Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries
United States v. Martinez
Appellant Ricardo Martinez was convicted after pleading guilty to one count of distribution of methamphetamine. He appealed the sentence he received, contending the district court miscalculated his advisory Sentencing Guidelines range. Martinez claimed the district court erred, first, by adding a two-level sentencing enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1) for possession of a dangerous weapon in connection with a drug trafficking offense, and second, by refusing to apply a two-level “safety-valve” reduction under U.S.S.G. §§ 2D1.1(b)(18) and 5C1.2. The Tenth Circuit agreed Martinez was entitled to the safety-valve reduction but otherwise found no error. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Martinez" on Justia Law
Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, et al.
In a May 2022 final rule, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a revision to Colorado’s State Implementation Plan (SIP) certifying Colorado’s existing, EPA-approved Nonattainment New Source Review (NNSR) permit program regulating new or modified major stationary sources of air pollution in the Denver Metro-North Front Range area met the requirements for attaining the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. The Center for Biological Diversity challenged the final rule on procedural and substantive grounds. Procedurally, the Center argued the EPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by failing to include the state regulations that comprised Colorado’s permit program in the rulemaking docket during the public-comment period. And substantively, the Center argued the EPA acted contrary to law when it approved Colorado’s SIP revision because Colorado’s permit program excluded all “temporary emissions” and “emissions from internal combustion engines on any vehicle” in determining whether a new or modified stationary source was “major” and therefore subject to the permit process. The Tenth Circuit found the EPA’s notice of proposed rulemaking was adequate under the APA, but agreed with the Center that the EPA acted contrary to law in allowing Colorado to exclude all temporary emissions under its permit program. The Court found the federal regulation the EPA relied on in approving this exclusion plainly did not authorize such an exclusion. But the Center identified no similar problem with the EPA allowing Colorado to exclude emissions from internal combustion engines on any vehicle. The Court therefore granted the Center’s petition in part, vacated a portion of the EPA’s final rule, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, et al." on Justia Law
Deer Creek Water Corporation, et al. v. City of Oklahoma City, et al.
Plaintiff Deer Creek Water Corporation filed suit against Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust (together, the City) seeking a declaratory judgment that the City could not provide water service to a proposed development on land owned by Thomas and Gina Boling (together, the developers), who later intervened in the action. In support, Deer Creek invoked 7 U.S.C. § 1926(b), a statute that generally prohibited municipalities from encroaching on areas served by federally indebted rural water associations, so long as the rural water association made water service available to the area. The district court granted the developers’ motion for summary judgment after concluding that Deer Creek had not made such service available, and Deer Creek appealed. Although the Tenth Circuit rejected Deer Creek’s arguments related to subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court agreed that the district court erred in finding it dispositive that Deer Creek’s terms of service required the developers to construct the improvements necessary to expand Deer Creek’s existing infrastructure to serve the proposed development, reasoning that because Deer Creek itself would not be doing the construction, it had not made service available. The Court found nothing in the statute or in caselaw to support stripping a federally indebted rural water association of § 1926(b) protection solely because it placed a burden of property development on the landowner seeking to develop property. The district court therefore erred in placing determinative weight on Deer Creek’s requirement that the developers construct the needed improvements. The judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings on whether Deer Creek made service available. View "Deer Creek Water Corporation, et al. v. City of Oklahoma City, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Coates
In 2019, defendant-appellant Larry Coates was caught possessing child pornography. At the time, he was serving supervised release for Kansas-state child exploitation violations. Coates pleaded guilty to a single count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B), (b)(2). In anticipation of sentencing, the probation office prepared a presentence investigative report (“PSR”) which recommended a pattern of activity enhancement pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2G2.2(b)(5). Coates objected to the enhancement, reasoning it could only apply if the Guidelines' commentary’s definition of pattern was used. In doing so, Coates advocated the district court rely on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which determined courts could only defer to commentary accompanying executive agency regulations when the associated regulation was “genuinely ambiguous.” Absent express guidance from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the district court declined to apply Kisor and it did not otherwise believe the commentary inconsistent with the guideline. The Tenth Circuit confirmed this approach in United States v. Maloid, 71 F.4th 795 (10th Cir. 2023). Concurring with the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Coates" on Justia Law
