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

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In his trial for assaulting his uncle with a knife, defendant-appellant Shayne Armajo sought to introduce evidence of his uncle’s assaults in order to bolster a self-defense claim. The issue defendant’s appeal presented for the Tenth Circuit’s consideration was whether the district court abused its discretion when it ruled that this was a permissible use under Rule 404(b) but nevertheless excluded most of the proffered evidence under Rule 403 because its probative value was substantially outweighed by the risk of undue prejudice. Evidence of a victim’s prior violent acts may be admissible in a self-defense case to prove the defendant’s state of mind, but it is subject to Rule 403’s balancing test. As applied here, the Court found the district court reasonably concluded that the probative value of the victim’s alleged assaults was substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. Consequently, the Court held the district court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded the contested evidence. View "United States v. Armajo" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Connor Biggs Farley appeals the 630-month (52.5-year) sentence he received after pleading guilty to three counts of producing child pornography. In imposing this sentence, the district court rejected the sentence of 20 to 40 years (240 to 480 months) that was stipulated in Farley’s plea agreement with the government, but the court also varied downward from the 1080-month (90-year) sentence recommended by the presentence report, which corresponded to the statutory maximum sentence of 30 years (360 months) on each count, run consecutively. On appeal, Farley argued the district court’s selection of his sentence was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. The Tenth Circuit found that the district court’s method for determining Farley’s sentence involved plain errors of law, rendering the sentence procedurally unreasonable. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded resentencing. View "United States v. Biggs Farley" on Justia Law

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Competing trade associations offered memberships to home inspectors, who typically inspect homes prior to home sales. Benefits of membership in the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) included online advertising to home buyers, educational resources, online training, and free services such as logo design. From 2015 to 2020, ASHI featured the slogan “American Society of Home Inspectors. Educated. Tested. Verified. Certified” on its website. Contending that tagline mislead consumers, InterNACHI sued ASHI under the federal Lanham Act, claiming the line constituted false advertising because it inaccurately portrayed ASHI’s entire membership as being educated, tested, verified, and certified, even though its membership includes so-called “novice” inspectors who had yet to complete training or become certified. InterNACHI argued this misleading advertising and ASHI’s willingness to promote novice inspectors to the public caused InterNACHI to lose potential members and dues revenues. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ASHI, concluding no reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s allegedly false commercial advertising. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred: because InterNACHI did not present any evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s slogan, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for ASHI. View "Examination Board, et al. v. International Association, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Aaron Shamo was convicted by jury on 12 charges arising from his distribution of controlled substances, including fake oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl. He received a mandatory life sentence on his conviction of being a principal leader of a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE). On appeal, Defendant challenged the sufficiency of evidence of his guilt of the CCE charge because: (1) the government failed to prove that the drug he was distributing was the chemical designated in the criminal statute; and (2) the government failed to prove that he knew he was distributing a controlled substance. He also challenged the admissibility: (a) of screenshots of his illicit online storefront to prove the quantity of drugs distributed; and (b) of testimony by an expert witness who allegedly opined on the meaning of certain language in the CCE statute. He also raised allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in suggesting that he was responsible for uncharged overdose deaths and should be punished because of the social costs of unlawful narcotics. After careful consideration of defendant's arguments, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed defendant's convictions. View "United States v. Shamo" on Justia Law

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Faith Bible Chapel International operated a school, Faith Christian Academy (“Faith Christian”). Plaintiff Gregory Tucker, a former high school teacher and administrator/chaplain, alleged Faith Christian fired him in violation of Title VII (and Colorado common law) for opposing alleged race discrimination at the school. As a religious employer, Faith Christian generally had to comply with anti-discrimination employment laws. But under the affirmative “ministerial exception” defense, those anti-discrimination laws do not apply to employment disputes between a religious employer and its ministers. Here, Faith Christian defended against Tucker’s race discrimination claims by asserting that he was a “minister” for purposes of the exception. After permitting limited discovery on only the “ministerial exception,” the district court ruled that, because there are genuinely disputed material facts, a jury would have to resolve whether Tucker was a “minister.” Summary judgment for Faith Christian, therefore, was not warranted. Faith Christian immediately appealed that decision, seeking to invoke the Tenth Circuit's jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine. The Tenth Circuit determined it did not have jurisdiction to hear the interlocutory appeal: the category of orders at issue here could be adequately reviewed at the conclusion of litigation. The appeal was thus dismissed. View "Tucker v. Faith Bible Chapel Int'l." on Justia Law

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Bear Creek Trail, LLC, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. The bankruptcy court granted a motion to convert the proceeding to a Chapter 7 liquidation and appointed a trustee. Bear Creek’s attorney in the bankruptcy proceedings asked the district court to review the bankruptcy court’s conversion order. The district court dismissed, holding that only the trustee could seek review. The Tenth Circuit concluded Bear Creek's former management and the attorney lacked authority to challenge the conversion order in district court on behalf of the Debtor. Accordingly, the district court's judgment dismissing the appeal was affirmed. View "Bear Creek Trail, et al. v. BOKF, et al." on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from traffic stops of Blaine and Samuel Shaw and Joshua Bosire that were prolonged for K-9 sweeps. Master Trooper Doug Schulte and Technical Trooper Brandon McMillan moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court denied the motions. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed in part, finding material issues of fact remained as to whether Troopers Schulte and McMillan had an arguable reasonable suspicion to extend the stops. Thus, the Court found the Shaws and Bosire could proceed on their 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against Trooper Schulte and Trooper McMillan, respectively. However, the Court reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment on: (1) the scope of the Shaws’ claim; and (2) Bosire’s claim against Trooper Schulte. View "Shaw, et al. v. Schulte, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Jesus Arellanes-Portillo pled guilty to a collection of federal drug-trafficking, money-laundering, and immigration crimes. He challenged the procedural reasonableness of his sentence, arguing the district court misapplied a three-level aggravating-role adjustment in calculating his advisory guideline range for his money-laundering offenses. After review, the Tenth Circuit found the district court plainly erred by basing the aggravating-role adjustment on relevant conduct for his drug offenses and not exclusively for his money-laundering offenses, in violation of U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual 2S1.1 Application Note 2(C) (U.S. Sentencing Comm’n 2018). The sentence was vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Arellanes-Portillo" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Devonte Starks appealed his convictions for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, and possession with intent to distribute heroin. In its closing argument at trial, the government advised the jury that Starts' right to be presumed innocent no longer existed after the presentation of the trial evidence. Starks did not object to this presumption-of-innocence advisement. The Tenth Circuit's review was for plain error, and the court found the district court plainly erred in allowing the advisement to stand uncorrected before the jury, and this error had "some prejudicial effects." Those effects cumulated with the prejudicial effects stemming from two other errors (which the government conceded), Starks' convictions could not stand. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Starks" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Tomas Beauford suffered a fatal epileptic seizure in his cell while in pretrial custody at the Mesa County Detention Facility (“MCDF”). The administrator of Beauford’s estate sued various Mesa County and medical defendants in federal district court in Colorado under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging they were deliberately indifferent to Beauford’s serious medical needs in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment as to Deputy Dalrymple, finding that whether the deputy was aware that Beauford was not breathing was a material fact in genuine dispute: “We cannot imagine a more material fact in the context of the Estate’s deliberate indifference claim than whether Deputy Dalrymple knew of the risk that Mr. Beauford was not breathing. The district court failed to account for this dispute, which a reasonable jury could resolve in favor of the Estate.” The Court affirmed summary judgment in all other respects, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Estate of Tomas Beauford, et al. v. Correct Care Solutions, et al." on Justia Law