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Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town (“AQTT”) appeals several orders entered in favor of the United States, the Secretary and Associate Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (“DOI”), the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (the “Creek Nation”). AQTT was a federally recognized Indian Tribe organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (“OIWA”). AQTT filed a complaint against the United States and several federal officials (collectively, the “Federal Defendants”) alleging property known as the Wetumka Project lands were purchased under OIWA for the benefit of AQTT. It requested a declaratory judgment and an order compelling the government to assign the Wetumka Project lands to AQTT and provide AQTT with a full and complete accounting of related trust funds and assets. On the Federal Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT’s claim for land assignment and denied the motion as to an accounting of trust assets. The parties then promptly filed cross-motions for summary judgment. All were denied. The case was remanded to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (“IBIA”) for further development of the trust accounting issue. After the IBIA decided that the government did not hold any funds in trust for AQTT, the case returned to district court. AQTT filed an amended complaint, adding the Creek Nation as a defendant and arguing that the IBIA’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. The Creek Nation moved to dismiss, and that motion was granted on sovereign immunity grounds. In the amended complaint, AQTT also attempted to revive its land assignment claim based on newly discovered evidence. The district court again dismissed the claim. AQTT and the Federal Defendants then renewed their crossmotions for summary judgment. The district court upheld the IBIA’s decision. In granting the government’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT’s claims for assignment of the Wetumka Project lands for failure to join the Creek Nation, an indispensable party because the IBIA determined the Creek Nation, not AQTT, was the legal beneficiary of the funds related to the Wetumka Project lands. In affirming the district court, the Tenth Circuit concluded the IBIA’s determination was supported by substantial evidence and was not arbitrary or capricious: the deeds of conveyance for the Wetumka Project lands plainly placed the land in trust for the Creek Nation, and did not create a vested beneficial interest in any other entity. View "Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town v. United States" on Justia Law

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Clay O’Brien Mann’s neighbors invited about a dozen friends to join them late one summer evening for a bonfire at their undeveloped property on an Indian reservation. When this particular gathering continued into the early morning, Mann, who had been drinking, hurled a lit artillery-shell firework in the direction of the partygoers. The firework exploded, chaos ensued, and his neighbors and their guests ran away screaming. Three of them unwittingly retreated in the direction of Mann. He then fired nine shots with a semiautomatic rifle, killing one person and wounding two others. Mann, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and Indian Tribe, was indicted on eight counts, and a jury convicted as to five of them. The district court vacated one of those convictions and sentenced Mann to just over fourteen years in prison. Mann appealed, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed. In the course of affirming, the Court noted that but for a “careless error” by the government, Mann might well have received an additional twenty-five years on his sentence for a second 18 U.S.C. 924(c) conviction. The error was found in Count 8 of the original indictment which charged Mann with "knowingly discharg[ing] and carry[ing] a firearm... during and relation to a crime of violence." The indictment charged “assault resulting in serious bodily injury” in Count 7, not in Count 6. After realizing the government’s mistake, the district court dismissed Count 8 without prejudice, allowing the government to present a corrected section 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) charge to another grand jury; the government elected to do so. A second grand jury re-indicted Mann on the corrected charge, which went to trial. However, the district court declared a mistrial when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. Before a third trial was set to begin. Mann moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing assault resulting in bodily injury, was not a crime of violence under 924(c)(1)(A). The district court agreed and dismissed the indictment; the government timely appealed. The Tenth Circuit determined Mann conceded that “[t]he least of the acts criminalized by section 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(6) was the reckless causing of serious bodily injury.” The Tenth Circuit accepted his concession and concluded that section 113(a)(6) was categorically a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A). Because the district court ruled otherwise in dismissing the government’s indictment, its judgment was reversed. View "United States v. Mann" on Justia Law

