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

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Defendant-Appellant Mark Berg entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of possession of 100 kilograms or more of marijuana with intent to distribute. Berg appealed his conviction, claiming the district court erred by refusing to suppress evidence seized after a traffic stop. Specifically, Berg argued law enforcement lacked the reasonable suspicion of criminal activity necessary to detain him after the initial stop ended. Taking the totality of the circumstances, including facts indicating Berg was traveling in tandem with two escort vehicles and Berg’s rental car was packed in a manner inconsistent with his assertion he was moving his possessions from one state to another, the Tenth Circuit concluded law enforcement had reasonable suspicion, thus affirming denial of Berg's motion suppress. View "United States v. Berg" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Roger Hill appealed a district court's dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a claim (Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)) -- specifically for lack of prudential standing. Hill was a fly fisherman who preferred to fish at a favorite spot in the Arkansas River. Defendants-Appellees Mark Everett Warsewa and Linda Joseph (Landowners) contended they owned the Arkansas riverbed up to its centerline at the spot at which Hill preferred to fish. Hill contended this segment of the river was navigable for title at the time Colorado was admitted to the United States and that title to the riverbed consequently vested in the state at admission under Article IV of the Constitution and the Equal Footing Doctrine. According to Hill, the state holds this title in trust for the public, subject to an easement for public uses such as fishing. Defendant-Appellee State of Colorado agreed with the Landowner-Appellees that this segment of the river was non-navigable for title at statehood and was privately owned. The district court found that Hill lacked prudential standing because he asserted a generalized grievance and rested his claims on the rights of the state. The Tenth Circuit reversed. Hill alleged he had a specific, legally protected right to fish resulting from alleged facts and law. "The other parties and amici may ultimately be correct that Colorado law does not actually afford Mr. Hill the right to fish that he asserts, even if he can prove navigability as a factual matter. But in this regard 'far-fetchedness is a question to be determined on the merits.'" The Court assumed Hill’s claim had “legal validity” and concluded that he asserted his own rights, not those of Colorado, for prudential standing purposes. View "Hill v. Warsewa" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Adam Sadlowski entered a conditional plea of guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, reserving the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress. He was sentenced to 51 months' imprisonment and three years' supervised release. On appeal, he argued the district court erred because: (1) the state metropolitan court lacked jurisdiction to issue a felony-related search warrant; (2) the warrant’s issuance violated Rules 4.1 and 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; (3) the warrant was deficient for lack of probable cause and particularity; and (4) he was entitled to a Franks hearing. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Sadlowski" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Travis Greer, a Messianic Jew housed in an Oklahoma prison, informed prison officials that he kept kosher. At his request, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections agreed to provide Greer with kosher foods. In exchange, Greer agreed not to consume any non-kosher foods. Prison officials concluded that Greer had violated this agreement by consuming crackers and iced tea, which they considered non-kosher. As punishment, authorities denied Greer kosher foods for 120 days. Greer complained about this punishment. Soon afterward, officials saw Greer using a computer. Treating the computer use as an infraction, officials penalized Greer with a disciplinary sanction. The disciplinary sanction led officials to transfer Greer out of a preferred housing unit. Greer sued based on the suspension of kosher foods, the disciplinary sanction for using the computer, and the housing transfer. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on some causes of action based on Greer’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies and dismissed other causes of action for failure to state a claim. The district court then granted summary judgment to defendants on the remaining causes of action based on qualified immunity and the unavailability of declaratory or injunctive relief. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. In its first grant of summary judgment, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court correctly held that Greer had exhausted administrative remedies through a grievance addressing the suspension of his kosher foods. But the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court interpreted this grievance too narrowly, viewing it as pertinent only to Greer’s causes of action involving cruel and unusual punishment, conspiracy, retaliation, and deprivation of due process. "In our view, however, this grievance also encompassed Mr. Greer’s causes of action based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment. As a result, the district court should not have granted summary judgment for a failure to exhaust these two causes of action." Greer also asked the Tenth Circuit to review the district court’s second grant of summary judgment. The Court declined to do so because Greer waived appellate review of this ruling. View "Greer v. Dowling" on Justia Law

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Dr. Kevin Donahue was walking home one night when he saw a woman outside his neighbor’s house. Dr. Donahue thought she was trespassing, and he got into a heated conversation with her. They approached two police officers, Officer Shaun Wihongi and Officer Shawn Bennett, who were investigating an incident a few houses away. The officers questioned them separately. The woman told Officer Wihongi her name was “Amy LaRose,” which later turned out to be untraceable. She claimed Dr. Donahue was drunk and had insulted her. Dr. Donahue refused to provide his name but admitted he had been drinking and said the woman had hit him. The officers eventually arrested and handcuffed Dr. Donahue. Dr. Donahue sued Officer Wihongi, the Salt Lake City Police Department (“SLCPD”), and Salt Lake City Corporation (“SLC”). He alleged Officer Wihongi violated his Fourth Amendment rights by: (1) arresting him without probable cause; (2) using excessive force during the arrest; and (3) detaining him for too long. Officer Wihongi moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion on all three claims and dismissed the case. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Donahue v. Wihongi" on Justia Law

