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Plaintiffs Maralex Resources, Inc. (Maralex), Alexis O’Hare and Mary C. O’Hare (the O’Hares) filed this action against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (Secretary), the Department of the Interior, and the United States seeking review of a decision of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) the upheld four Notices of Incidents of Noncompliance that were issued by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Tres Rios Field Office to Maralex for failing to allow a BLM representative to access certain oil and gas lease sites operated by Maralex on land owned by the O’Hares. The district court affirmed the IBLA’s decision. The Tenth Circuit determined the BLM, in issuing the Notices of Incidents of Noncompliance, lacked authority to require plaintiffs to provide BLM with a key to a lease site on privately-owned land or to allow the BLM to install its own locks on the gates to such lease site. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded to the district court with instructions to enter judgment in favor of plaintiffs on this “key or lock” issue. View "Maralex Resources v. Barnhardt" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty based on a plea agreement he struck with the government. The agreement included a waiver of the right to collaterally challenge the conviction. Despite the waiver, defendant collaterally challenged the conviction under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The district court dismissed the challenge without ruling on the waiver, holding instead that the defendant’s underlying claim failed on the merits. On appeal, defendant didn't question the enforceability or applicability of the waiver. Instead, he contended the government forfeited the waiver by failing to invoke it in district court. The government defended the district court's ruling, adding that the Tenth Circuit should also affirm based on the defendant’s waiver of a collateral challenge. The Tenth Circuit rejected defendant's contention because the government never had an opportunity to assert the waiver in district court. As a result, the Court affirmed dismissal based on the waiver. View "United States v. Lopez-Aguilar" on Justia Law

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Dennis Woolman, former president of The Clemens Coal Company, challenged a district court’s determination that Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company didn’t breach a duty to him by failing to procure for Clemens Coal an insurance policy with a black-lung disease endorsement. Clemens Coal operated a surface coal mine until it filed for bankruptcy in 1997. Woolman served as Clemens Coal’s last president before it went bankrupt. Federal law required Clemens Coal to maintain worker’s compensation insurance with a special endorsement covering miners’ black-lung disease benefits. Woolman didn’t personally procure insurance for Clemens Coal but instead delegated that responsibility to an outside consultant. The policy the consultant ultimately purchased for the company did not contain a black-lung-claim endorsement, and it expressly excluded coverage for federal occupational disease claims, such as those arising under the Black Lung Benefits Act (the Act). In 2012, a former Clemens Coal employee, Clayton Spencer, filed a claim with the United States Department of Labor (DOL) against Clemens Coal for benefits under the Act. After some investigation, the DOL advised Woolman that Clemens Coal was uninsured for black-lung-benefits claims as of July 25, 1997 (the last date of Spencer’s employment) and that, without such coverage, Woolman, as Clemens Coal’s president, could be held personally liable. Woolman promptly tendered the claim to Liberty Mutual for a legal defense. Liberty Mutual responded with a reservation-of-rights letter, stating that it hadn’t yet determined coverage for Spencer’s claim but that it would provide a defense during its investigation. Then in a follow-up letter, Liberty Mutual clarified that it would defend Clemens Coal as a company (not Woolman personally) and advised Woolman to retain his own counsel. Liberty Mutual eventually concluded that the insurance policy didn’t cover the black-lung claim, and sued Clemens Coal and Woolman for a declaration to that effect. In his suit, Woolman also challenged the district court’s rejection of his argument that Liberty Mutual should have been estopped from denying black-lung-disease coverage, insisting that he relied on Liberty Mutual to provide such coverage. Having considered the totality of the circumstances, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court didn’t err in declining Woolman’s extraordinary request to expand the coverages in the Liberty Mutual policy. “Liberty Mutual never represented it would procure the coverage that Woolman now seeks, and the policy itself clearly excludes such coverage. No other compelling consideration justifies rewriting the agreement— twenty years later—to Woolman’s liking.” View "Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance v. Woolman" on Justia Law

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Enable Intrastate Transmission, LLC owned and operated a natural gas pipeline that crossed Indian allotted land in Anadarko, Oklahoma. A twenty-year easement for the pipeline expired in 2000. Enable failed to renew the easement but also failed to remove the pipeline. In response, roughly three-dozen individual Native American Allottees who held equitable title in the allotted land filed suit. The district court granted summary judgment to the Allottees, ruling on the basis of stipulated facts that Enable was liable for trespass. The court then enjoined the trespass, ordering Enable to remove the pipeline. Enable appealed both rulings; the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. The Court determined the district court properly granted summary judgment to the Allottees but erred in issuing the permanent injunction. A federal district court’s decision to permanently enjoin a continuing trespass on allotted land should take into account: (1) whether an injunction is necessary to prevent “irreparable harm;” (2) whether “the threatened injury outweighs the harm that the injunction may cause” to the enjoined party; and (3) whether the injunction would “adversely affect the public interest.” The Tenth Circuit concluded that by ordering Enable to remove the pipeline on the basis of liability alone, the district court legally erred and thus abused its discretion. The district court incorporated a simplified injunction rule from Oklahoma law when it should have adhered to basic tenants of federal equity jurisprudence. This matter was remanded for the district court "for a full weighing of the equities." View "Davilla v. Enable Midstream Partners" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Oscar Almanza-Vigil pleaded guilty in Colorado state court to “selling or distributing” methamphetamine in Colorado, for which he received a four-year prison sentence. In 2009, when the state paroled him, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiated expedited removal proceedings against him, declaring that he had committed an aggravated felony. With that designation, he had no right to an administrative hearing before an immigration judge. Within the week, the Department of Homeland Security had issued a final administrative removal order, and ICE agents had sent Almanza-Vigil back across the border to Mexico. Six years later, border-patrol agents found Almanza-Vigil in the New Mexico desert. Charged with illegal reentry, Almanza-Vigil moved to dismiss the indictment by collaterally attacking his previous removal order and arguing, for the first time, that he never committed an aggravated felony. The Tenth Circuit determined Almanza-Vigil’s Colorado felony did not fit the Immigration and Naturalization Act's (INA) definition of an aggravated felony. But the Court also concluded he failed to demonstrate a reasonable likelihood of avoiding removal but for the erroneous classification of his conviction. Therefore, the Court affirmed Almanza-Vigil's conviction. View "United States v. Almanza-Vigil" on Justia Law

