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Defendant Jay Giannukos appealed two convictions involving the illegal possession of firearms. While conducting a parole search of Giannukos’s home, officers found two firearms, methamphetamine, and counterfeiting equipment. A grand jury indicted Giannukos on four counts: (1) possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine; (2) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; (3) being a felon in possession of a firearm; and (4) counterfeiting Federal Reserve Notes with the intent to defraud. A jury convicted Giannukos of all counts. Giannukos appealed Counts 2 and 3, arguing that the district court gave an erroneous constructive possession jury instruction and that the prosecutor made improper statements during her closing argument. After review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit agreed, reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. View "United States v. Giannukos" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Rhonda Nesbitt was a former massage therapy student who attended a for-profit vocational school operated by Defendants-Appellees (“Steiner”).On behalf of a class of former students, Nesbitt brought suit claiming the students qualified as employees of Steiner under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and alleging Steiner violated the FLSA by failing to pay minimum wage. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Steiner, holding that the students were not employees of the schools under the FLSA. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Nesbitt v. FCNH" on Justia Law

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A Settlement Agreement sought to end a longstanding, complex dispute dating from 2008. In 2008, environmental groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (collectively, “SUWA”) challenged six resource management plans (“RMPs”) and associated travel management plans (“TMPs”) adopted by the United States Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”). Six other parties intervened as respondents, including the State of Utah and several counties in Utah (collectively, “Utah”). When BLM, SUWA, and multiple intervenors entered into a settlement and sought to dismiss the case in January 2017, Utah challenged the settlement. Utah contended, among other arguments, that the Settlement Agreement illegally codified interpretative BLM guidance into substantive rules, impermissibly binds the BLM to a past Administration’s policies, infringes valid federal land rights (known as “R.S. 2477 rights”), and violated a prior BLM settlement. The district court disagreed and approved the Settlement Agreement. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit, Utah sought to reverse the district court for primarily the same issues raised at trial. The Tenth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction over the claims and dismissed. View "Southern Utah Wilderness v. Burke" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Vincencio Olea-Monarez was charged along with several codefendants in a thirty-one-count indictment related to a large drug-trafficking conspiracy. During deliberations, the jury sent the district court two questions regarding Count 8. In the first, the jury asked what evidence would support Count 8; the judge responded that testimony and exhibits had been admitted concerning the count, which the jury could review upon their request. The second question asked whether the indictment for Count 8 had the incorrect date. The judge responded by noting that there had been four witnesses who testified about Count 8, and that Exhibits 98 and 99 relating to the charge had been admitted. Olea-Monarez argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that both of the court’s responses to the jury questions were erroneous and required reversal of his conviction for Count 8. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding the trial court judge did not abuse its discretion in responding to the jury’s questions because, “although it at times directed the jury’s attention to evidence, it made no evaluation of the evidence and therefore did not impinge on the jury’s role as factfinder.” View "United States v. Olea-Monarez" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Jacob McGehee and Steven Ray Heath appealed a district court’s grant of summary judgment to defendants Forest Oil Corp. and Lantern Drilling Co. Forest and Lantern leased a drilling device from Teledrift, plaintiffs’ employer, and returned the device after using it in drilling operations. Plaintiffs then proceeded to clean and disassemble it. McGehee discovered several small bolts had fallen into the device. While he attempted to remove them, the lithium battery inside the device exploded, injuring himself and Heath. They sued Forest and Lantern for negligently causing the explosion by allowing bolts to fall into the device. Following discovery, Forest and Lantern moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted, holding they did not owe the plaintiffs a duty of care under Oklahoma tort law. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "McGehee v. Southwest Electronic Energy" on Justia Law

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From 2009 until 2012, Debbi Potts worked as the campus director of the Cheyenne, Wyoming campus of CollegeAmerica Denver, Inc. (CollegeAmerica), a predecessor of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, Inc. (the Center). Potts alleged she resigned because CollegeAmerica’s business practices were unethical. In particular, she alleges that CollegeAmerica violated its accreditation standards and “actively deceiv[ed]” its accreditor to maintain accreditation. In September 2012, Potts and CollegeAmerica entered a written agreement by which CollegeAmerica agreed to pay Potts $7,000 and support her unemployment claim, and Potts agreed to (1) “refrain from personally (or through the use of any third party) contacting any governmental or regulatory agency with the purpose of filing any complaint or grievance,” (2) “direct any complaints or issues against CollegeAmerica . . . to CollegeAmerica’s toll free compliant [sic] number,” and (3) “not intentionally with malicious intent (publicly or privately) disparage the reputation of CollegeAmerica.” Despite the agreement, Potts disparaged the Center in an e-mail she sent to another former employee. After learning of this, the Center sued Potts in Colorado state court for violating the agreement, seeking the $7,000 it had paid to Potts under the agreement. In February 2013, Potts sent a written complaint to the Center’s accreditor, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), concerning the Center’s alleged deceptions in maintaining its accreditation. After learning this, the Center amended its state-court complaint to add breach of contract. In response, Potts sued the Center in federal district court, alleging that the Center’s state claim violated the False Claims Act’s anti-retaliation provision. The Tenth Circuit considered whether this anti-retaliation statute applied when no retaliatory discrimination occurred until after employment ends. The Court concluded that it did not, and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Potts’s retaliation claim. View "Potts v. Center for Excellence" on Justia Law