United States v. Jackson
Defendant-appellant Michael David Jackson was convicted and sentenced for several offenses stemming from the sexual abuse of his young niece, including two counts of possession of child pornography. On appeal Jackson argued, and the government conceded, that the possession convictions were multiplicitous and violated the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. To this the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and therefore remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate one of these convictions. Jackson also challenged his sentence, contending: it was procedurally unreasonable because the application of several sentencing enhancements constituted impermissible double counting; and it was substantively unreasonable. The Tenth Circuit noted the district court will have discretion to consider the entire sentencing package on remand. The Court rejected these challenges and concluded that the sentence imposed was both procedurally and substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law
Knezovich, et al. v. United States
Victims of the 2018 Roosevelt Fire in Wyoming sued the United States Forest Service, alleging it negligently delayed its suppression response. The Forest Service moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it was not liable for the way it handled the response to the fire. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a government actor could not be sued for conducting a so-called “discretionary function,” where the official must employ an element of judgment or choice in responding to a situation. The government contended that responding to a wildfire required judgment or choice, and its decisions in fighting the fire at issue here met the discretionary function exception to the Act. The district court agreed and dismissed the suit. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals also concluded the Forest Service was entitled to the discretionary function exception to suit, and the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the complaint. View "Knezovich, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law
Vincent v. Garland, et al.
Roughly 50 years ago, Congress banned the possession of firearms by convicted felons. After Congress enacted this ban, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment guaranteed a personal right to possess firearms. Based on the Court’s language, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the ban on convicted felons’ possession of firearms. The Supreme Court recently created a new test for the scope of the right to possess firearms. Based on the Supreme Court’s creation of a new test, plaintiff-appellant Melynda Vincent challenged the constitutionality of the ban when applied to individuals convicted of nonviolent felonies. To resolve this challenge, the Tenth Circuit had to consider whether the Supreme Court’s new test overruled Tenth Circuit precedent. The appellate court concluded that its precedent was not overruled. View "Vincent v. Garland, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Constitutional Law
United States v. Veneno
A district court conducted two hours of voir dire in a courtroom closed to the public and broadcasted live over an audio feed. After Defendant Quentin Veneno, Jr. objected, the district court concluded that the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic justified its closure of the courtroom, but also provided a video feed for the rest of trial. Although Defendant objected to the initial audio-only feed after the initial two hours of voir dire, he never requested that the district court restart jury selection or moved for a mistrial. Defendant appealed both his conviction and challenged Congress’s constitutional authority to criminalize the conduct of Indians on tribal land, whether a previous conviction can be a predicate offense for 18 U.S.C. § 117(a)(1) convictions, and whether admission of other-act evidence met the rigors of Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Veneno" on Justia Law
Wilson v. Schlumberger Technology
Plaintiff-appellee Mark Wilson claimed his former employer, Schlumberger Technology Corporation, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by classifying him as exempt from overtime pay for hours worked beyond the 40-hour workweek. At trial, the jury agreed with Wilson and awarded him nearly $40,000 in overtime backpay. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court should not have instructed the jury to determine whether Wilson’s salary was exempt under regulations guiding the application of the FLSA. "That was a legal issue for the court to determine." Because the instruction caused the jury to find in Wilson’s favor, the Court vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial. View "Wilson v. Schlumberger Technology" on Justia Law
United States v. Leon
Defendant-appellant Luis Leon was stopped by law enforcement after he was observed illegally driving in a passing lane. Leon was traveling eastbound on I-70 in Colorado when Colorado State Patrol Trooper Shane Gosnell observed him driving in the left lane while not passing another vehicle. Trooper Gosnell began to follow Leon’s 2006 Honda Ridgeline truck and noticed it had a Minnesota license plate. Trooper Gosnell initiated a traffic stop suspecting Leon was trafficking drugs. A search of his vehicle uncovered seventy-six pounds of methamphetamine, and Leon was charged with one count of possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Following a failed motion to suppress, he pled guilty and was sentenced to seventy months’ imprisonment. On appeal, Leon challenged the denial of his suppression motion, arguing that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to extend the stop and investigate the suspected drug trafficking. After review, the Tenth Circuit agreed and therefore reversed. View "United States v. Leon" on Justia Law