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

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Defendant Riordan Maynard, the former chief executive officer of two related companies, was convicted by a jury of twenty-six criminal counts arising out of his gross mismanagement of those companies. The district court sentenced Maynard to 78 months’ imprisonment. The district court also ordered Maynard to pay restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and to the employee-victims. On appeal, Maynard argued: argues that: (1) the district court misapplied the Sentencing Guidelines in calculating his offense level for Counts 1 and 2 (failure to pay corporate payroll taxes); (2) his convictions on Counts 14 through 26 were not supported by sufficient evidence (theft or embezzlement of employee health care contributions); (3) the district court erred in calculating the restitution award for Counts 4 through 13 (theft or embezzlement of employee benefit plan contributions); and (4) the district court plainly erred in calculating the restitution award for Counts 14 through 26. Rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Maynard's convictions and sentence. View "United States v. Maynard" on Justia Law

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At the heart of this case was governmental jurisdiction over one percent of state- and privately owned land within the Grand Teton National Park’s exterior boundaries - collectively called “inholdings.” In consolidated appeals, the Tenth Circuit was tasked with resolving administrative challenges to two actions taken by Defendant-Appellee National Park Service (“NPS”) regarding the management of wildlife on the Park’s inholdings. Appellants challenged NPS’s 2014 determination that 36 C.F.R. 2.2 - a wildlife regulation that prohibited hunting in national parks - did not apply to the Park’s inholdings, based on what NPS had concluded was its lack of jurisdiction over wildlife management on those lands. The Appellants contended the NPS did possess such jurisdiction, and that its determination otherwise was contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”). The second agency action was challenged only by appellant Conservation Association, concerning the Joint Elk Reduction Program - a plan under the joint auspices of NPS and the State of Wyoming, aimed at controlling the Park's elk-herd population. The district court rejected both challenges to the two NPS actions, finding as an initial matter, that Appellants possessed standing to challenge both actions, but they failed to show that either of the contested actions was contrary to law or arbitrary and capricious, and therefore affirmed NPS’s actions in full. After review, the Tenth Circuit held: (1) NPS’s determination that 36 C.F.R. 2.2 did not apply to Park inholdings was not contrary to law or arbitrary and capricious; and (2) the Conservation Association lacked standing to challenge NPS’s approval of the 2015 Elk Reduction Program. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court with respect to NPS’s section 2.2 determination. Furthermore, the Court dismissed the portion of the appeal pertaining to NPS’s approval of the 2015 Elk Reduction Program, and remanded with instructions to the district court to vacate that portion of the judgment, and dismiss the Conservation Association’s claim thereof without prejudice. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Dept. of Interior" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Antonio Hooks alleged Officers Chris Harding and James Irby of the Bethany, Oklahoma, Police Department, used excessive force against him in the course of an arrest, and, separately, that Officer Kayode Atoki exhibited deliberate indifference by failing to intervene during a vicious, gang-related jailhouse assault. The district court screened and dismissed Hooks’s excessive force claim prior to discovery. And after limited discovery, the district court granted Officer Atoki’s motion for summary judgment on the deliberate indifference claim. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, in part and reversed, in part. Specifically, the Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Hooks’s excessive force claim because some of his allegations were not barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Officer Atoki on Hooks’s deliberate indifference claim. The Court also took the opportunity to clarify that its recent discussion of the deliberate indifference standard in Strain v. Regalado, 977 F.3d 984 (10th Cir. 2020), applied outside the medical context. View "Hooks v. Atoki" on Justia Law

