prejudice. View "VR Acquisitions v. Wasatch County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants David and Lee Ann Lankford unwittingly invested in a Ponzi scheme operated by Vaughan Company Realtors (VCR), wherein investors paid money to VCR in return for interest-bearing promissory notes. After the Ponzi scheme collapsed, VCR filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Unlike many others, the Lankfords actually profited from their investment. So the court-appointed trustee of VCR’s bankruptcy estate, Judith Wagner, brought an adversary proceeding against them in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Mexico. Through this and related “clawback” proceedings, the trustee sought to avoid, or undo, pre-bankruptcy fraudulent transfers and thus recoup fictitious profits from investors with net gains for the benefit of all of VCR’s creditors. The Lankfords filed this lawsuit against the bankruptcy trustee and her counsel without first applying for and receiving permission under "Barton v. Barbour," (104 U.S. 126 (1881)), and its progeny (the “Barton doctrine”). The district court concluded that "Barton" barred the suit and dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Lankford v. Wagner" on Justia Law

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Los Dahda was convicted of crimes growing out of an alleged marijuana distribution network centered in Kansas. The convictions resulted in a sentence of imprisonment and a fine of $16,985,250. On appeal, Los presented six challenges to the convictions and sentence. The Tenth Circuit rejected all but one: that the district court erred in imposing the monetary fine. The Court affirmed the conviction and 189-month sentence he received, but vacated the fine. View "United States v. Dahda" on Justia Law

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Roosevelt Dahda and 42 others faced criminal charges involving the operation of a marijuana-distribution network centered in Kansas. Roosevelt was convicted on ten counts, and the district court sentenced him to 201 months’ imprisonment and ordered forfeiture in the amount of $16,985,250. On appeal, Roosevelt raised seven challenges to his convictions and sentence; the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all but one challenge. Roosevelt argued the district court erred in setting Roosevelt’s base-offense level by miscalculating the amount of marijuana attributed to him. Based on these conclusions, the Court affirmed Roosevelt’s convictions but remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Dahda" on Justia Law

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The parties to this suit agreed they had a contract, but disputed prices. The district court granted summary judgment to CSI Calendaring, Inc. On appeal the parties raised a number of arguments about whose view of the price should prevail. They disagreed about whether they already had agreed on the price before issuance of the January quote at issue, whether the January quote modified any prior agreement, and whether Obermeyer Hydro Accessories, Inc. was bound by CSI’s view of the pricing because Obermeyer paid a number of invoices over several months that reflected that view. In the Tenth Circuit's view, there were unresolved factual disputes that precluded judgment for either party, and therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Obermeyer Hydro v. CSI Calendering" on Justia Law

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (“PETPO”) challenged a regulation promulgated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The challenged regulation prohibited the “take” of the Utah prairie dog, a purely intrastate species, on nonfederal land. The ESA defined “take” as meaning “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.” The district court granted summary judgment for PETPO on the ground that neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution authorized Congress to regulate take of the Utah prairie dog on nonfederal land. FWS and intervenor-defendant Friends of Animals (“FoA”) appealed the grant of summary judgment, arguing that the challenged regulation was authorized by both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, and that PETPO lacked standing. After its review, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court correctly concluded that PETPO had standing, but erred in concluding that Congress lacked authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate (and authorize the Service to regulate) the take of the Utah prairie dog. View "People for Ethical Treatment v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Robert Snyder pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm. The issue here was whether a prior conviction for voluntary manslaughter was a "crime of violence" as defined by section 4B1.2(a)(2) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Based on the Supreme Court’s decision in "Beckles v. United States," (No. 15-8544, 2017 WL 855781, at *6 (S. Ct. Mar. 6, 2017)), where the court rejected a vagueness challenge to the residual clause of section 4B1.2(a)(2), defendant conceded that voluntary manslaughter was a crime of violence, and the district court correctly applied the Guidelines in this case. View "United States v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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Monica Pompeo, a student in a graduate-level course at the University of New Mexico (“UNM”), claimed that UNM officials retaliated against her in violation of her free speech rights because they disagreed with viewpoints she expressed in an assigned class paper. In "Axson-Flynn v. Johnson," (356 F.3d 1277 (10th Cir. 2004)), the Tenth Circuit held courts may not override an educator’s decision in the school-sponsored speech context “unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment” and instead used “the proffered goal or methodology [as] a sham pretext for an impermissible ulterior motive.” Here, Pompeo asked the Tenth Circuit to draw an analogy between the religious discrimination at issue in "Axson-Flynn" and the viewpoint discrimination she complained of in this case. "Yet our court has specifically held that precedent 'allows educators to make viewpoint-based decisions about school-sponsored speech' and may restrict speech they believe contains 'inflammatory and divisive statements.'" Finding no reversible error in the district court's grant of summary judgment to UNM, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Pompeo's case. View "Pompeo v. Board of Regents" on Justia Law