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

by
Petitioner Santos Raul Escobar-Hernandez has filed a petition for review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision affirming the immigration judge’s denial of his application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). The petition’s underlying facts rest on Petitioner’s testimony, which the immigration judge found to be credible. Petitioner is a native and citizen of El Salvador and entered the United States without a valid entry document. He fled El Salvador after he was assaulted by two men, resulting in injuries requiring medical treatment. The assault occurred when the men, one named "Nelson," noticed some graffiti critical of a political party on a fence near Petitioner’s home. Although Petitioner was not politically active and told the men he did not paint the graffiti, Nelson said Petitioner was responsible for it because it was on his house and demanded he remove it. When Petitioner responded that he could not pay for removal, the men hit him and threatened to kill him. Petitioner was unsure if the men assaulted him because of the political graffiti or if they used it as an excuse to assault him merely because he was a vulnerable youth. Petitioner later removed the graffiti, but Nelson attacked him twice more and continued to threaten him. Reports to local police went ignored; Petitioner averred he feared returning to his home town because of the threats, and he feared relocating elsewhere in El Salvador because other people could hurt him. In his petition for review, Petitioner contends the BIA should have granted him asylum and withheld his removal because he suffered past persecution and has a well- founded fear of suffering future persecution based on political opinions Nelson imputed to him. Petitioner also argues the BIA should have granted him protection under CAT because, if he returns to El Salvador, Nelson will likely torture him with the acquiescence of law enforcement. On the record before it, the Tenth Circuit could not say any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to reach conclusions contrary to those reached by BIA. The Court therefore affirmed denial of asylum and protection under CAT. View "Escobar-Hernandez v. Barr" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Fernando Duran was convicted by jury on drug charges. On appeal, he argued the evidence was insufficient to convict on three counts, and the district court abused its discretion in admitting certain testimony on prior drug transactions and the interpretations of recorded calls. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Duran’s convictions. View "United States v. Duran" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Robert Harte (“Bob”) was a stay-at-home father; he kept a vegetable garden with his son as part of an education project. Plaintiff Adlynn Harte (“Addie”) enjoyed loose-leaf tea. Discards from Addie's tea would lead the family with no criminal history whatsoever (save a few parking tickets) to become embroiled in a marijuana sting. Armed with a battering ram, firearms, and a warrant, Sheriff’s Deputies detained Plaintiffs for over two hours early on an April 2012 morning after a SWAT-style raid. They found "wet marijuana plant material" discarded in the Hartes' garbage. Had police from the raid sent the discards to a crime lab, it would have been discovered the vegetation was not marijuana but loose-leaf tea. Deputies found the hydroponic tomato garden that was readily visible from the exterior of the home through a front-facing basement window. And after ninety minutes of extensive searching, a couple of the deputies claimed to smell the “faint odor of marijuana” at various places in the residence. A drug-detection dog showed up, but did not alert the officers to any other areas of the house requiring further searches. Before leaving the residence empty-handed, the deputies “strongly suggested” to the Hartes that their 13-year-old son was a drug user. Plaintiffs sued, challenging the original search warrant its allegedly negligent execution. The district court granted summary judgment to the deputy defendants. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-paragraph per curiam opinion followed by three separate opinions, affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding the case back to the district court. The lower court, Plaintiffs, and Defendants, all interpreted the Tenth Circuit's per curiam opinion differently. The issue presented in this case's second trip to the Tenth Circuit centered on how to proceed when two of the three panel judges shared some common rationale, yet ultimately reached different outcomes, and a different combination of two judges reached a common outcome by different rationales. The Court held that, in applying a fractured panel’s holding, the district court need only look to and adopt the result the panel reached. "To hold otherwise would be to go against the result expressed by two of the three panel members. That we cannot do." Accordingly, the matter was remanded again for further proceedings. View "Harte v. Board Comm'rs Cnty of Johnson" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Donald Thomas pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. On appeal he did not challenge the validity of his plea; but as permitted by his plea agreement with the government, he raised one challenge with respect to his sentence. Because it was undisputed he had a prior felony conviction for a crime of violence (robbery), his base offense level was at least 20. Whether it was 20 or 24 depended on the characterization of his 2014 Colorado conviction of distribution of an “imitation controlled substance” under Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-18-422(1)(a). The sole issue presented to the Tenth Circuit called for an interpretation of "counterfeit substance" as that term is used in section 4B1.2(b) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Defendant contended a counterfeit substance was a controlled substance that was mislabeled or misbranded fraudulently or without authorization, a definition that appears in a federal statute, 21 U.S.C. 802(7). The government countered it was a noncontrolled substance that was passed off as a controlled substance. Joining the five other circuits that opined on the subject, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the government. The Court affirmed defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Robert Kenney was a former employee of Defendant Helix TCS, Inc. (“Helix”), which provided security services for businesses in Colorado’s state-sanctioned marijuana industry. Kenney filed this lawsuit against Helix under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), alleging that Helix misclassified him and similarly situated workers as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime obligations. Helix moved to dismiss Kenney’s claim based on the Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”), arguing that Kenney’s employment activities were in violation of the CSA and are thus not entitled to FLSA protections. The Tenth Circuit concluded Helix wanted it to interpret the CSA in a manner implicitly repealing the FLSA’s overtime mandate for employers in the marijuana industry. The Tenth Circuit determined the “case law is clear that employers are not excused from complying with federal laws” because of their other federal violations. “Moreover, the purposes of the FLSA do not conflict with the CSA quite as directly as Helix implies. Helix cherry-picks among the enumerated purposes of the FLSA, citing only those most favorable to its arguments.” The Tenth Circuit did not draw conclusions about the merits of Kenney’s FLSA claims. Rather, the Court held only that Kenney and similarly situated individuals were not categorically excluded from FLSA protections. It therefore affirmed the denial of Helix’s motion to dismiss. View "Kenney v. Helix TCS" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Karen McClaflin pled guilty to two counts stemming from the operation of a “fix and flip” real estate Ponzi scheme which defrauded investors of more than $14.5 million dollars. At sentencing, the district court calculated the advisory sentencing guidelines at 135 to 168 months’ imprisonment, applied a 6-level enhancement for substantial financial hardship to more than twenty-five victims, and then determined a downward variant sentence of 96 months was appropriate. On appeal, McClaflin argued the district court: (1) abused its discretion by denying her motion for an additional continuance of the sentencing hearing; (2) procedurally erred by imposing the 6-level enhancement based upon victim impact statements; and (3) failed to consider all of the requisite 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not plainly err when it sentenced McClaflin, therefore it affirmed the judgment and sentence. View "United States v. McClaflin" on Justia Law