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Martin Crowson was an inmate at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility (the “Jail”) when he began suffering from symptoms of toxic metabolic encephalopathy. Nurse Michael Johnson and Dr. Judd LaRowe, two of the medical staff members responsible for Crowson’s care, wrongly concluded Crowson was experiencing drug or alcohol withdrawal. On the seventh day of medical observation, Crowson’s condition deteriorated and he was transported to the hospital, where he was accurately diagnosed. After Crowson recovered, he sued Johnson, LaRowe, and Washington County under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court denied motions for summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity by Johnson and LaRowe, concluding a reasonable jury could find both were deliberately indifferent to Crowson’s serious medical needs, and that it was clearly established their conduct amounted to a constitutional violation. The district court also denied the County’s motion for summary judgment, concluding a reasonable jury could find the treatment failures were an obvious consequence of the County’s reliance on LaRowe’s infrequent visits to the Jail and the County’s lack of written protocols for monitoring, diagnosing, and treating inmates. Johnson, LaRowe, and the County filed consolidated interlocutory appeals, raising threshold questions of jurisdiction. Johnson and LaRowe challenged the denial of qualified immunity, while the County contended the Tenth Circuit should exercise pendent appellate jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of its summary judgment motion. The Tenth Circuit exercised limited jurisdiction over Johnson’s and LaRowe’s appeals pursuant to the exception to 28 U.S.C. 1291, carved out for purely legal issues of qualified immunity through the collateral order doctrine. The Court held Johnson’s conduct did not violate Crowson’s rights and, assuming without deciding LaRowe’s conduct did, the Court concluded LaRowe’s conduct did not violate any clearly established rights. The Court's holding was "inextricably intertwined with the County’s liability on a failure-to-train theory," so the Court exercised pendent appellate jurisdiction to the extent Crowson’s claims against the County rested on that theory. However, under Tenth Circuit binding precedent, the Court's holdings on the individual defendants’ appeals were not inextricably intertwined with Crowson’s claims against the County to the extent he advanced a systemic failure theory. The district court's denial of summary judgment to Johnson, LaRowe, and the County on the failure-to-train theory was reversed, and the remainder of the County’s appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "Crowson v. Washington County State, Utah" on Justia Law

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The City of Truth or Consequences converted a community center for senior citizens into a visitor center operated by Spaceport America. A local resident, Ron Fenn, unhappy with this change, publicly protested his opposition over a period of several years. Some of his protests were inside the building and included offensive behavior and unauthorized uses of the facility. Several tenants in the building, including Spaceport Director Daniel Hicks, complained to local law enforcement about Fenn’s behavior and presence at the Center. He was issued three no trespass notices pursuant to New Mexico law over that time. Finally, in June 2017, Fenn was arrested and charged with trespass. The charges were later dismissed. Fenn sued, asserting: (1) a 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil rights claim for First Amendment retaliation against Hicks, arresting officer Michael Apodaca, and Police Chief Lee Alirez; (2) a section 1983 claim for malicious prosecution against Apodaca and Alirez; (3) claims against the City for supervisory liability and under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); (4) a section 1983 claim for supervisory liability against Alirez; and (5) a state law claim for malicious abuse of process against Apodaca and Alirez. The district court rejected Fenn’s claims on qualified immunity grounds, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed: the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because no constitutional violation occurred. "And, in the absence of a constitutional violation by Apodaca or Alirez, there is no basis for the Monell and supervisory claims. Finally, the district court correctly dismissed Fenn’s state law claim for malicious abuse of process." View "Fenn v. City of Truth or Consequences" on Justia Law

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Late one night, Fabian Sanchez was approached by two police officers who suspected him or attempting to break into a vehicle sitting the back area of a hotel parking lot. He was wearing a trench coat with a loaded gun in the pocket. After routine questioning, he was caught in a lie and fled. During the chase, his trench coat ended up on the ground after one of the officers unsuccessfully tased Sanchez, but he kept running. He eventually ran back toward his trench coat but was tackled by the officers before he could get there. Sanchez was arrested, and the loaded gun was discovered in his trench coat. Charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, Sanchez moved to suppress the gun. The district court denied the motion and granted the government's motion in limine to admit an incriminating statement Sanchez made after his arrest. Sanchez pleaded guilty on the condition that he could appeal these rulings. He was then sentenced pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). On appeal, Sanchez argued: (1) the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to seize him and lacked probable cause to arrest him, violating his Fourth Amendment rights; (2) the officers searched his trench coat without a warrant even though he did not voluntarily abandon it, violating his Fourth Amendment rights; and (3) his incriminating statement was the product of custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings, violating his Fifth Amendment rights. Sanchez also contended his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntarily made, and that the district court erred in arriving at his sentence under the ACCA. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Robert Allen appealed his conviction for depredation of government property. arguing his conviction violated both the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and separation of powers principles. Allen also appealed the district court’s restitution order of $20,300, claiming the order included restitution for uncharged conduct, and that the district court erred in applying the procedural framework of the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (MVRA) by placing the burden on him to disprove the amount of loss contained in the presentence report and by ordering a restitution amount unsupported by evidence. After the parties completed briefing on this case, the government filed a notice of concession, acknowledging that the restitution order was erroneous and suggesting remand for resentencing on restitution. The Tenth Circuit affirmed Allen’s conviction, vacated the district court’s restitution order, and remanded the case to the district court to recalculate restitution. View "United States v. Allen" on Justia Law

