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

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Defendant Fernando Samora borrowed his ex-girlfriend's care and drove it alone to a restaurant. When Defendant left the restaurant and approached the vehicle, the officers from a multi-agency task force converged to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. Defendant fled on foot and a chase ensued. After the officers caught and arrested Defendant, they searched the vehicle he had been driving and found a loaded firearm inside the center console. The Government charged Defendant with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant proceeded to trial where the district court gave an erroneous instruction on constructive possession. A jury returned a guilty verdict and Defendant appealed, arguing: (1) the Government presented insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction; and (2) even if the Government presented sufficient evidence, the failure to properly instruct the jury constitutes plain error requiring remand for a new trial. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review that the trial court plainly erred in its jury instructions. It therefore reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "United States v. Samora" on Justia Law

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Claiming insolvency, taxpayer Vincent Hamilton sought to exclude nearly $160,000 in student loans that were forgiven from his taxable income. During the same tax year, however, he had received a non-taxable partnership distribution worth more than $300,000. His wife transferred those funds into a previously-unused savings account held nominally by their adult son. Using login credentials provided by their son, Mrs. Hamilton incrementally transferred almost $120,000 back to the joint checking account she shared with her husband. The Hamiltons used these funds to support their living expenses. In a late-filed joint tax return, they excluded the discharged student-loan debt on the theory that Mr. Hamilton was insolvent. In calculating his assets and liabilities, however, the Hamiltons did not include the funds transferred into the savings account. Had they done so, Mr. Hamilton would not have met the criteria for insolvency; and the couple would have owed federal income tax on the student-loan discharge. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue eventually filed a Notice of Deficiency, reasoning that the partnership distribution rendered Mr. Hamilton solvent, such that the Hamiltons were required to pay income tax on the cancelled student loan debt. debt. The Hamiltons petitioned for review from the Tax Court, which sustained both the deficiency and a significant late-filing penalty. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court's judgment. View "Hamilton v. CIR" on Justia Law

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The IRS conducted a civil audit of Peter Hermes, Kevin Desilet, Samantha Murphy, and John Murphy (collectively, the “Taxpayers”) to verify their tax liabilities for their medical- marijuana dispensary, Standing Akimbo, LLC. The IRS was investigating whether the Taxpayers had taken improper deductions for business expenses arising from a “trade or business” that “consists of trafficking in controlled substances.” Claiming to fear criminal prosecution, the Taxpayers declined to provide the audit information to the IRS. This left the IRS to seek the information elsewhere—it issued four summonses for plant reports, gross-sales reports and license information to the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (the “Enforcement Division”), which is the state entity responsible for regulating licensed marijuana sales. In Colorado federal district court, the Taxpayers filed a petition to quash the summonses. The government moved to dismiss the petition and to enforce the summonses. The district court granted the motion to dismiss and ordered the summonses enforced. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the Taxpayers failed to overcome the IRS' showing of good faith, and failed to establish that enforcing the summonses would constitute an abuse of process. View "Standing Akimbo, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant–Appellant John Mayville pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and possession of an unregistered firearm silencer. Exercising his right under the plea agreement, Defendant challenged the district court’s denials of his motions to suppress evidence of drugs and firearms seized from his car by Utah Highway Patrol troopers during a traffic stop. On appeal, Defendant argues the troopers violated his Fourth Amendment rights described in Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015), because they unjustifiably prolonged the traffic stop beyond the time needed to complete the tasks incident to the stop’s mission. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. "This is because reasonableness—rather than efficiency—is the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment." Because the Court determined the traffic stop here did not exceed the time reasonably required to execute tasks relevant to accomplishing the mission of the stop, Defendant's nineteen-minute roadside detention did not offend the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Mayville" on Justia Law

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Robert Rabe worked as a pipefitter in an Atchison Topeka & Sante Fe Railroad (“ATSF”) repair shop. In that capacity, he replaced pipe insulation on passenger cars manufactured by The Budd Company (“Budd”). Rabe died from malignant mesothelioma. Nancy Little, individually and as personal representative of Rabe’s estate, brought state common-law tort claims against Budd, claiming Rabe died from exposure to asbestos-containing insulation surrounding the pipes on Budd-manufactured railcars. A jury ruled in Little’s favor. On appeal, Budd contended Little’s state tort claims were preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”), under a theory that all passenger railcars were “appurtenances” to a complete locomotive. The Tenth Circuit determined that because Budd did not raise this issue before the district court, and because Budd did not seek plain-error review, this particular assertion of error was waived. Alternatively, Budd contended Little’s tort claims were preempted by the Safety Appliance Act (“SAA”. The Tenth Circuit determined that assertion was foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. v. Georgia, 234 U.S. 280 (1914). Therefore, finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Little v. Budd Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Steven Kientz spent many years as a "dual status" technician with the Kansas Army National Guard, where he worked as a mechanic on electronic measurement equipment. Plaintiff’s position required him to simultaneously serve as a member of the National Guard, a second job with separate pay and separate responsibilities. In retirement, Plaintiff receives a monthly pension payment under the Civil Service Retirement System based on his service as a dual status technician. Plaintiff also receives Social Security retirement benefits based on contributions he made to the Social Security system from his separate pay as a National Guard member. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether a dual status service technician’s civil service pension was “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service” under 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(7)(A). After review, the Court concluded Plaintiff's civil service pension is not “wholly” based on service as a member of a uniformed service, and his pension payments were therefore subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision ("WEP"). Plaintiff’s dual status technician work was at least partially distinct from the performance of his military duties. And Plaintiff received separate compensation and separate pensions for his performance of those distinct roles. The Court concurred with the district court and Social Security Administration that Plaintiff's Social Security retirement benefits were subject to the WEP. View "Kientz v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