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An Oklahoma jury convicted Tremane Wood of first-degree felony murder for the killing of Ronnie Wipf during a botched robbery. The jury found Oklahoma had proved three aggravating circumstances associated with the murder, and the mitigating circumstances did not outweigh them. The jury accordingly sentenced Wood to death. Wood directly appealed his conviction to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing primarily: (1) his trial counsel performed ineffectively at the sentencing stage; and (2) the “heinous, atrocious, or cruel” aggravating circumstance could not be constitutionally applied to this case given the dearth of evidence that Wipf suffered before death. The OCCA ordered an evidentiary hearing on the ineffectiveness issue, but ultimately affirmed Wood’s conviction and death sentence. Wood then filed an application for post-conviction relief in state court, claiming his appellate counsel performed ineffectively on direct appeal, including at the evidentiary hearing. The OCCA again denied relief. Wood then applied for habeas relief, which was denied. The Tenth Circuit granted Wood certificates of appealability on whether his trial and appellate counsel performed ineffectively. During the course of this appeal, the Tenth Circuit decided Pavatt v. Royal, 859 F.3d 920 (10th Cir. 2017), opinion amended and superseded on denial of rehearing on July 2, 2018 by Pavatt v. Royal, 894 F.3d 1115 (10th Cir. 2017), a challenge to Oklahoma’s application of the heinous, atrocious, and cruel (HAC) aggravator in that case. Based on Pavatt, the Court granted an additional COA on whether the HAC aggravating circumstance could be constitutionally applied to the facts of this case. And after review, the Tenth Circuit concluded Wood was not entitled to relief on any of his claims and affirmed denial of habeas relief. View "Wood v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Jessie Marquez appealed his convictions for six drug-related crimes, including conspiracy to distribute 500 grams of methamphetamine, raising three issues: (1) challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting each of his convictions; (2) asserting the district court erred by questioning a witness; and (3) contending the district court shouldn’t have admitted certain testimony from two of the government’s witnesses. The Tenth Circuit rejected each of Marquez’ arguments, holding: (1) the evidence was sufficient for a rational jury to find Marquez guilty of using a phone to facilitate a drug felony, participating in a conspiracy to distribute over 500 grams of methamphetamine, and possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it; (2) the district court did not err when it asked a witness one question to clarify a factual matter; and (3) the district court didn’t abuse its discretion or plainly err when it admitted testimony from government witnesses. View "United States v. Marquez" on Justia Law

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In February 2016, Defendant Ricky Williams pled guilty to tax fraud relating to his preparation of federal income-tax returns for third-party clients for the 2010 and 2011 tax years. In his plea agreement, he agreed to pay restitution. After pleading guilty, he was initially released on bond pending sentencing. However, his release was revoked after the court discovered that he had been violating the terms of his release by again engaging in tax preparation activities for someone other than himself or his spouse. The probation officer who prepared his Presentence Investigation Report “determined that the defendant lied about his income, assets, and liabilities” to the probation officer. Among other things, the probation officer discovered several undisclosed financial transactions that Defendant had conducted with someone else’s social security number, and an attempt to unfreeze a bank account that contained approximately $37,000. The bank contacted the IRS. This lead to a sentence of thirty months in prison and an increased restitution amount to the IRS. A few months after Defendant’s sentencing, the government filed an application for post-judgment writ of garnishment against the frozen bank account. The bank objected on the grounds that the account was subject to “a prior internal USAA Federal Savings Bank hold from its Fraud Department." A magistrate judge concluded the government could not seek garnishment. The district court declined to accept the magistrate judge's recommendation pursuant to the terms of defendant's earlier restitution agreement. The Tenth Circuit found no error in the district court’s conclusion that the government was entitled to garnish Defendant’s bank account to obtain partial payment of the amount then-currently due in restitution. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted fourteen-year-old Lawrence Montoya for the New Year’s Day murder of a teacher from his school. After serving over thirteen years in prison, Montoya brought post-conviction claims for ineffective assistance of counsel and actual innocence. He sued several detectives involved in the investigation and trial, claiming they were responsible for his wrongful conviction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. Specifically, Montoya claimed the Detectives instigated a malicious prosecution against him, coerced his confession in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and subjected him to false arrest. The Detectives appealed when the district court held qualified immunity and absolute testimonial immunity did not shield the Detectives from liability and denied their motion to dismiss. After review, the Tenth Circuit held qualified immunity indeed shielded the Detectives from liability for Montoya’s malicious prosecution claim; both qualified immunity and absolute testimonial immunity barred Montoya’s Fifth Amendment claim. As for Montoya’s false arrest claim, the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider whether or not qualified immunity applied. View "Montoya v. Vigil" on Justia Law