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Defendants Jose Remberto Guzman-Dominguez and Miguel Angel Rodriguez-Flores were arrested at a state port of entry after an inspector found cocaine and heroin in their tractor-trailer. The truck contained a large quantity of legitimate cargo, but four boxes containing the drugs, weighing more than 115 pounds, were concealed behind that cargo. After a joint trial in federal district court, defendants were convicted on all three counts of the indictment against them: (1) conspiracy to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine and at least one kilogram of heroin; (2) possession with intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine; and (3) possession with intent to distribute at least one kilogram of heroin. The primary issue before the district court was whether Defendants knew of the contraband in the truck. Both had denied knowledge in statements to law-enforcement officers after their arrests. Guzman-Dominguez repeated the denial of knowledge in his trial testimony. Rodriguez-Flores did not testify. On appeal Rodriguez-Flores challenged the sufficiency of the evidence that he knew of the contraband in the truck, and both Defendants challenged the unobjected-to admission of a statement by an expert witness that he did not believe persons transporting drugs who denied knowledge of the drugs. The Tenth Circuit determined the evidence was more than sufficient for a reasonable juror to infer beyond a reasonable doubt that Rodriguez-Flores was involved in the drug offenses, and on plain-error review of the admission of the expert testimony, the Court held Defendants did not show the prejudice necessary to require reversal. View "United States v. Rodriguez-Flores" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Audubon Society of Greater Denver sought review of the Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of a project to store more water in the Chatfield Reservoir in Colorado. Audubon argued the Corps’ review and approval of the project failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. The district court denied the petition for review after concluding that the Corps’ decision was not arbitrary or capricious. Audubon also moved to supplement the administrative record. The district court denied the motion because it found that the administrative record sufficiently informed the Corps’ analysis. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Audubon Society v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a federal grand jury in Utah returned a single count indictment against Kemp & Associates, Inc. (“Kemp”) and its Vice President/COO Daniel Mannix (collectively, “Defendants”) for knowingly entering into a combination and conspiracy in violation of the Sherman Act. Kemp was an “Heir Location Service,” a company that “identif[ies] heirs to estates of intestate decedents and, in exchange for a contingency fee, develop evidence and prove heirs’ claims to an inheritance in probate court.” The Government alleged at some point before January 29, 2014, Defendants “knowingly entered into and engaged in a combination and conspiracy with Richard Blake, Jr., [a competitor Heir Location Service] and other unindicted co-conspirators to suppress and eliminate competition by agreeing to allocate customers of Heir Location Services sold in the United States.” Under this agreement, when the two companies both contacted a potential heir, “the co-conspirator company that first contacted that heir would be allocated certain remaining heirs to that estate who had yet to sign a contract with an Heir Location Services provider.” In return, the company to which heirs were allocated “would pay to the other co-conspirator company a portion of the contingency fees ultimately collected from those allocated heirs.” The Government alleged that, in furtherance of this scheme, Defendants “made payments to the co- conspirator company, and received payments from the co-conspirator company, in order to effectuate this agreement.” Defendants moved for an order that the antitrust case would proceed pursuant to the rule of reason, as opposed to the per se rule, and to dismiss the indictment. As to the statute of limitations, Defendants noted that the limitations period for criminal violations of the Sherman Act was five years, and they argued that the indictment was thus untimely because any agreement between the alleged co- conspirators ended prior to a Mannix email from July 2008, whereas the charging Indictment wasn’t returned until August 2016, and served on defendants on September 1, 2016. The Tenth Circuit determined that the indictment at issue here was timely, but that it did not have jurisdiction over the district court's rule of reason order, and that mandamus was inappropriate in this circumstance. Therefore, the Court reversed the district court's dismissal of the indictment, dismissed the Government's appeal of the rule of reason order for lack of jurisdiction, and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "United States v. Kemp & Associates" on Justia Law

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Au pairs and former au pairs filed a class action lawsuit against AuPairCare, Inc. (“APC”) and other au pair sponsoring companies alleging violations of antitrust laws, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), federal and state minimum wage laws, and other state laws. Eventually, the au pairs amended their complaint and added two former au pairs, Juliane Harning and Laura Mejia Jimenez, who were sponsored by APC. In response, APC filed a motion to compel arbitration, which the district court denied. The district court found the arbitration provision between the parties both procedurally and substantively unconscionable and declined to enforce it. Because the arbitration provision contained only one substantively unconscionable clause, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion by refusing to sever the offending clause and otherwise enforce the agreement to arbitrate. The Court therefore reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded for further proceedings. View "Beltran v. Interexchange, Inc." on Justia Law