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Jose Angel Banuelos-Galviz (Banuelos) entered the United States in 2006. Roughly three years later, he was served with a document labeled “Notice to Appear.” By statute, a notice to appear must include the time of the removal hearing. But Banuelos’s document did not tell him the date or time of the hearing, so the immigration court later sent him a notice of hearing with this information. Banuelos then sought asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. The immigration judge rejected each request, and Banuelos appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals. While the administrative appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Pereira v. Sessions, which held that the stop-time rule was not triggered by a notice to appear that omitted the time of the removal hearing. Because Banuelos’s notice to appear lacked both the date and time, he moved for a remand so that the immigration judge could consider his request for cancellation of removal. To qualify for cancellation of removal, Banuelos needed to show continuous presence in the United States for at least ten years. His ability to satisfy this requirement turned on whether the combination of the deficient notice to appear and notice of hearing had triggered the "stop-time rule." If the stop-time rule had been triggered, Banuelos would have had only about three years of continuous presence. But if the stop-time rule had not been triggered, Banuelos’s continuous presence would have exceeded the ten-year minimum. The Board held that the stop-time rule had been triggered because the combination of the two documents—the incomplete notice to appear and the notice of hearing with the previously omitted information—was the equivalent of a complete notice to appear. Given this application of the rule, the Board found that Banuelos’s period of continuous presence had been too short to qualify for cancellation of removal. So the Board denied his motion to remand. Given the unambiguous language of the pertinent statutes, the Tenth Circuit determined the stop-time rule was not triggered by the combination of an incomplete notice to appear and a notice of hearing. The Court thus granted the petition for review and remanded to the Board for further proceedings. View "Banuelos-Galviz v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Brandon Finnesy appealed his conviction and sentence for escape from custody. As to his conviction, which was entered upon his guilty plea, Finnesy contended he should have been permitted to withdraw his guilty plea because the magistrate judge who conducted his plea colloquy lacked “jurisdiction” to accept his plea. As to his sentence, he contended the district court erred in applying the United States Sentencing Guidelines relevant to his case. Finding no reversible errors, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Finnesy's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Finnesy" on Justia Law

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Appellee-defendant TEP Rocky Mountain, LLC (“TEP”) operated wells that produced natural gas in Colorado. These wells were subject to various leases or royalty Appellant-intervenors Ivo Lindauer, Sidney Lindauer, Ruther Lindauer, and Diamond Minerals LLC (the “Lindauers” or the “Intervenors”), were the representatives for a class of royalty owners who filed suit in 2006 in Colorado state court, alleging that TEP had underpaid royalties on various leases and royalty agreements. In 2008, TEP and the Lindauer class entered into a settlement agreement (the “Lindauer SA”) purporting to “resolve all class claims relating to past calculation of royalt[ies]” and to “establish certain rules to govern future royalty” payments. The Lindauer SA declared that the state court would retain “continuing jurisdiction” to enforce provisions of the settlement related to “the description of past and future royalty methodologies.” Approximately eight years passed, free of incident. But on July 18, 2017, a subset of the Lindauer class (the “Sefcovic class”) initiated this action against TEP in Colorado state court, alleging that TEP had calculated and paid royalties in a manner inconsistent with the Lindauer SA and contrary to the underlying royalty agreements. TEP removed the case to federal court. Appellants intervened in the district court, seeking to dismiss the action for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. Through two separate motions to dismiss, the briefing from both parties "confused the bounds of federal subject matter jurisdiction and conflated that concept with the doctrines of abstention and comity, and with matters of venue and forum." Despite this misdirection, the district court properly exercised jurisdiction and rebuffed appellants’ attempts to unwind nearly eighteen months of class action litigation. After review, the Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court's judgment and affirmed it. View "Elna Sefcovic v. TEP Rocky Mountain" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Jimmie Wellmon sought to set aside his state court convictions for attempted first-degree murder, assault, menacing, and witness tampering. The Tenth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability so Petitioner could appeal whether he validly waived his right to counsel and, if so, whether the state trial judge reasonably rejected his pretrial motion to retract his waiver. The federal district court rejected Petitioner’s claims and dismissed his petition. Acknowledging that Congress has given federal appellate courts an ability to review state criminal convictions, federal courts' power to grant relief was "limited to correcting extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems," the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no reversible error in the district court's decision to dismiss Petitioner's petition in this case, and affirmed judgment. View "Wellmon v. CDOC" on Justia Law