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Merrill Chance, a landowner in Osage County, Oklahoma, sued the government to void a lease and various permits that allow Great Southwestern Exploration, Inc. (GSE) to drill for oil and gas beneath his property. He also sought damages from GSE for trespassing on his property. The district court ruled that under 28 U.S.C. 2401(a), Chance’s claims against the government were untimely. Thus, the district court concluded it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear Chance’s claims and dismissed them. It also dismissed Chance’s claims against GSE. While the Tenth Circuit agreed Chance’s claims against the government were untimely, it heeded a warning by the Supreme Court to beware of “profligate use of the term ‘jurisdiction.’” In light of this, the Tenth Circuit found the district court wrongly concluded it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over Chance’s claims against the government; the claims should have been dismissed for failing to state a claim. The Court affirmed the district court’s judgment declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Chance’s claims against GSE. View "Chance v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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Austin Ray was convicted by jury convictions for one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, five counts of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return, and two counts of submitting a false tax return. Ray argued on appeal: (1) the government violated the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IAD) of 1970; (2) the government engaged in vindictive prosecution; (3) the district court violated his rights under the Speedy Trial Act (STA) of 1974; (4) the government violated his due-process rights by destroying certain evidence; and (5) the district court constructively amended the indictment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in all respects, finding: (1) the government never lodged a detainer against Ray, meaning the IAD didn’t apply; (2) Ray established neither actual nor presumptive vindictiveness; (3) Ray’s STA argument was waived for failing to raise it below; (4) the evidence at issue lacked any exculpatory value, and even if the evidence were potentially useful to Ray’s defense, the government didn’t destroy it in bad faith; and (5) the district court narrowed, rather than broadened, the charges against Ray. View "United States v. Ray" on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review centered on the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff-Appellant David Hampton’s securities-fraud class action against Defendants-Appellees root9B Technologies, Inc. (“root9B”), Joseph Grano, Jr., the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, and Kenneth T. Smith, the former Chief Financial Officer. Hampton filed suit claiming root9B made false or misleading statements in connection with the purchase or sale of securities. Hampton identified two statements he alleged were false or misleading and material: (1) a letter from Grano to investors attesting that root9B was differentiated from competitors by its “proprietary hardware and software;” and (2) a press release and associated report published by root9B in which the company claimed to have detected a planned cyber attack against a number of international financial institutions. He further alleged that the individual defendants were jointly and severally liable under section 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The district court dismissed Hampton’s claims, finding that he had failed to sufficiently plead that the identified statements were false or misleading. The Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court’s findings and affirmed its judgment. View "Hampton v. Root9B Technologies" on Justia Law

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Mindy Armstrong was employed by The Arcanum Group, Inc., which served as a placement agency to staff federal-government positions. She was placed with the Real Estate Leasing Services Department of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). After she complained that BLM employees were falsifying lease-related records, the BLM demanded that Arcanum remove her from the placement. Her Arcanum supervisor could not find an alternative placement for Armstrong and accordingly terminated her employment. Armstrong sued Arcanum in federal district court, claiming Arcanum retaliated against her for her falsification complaints, in violation of the antiretaliation provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA) and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The district court granted Arcanum summary judgment, and Armstrong appealed. Finding that Armstrong did not produce sufficient evidence that her supervisor had knowledge of her complaints before he terminated her, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer. View "Armstrong v. The Arcanum Group" on Justia Law