by
Robert Holloway was convicted by jury of four counts of wire fraud, and one count of submitting a false tax return. Holloway was the president and CEO of US Ventures, a company that traded in the futures market. Holloway told investors he had developed a special algorithm that allowed him to trade without losses. He claimed that because of the algorithm he “could trade the markets and make money whether the market went up or the market went down.” Holloway’s grandiose claims were false, and revealed to be a Ponzi scheme. The district court sentenced Holloway to 225 months’ imprisonment, after applying a six-level enhancement for crimes involving 250 or more victims under U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(2)(C) (2014). After unsuccessfully challenging his conviction and sentence on direct appeal, Holloway filed a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, arguing: (1) a total breakdown of communication between Holloway and his trial counsel caused his trial counsel to perform ineffectively; (2) his trial counsel acted ineffectively by failing to argue that the evidence did not support the district court’s application of the six-level sentencing enhancement; and (3) the prosecution violated his due process rights by failing to turn over to the defense favorable information possessed by a prosecution witness contrary to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The district court denied Holloway’s 2255 motion, but granted a certificate of appealability on all three issues. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court judgment. View "United States v. Holloway" on Justia Law

by
A.S. was adjudicated a juvenile delinquent under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (“FJDA”) after the district court concluded that, when he was seventeen years old, he knowingly engaged in a sexual act with a victim, K.P., while she was incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct. The court ordered A.S. to be committed to eighteen months’ custodial detention to be followed by twenty-four months’ juvenile-delinquent supervision. On appeal, A.S. raised three challenges: (1) the district court erred in limiting cross-examination and excluding extrinsic evidence concerning a prior allegation of sexual assault that K.P. made; (2) the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that he knew that K.P. was incapable of appraising the nature of the sexual conduct, which he says was an element of the offense; and (3) the district court erred in imposing a dispositional sentence on him of custodial detention. The Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the district court’s actions accorded with the Federal Rules of Evidence and did not violate A.S.’s constitutional rights; (2) there was ample evidence for a reasonable factfinder to determine A.S. engaged in sexual conduct with K.P. while he knew she was asleep and drunk; and (3) the sentence did not constitute an abuse of the district court's broad sentencing discretion. Thus, the Tenth Circuit affirmed judgment. View "United States v. A.S." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-Appellee C5 Medical Werks sued Defendant-Appellant CeramTec, a German company that produces ceramics and ceramic components for medical prostheses, in Colorado for cancellation of CeramTec’s trademarks and a declaratory judgment of non-infringement. CeramTec moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court denied CeramTec’s motion and, after a bench trial, found in favor of C5. CeramTec appealed both the district court’s finding of personal jurisdiction and its determination on the merits. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not have personal jurisdiction over CeramTec: CeramTec’s attendance at various tradeshows was fortuitous and, as such, was insufficient to show purposeful availment of the forum state, Colorado. Further, to the extent CeramTec engaged in enforcement activity, it did so outside of Colorado. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s denial of CeramTec’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and remand with instructions that the case be dismissed. View "C5 Medical Werks v. Ceramtec GMBH" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Ashton Malone was convicted on two counts of distributing methamphetamine and sentenced to 151 months’ custody followed by five years of supervised release. At sentencing, the district court imposed all the various conditions of supervised release set forth in the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), including a special condition requiring Malone to undergo mental health treatment. Contained within this special condition was the mandate for Malone to “take prescribed medication as directed” by mental health staff or a treating physician. That medication requirement was the issue on appeal to the Tenth Circuit. Malone did not object to this proposed condition in either his written objections to the PSR or at sentencing, but he argued on appeal that the district court’s failure to make particularized findings to support this condition was plain error compelling reversal. The Tenth Circuit agreed and accordingly, reversed. View "United States v. Malone" on Justia Law