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In March 2018, Francisco Ybarra Cruz, a former confidential informant in federal drug investigations, was stopped for a New Mexico traffic violation. After obtaining consent to search, the officer found more than ten pounds of methamphetamine in Ybarra Cruz’s truck. After being indicted, Ybarra Cruz moved to suppress the methamphetamine evidence and his Mirandized statements and admissions. The district court denied this motion, and a jury later convicted him for possessing the methamphetamine with an intent to distribute it. On appeal, Ybarra Cruz argued the district court: (1) erred by not granting his motion to suppress, on grounds that the police officer lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop; (2) erred by not acquitting him based on his public-authority defense (that he reasonably believed he was acting with government authority in transporting the methamphetamine); (3) abused its discretion by not granting him a new trial on grounds that the jury might not have understood that crediting his public-authority defense would require acquittal on both counts; and (4) abused its discretion by not sua sponte instructing on the affirmative defense of duress. After review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit rejected each of these arguments and affirmed. View "United States v. Ybarra Cruz" on Justia Law

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Ghanian native and citizen, petitioner Joachim Addo appealed when his application for asylum was denied by an immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals. Petitioner was the son of the chief of the Challa tribe. For several years the Challa have been in a land dispute with another tribe, the Atwode. The Atwode tribe was larger than the Challa, but the Challa controlled more land in the Nkwanta district, and in the past they often leased land to the Atwode. Starting in 2005 the Atwode began violating the lease terms and customs. Petitioner’s father instructed the Challa to stop leasing land to the Atwode, and he took the Atwode to court over the land disputes, winning every case. The Atwode responded with violence against the Challa and vowed to eliminate Petitioner’s father and family. This led to several violent incidents perpetrated by the Atwode against Petitioner and other members of his family. Shortly after these attacks, Petitioner and his father agreed that, for his own safety, Petitioner would relinquish his position as heir-apparent to the Challa chiefdom and would move from Nkwanta to Accra, the capital of Ghana. But this did not stop the Atwode, and harassment continued. In January 2017 Petitioner entered the United States. He expressed a fear of returning to Ghana and was granted a credible-fear interview. An asylum officer determined that Petitioner was credible and referred his case to adjudication. At a hearing in June 2017 the IJ determined that Petitioner was removable. Petitioner indicated, however, that he wished to apply for asylum, so the IJ scheduled a hearing to consider the asylum claim. Petitioner filed an application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. In the briefs on his petition for review by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Petitioner challenged the denial of asylum and withholding of removal, arguing that substantial evidence did not support the BIA’s determination that he could successfully avoid future persecution by relocating within Ghana. The Court agreed with Petitioner that the decision on his ability to safely relocate was unsupported by substantial evidence. The petition was granted and the matter remanded to the BIA for further proceedings. View "Addo v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Melvin Roshard Alfred was convicted by jury of coercion and enticement (Count 1) and facilitating prostitution (Count 2). Using a social media website, “Tagged,” Alfred attempted to convince a person he believed to be a nineteen-year-old woman living in Colorado to engage in prostitution. In fact, Alfred was communicating with FBI agents. Before trial, the government indicated it intended to admit eight “memes”: Alfred had posted the memes on Tagged in or before 2015, three years prior to Alfred’s contact with the FBI-run profile. The memes contained laudatory references to pimping and pimping culture and also contained graphic depictions suggesting dire consequences of engaging in prostitution without a pimp. The district court concluded the memes were admissible as intrinsic evidence of the crimes charged and that the probative value of six of the eight memes was not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The district court excluded the other two memes under Rule 403. On appeal, Alfred argued the district court abused its discretion in finding the memes were intrinsic evidence of the charged counts and in finding the probative value of the six memes admitted was not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Finding no such abuse of discretion, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Alfred" on Justia Law