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I.B. and her mother, Jane Doe (collectively, “Does”), claimed that a caseworker from the El Paso County (Colorado) Department of Human Services ("DHA"), April Woodard, wrongfully searched I.B. at the Head Start preschool, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Without consent or a warrant, Woodard partially undressed I.B., performed a visual examination for signs of abuse, then photographed I.B.’s private areas and partially unclothed body. The Defendants moved to dismiss. The district court granted the motion, holding that qualified immunity precluded the Fourth Amendment unlawful search claim and that the complaint failed to state a Fourteenth Amendment claim. The Does appealed these rulings and the district court’s denial of leave to amend their complaint. Finding no constitutional violation, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Doe v. Woodard" on Justia Law

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United States Border Patrol agents found Defendant-appellant John Hargrove, his girlfriend Janelle Richter, and Edgar Silvas-Hinojos in the desert near the border between Arizona and New Mexico. They were all in Hargrove’s truck, along with nearly 300 pounds of marijuana and two firearms. Hargrove was charged with: (1) conspiracy to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana; and (2) possession with the intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, and aiding and abetting said possession. Hargrove was convicted by jury on both charges and sentenced to sixty months’ imprisonment. On appeal, Hargrove argued: (1) the district court erred in failing to grant him a mistrial after the prosecutor elicited testimony that the district court had previously barred; and (2) the district court erred in failing to grant him safety-valve relief under section 5C1.2 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court in all respects. View "United States v. Hargrove" on Justia Law

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In a span of eleven days, Davion Jefferson committed five robberies. Each was captured by multiple surveillance cameras. The first three robberies occurred on separate occasions at the same Fast Trip convenience store. All three involved Jefferson and an unnamed minor male accomplice. The last two robberies occurred less than two hours apart on the same date but at different locations. Jefferson’s cohort during the latter two robberies was Nicholas Lolar. Both Jefferson and Lolar were armed. After these robberies, Jefferson posted “Can’t wake up broke” on his Facebook page, and included a picture of a hand holding a wad of cash and a number of emojis, including a firearm emoji. Jefferson was indicted with five counts of Hobbs Act robbery (Counts 1-3, 5, and 7) and three counts of use and carry of a firearm (Counts 4, 6, and 8). At trial, he did not dispute his participation in all five robberies but tried to plant seeds of reasonable doubt with the jury as to the 924(c) counts by suggesting the weapons used during the last two robberies were not actual firearms. "Considering the very real possibility of a mandatory 32 years in prison if found to have twice brandished an actual firearm, it was sound trial strategy." The jury, however, was not convinced and he was sentenced to the mandatory 32 years plus a consecutive 70 months for the robberies, for a total sentence of 454 months. Jefferson raised several issues on appeal, namely: (1) Hobbs Act robbery was not a "crime of violence" under 924(c)(3)(A) because the statute required the predicate offense have a force element and Hobbs Act robbery had only a force means; and (2) even if Hobbs Act robbery had a force element, the judge erred in directing a verdict on that element, and should have instead submitted the issue to the jury. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Jefferson's convictions and sentence. View "United States v. Jefferson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant DTC Energy Group, Inc., sued two of its former employees, Adam Hirschfeld and Joseph Galban, as well as one of its industry competitors, Ally Consulting, LLC, for using DTC’s trade secrets to divert business from DTC to Ally. DTC moved for a preliminary injunction based on its claims for breach of contract, breach of the duty of loyalty, misappropriation of trade secrets, and unfair competition. The district court denied the motion, finding DTC had shown a probability of irreparable harm from Hirschfeld’s ongoing solicitation of DTC clients, but that DTC could not show the ongoing solicitation violated Hirschfeld’s employment agreement. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not abuse its discretion when denying DTC's motion for a preliminary injunction, and affirmed. View "DTC Energy Group v. Hirschfeld" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma prisoner Kendrick Simpson sought habeas relief from his death sentence for two counts of first-degree murder. The district court granted a Certificate of Appealability (“COA”) on two of the Simpson's eighteen grounds for relief: (1) the trial court’s alleged improper exclusion of Simpson’s PTSD evidence from the guilt stage of the trial; and (2) an alleged Brady violation, whereby prosecutors withheld impeachment evidence as to a jailhouse informant. The Tenth Circuit subsequently granted a COA on five additional issues: (1) whether alleged prosecutorial misconduct denied Simpson a fundamentally fair sentencing proceeding; (2) whether a jury instruction and prosecutorial statements unduly limited jury consideration of mitigating evidence; (3) whether the heinous, atrocious or cruel ("HAC") aggravating factor determination as to one victim was unconstitutional and unreasonable; (4) whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate, prepare, and present lay witnesses, failing to request a second-degree murder instruction, failing to object to improper prosecutorial arguments, failing to object to the HAC instruction, and failing to object to the jury instruction limiting consideration of mitigating evidence; and (5) whether there was “cumulative error, limited to errors in the grounds on which a certificate of appealability has been granted.” After careful consideration, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error, and affirmed denial of habeas relief. View "Simpson v. Carpenter" on Justia Law