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While driving a car insured by Arizona Automobile Insurance Company, Marlena Whicker rear-ended a taxi and injured its passenger, Georgiana Chavez. Chavez sued Whicker in Colorado state court and won a default judgment when neither Whicker nor Arizona entered a defense. Whicker, unable to satisfy the judgment from the lawsuit, assigned her rights against Arizona to Chavez, who then filed this diversity suit against Arizona in federal court for failure to defend Whicker in the underlying state court action. Her theory was that Arizona had a duty to defend Whicker under Colorado law because Arizona knew that she was a driver covered under its policy. The district court disagreed with Chavez and granted Arizona’s motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit determined that under Colorado law, Arizona was only required to defend Whicker if Chavez’s complaint plausibly alleged Whicker was insured under the Arizona policy. It therefore reached the same conclusion as the district court and, affirmed its dismissal of Chavez’s case. View "Chavez v. Arizona Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Elizabeth Frost died in an accidental house fire. At the time, ADT provided security monitoring services to the premises. During the fire, ADT received several alerts through its monitoring system. Although ADT attempted to call Frost and the back-up number listed on her account, it did not get through. After several such attempts, ADT cleared the alerts without contacting emergency services. The administrator of Frost’s estate and her minor heir, M.F., sued ADT. The central theme of the complaint was that ADT’s failure to notify emergency services contradicted representations on its website that it would do so, and that failure wrongfully caused or contributed to Frost’s death. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding the one-year suit limitation provision in the contract between ADT and Frost barred the claims and that Claimants failed to state a claim with respect to certain counts. Because the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found the contract between Frost and ADT provided an enforceable suit-limitation provision that barred the claims at issue, it affirmed dismissal. View "Frost v. ADT" on Justia Law

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The Rio Grande was one of only a handful of rivers that created critical habitat for plants, animals, and humans. “And it is a fact of life that not enough water exists to meet the competing needs.” Recognizing these multiple uses, Congress has authorized the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain a balance between the personal, commercial, and agricultural needs of the people in New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Valley and the competing needs of the plants and animals. WildEarth Guardians claimed the Army Corps of Engineers failed to protect the needs of two endangered species that live along the river: the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow. The group filed suit under the Endangered Species Act, arguing the Army Corps of Engineers failed to exercise its discretion and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about alternative water management policies that would help protect these species. The district court concluded the Army Corps of Engineers was not authorized by the statute to allocate additional water to species’ needs and therefore was not required to consult with FWS. Finding no error in the district court’s reasoning, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Alonso Martinez-Perez sought review of a final Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) order that dismissed his appeal, holding that neither the BIA nor the Immigration Court had jurisdiction to grant Petitioner’s application for cancellation of removal. Petitioner was a native and citizen of Mexico. He entered the United States in 2001, without being inspected and admitted or paroled. On April 9, 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) charged him as removable from the United States pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as an alien present in the United States without being admitted or paroled. Immigration officials served Petitioner with a notice to appear, which did not include a date and time for his hearing. One week later, Petitioner received notice of the date and time of his hearing in a separate document. Petitioner, through counsel, admitted the allegations contained in the notice to appear and conceded the charge of removability. The Immigration Judge found Petitioner removable. The Tenth Circuit found the Supreme Court held that a notice to appear that omits the removal proceeding’s time or place does not stop the alien’s accrual of continuous presence in the United States for purposes of cancellation of removal. The requirements of a notice to appear were claim-processing rules; the Court thus concluded the Immigration Court had authority to adjudicate issues pertaining to Petitioner’s removal even though Petitioner’s notice to appear lacked time-and-date information. With respect to issues raised regarding the BIA’s or Immigration Judge’s jurisdiction to grant Petitioner’s application in the absence of establishing a qualifying relative at the time of hearing: the Tenth Circuit concluded that for the BIA to conclude that neither it nor the Immigration Court had jurisdiction to grant Petitioner’s application was error. Moreover, before the BIA, Petitioner alleged and described what he contended was an improper delay on the part of the Immigration Court. Given this case’s procedural history, which is undisputed, the Tenth Circuit concluded it was within the BIA’s jurisdiction to interpret the applicable statutes in a way that would not penalize Petitioner for the Immigration Court’s delay. Because the BIA erred in holding that it lacked jurisdiction to grant Petitioner’s application and, in turn, failed to exercise its interpretive authority, the Court remanded. View "Martinez-Perez v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Petrona Gaspar-Miguel appealed a district court’s affirmance of her conviction for entering the United States. On appeal, she contended the district court’s conclusion that she “entered” the United States even though she was under the constant surveillance of a border patrol agent was contrary to established law defining “entry.” The Tenth Circuit rejected this argument and affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Gaspar-Miguel" on Justia Law