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

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Since 2007, EC Design, LLC, sold its popular personal organizer, the LifePlanner. In 2015, Craft Smith, Inc., wanting to enter the personal-organizer market, reached out to EC Design about a possible collaboration. EC Design and Craft Smith couldn't agree to a collaboration. Craft Smith, with input from Michaels Stores, Inc., designed and developed a personal organizer to sell in Michaels stores, leading to this action in Utah federal district court. EC Design claims the Craft Smith and Michaels product infringed on the LifePlanner’s registered compilation copyright and unregistered trade dress. The district court disagreed, granting summary judgment in favor of Craft Smith and Michaels (collectively, the Appellees) on both issues. On the copyright issue, the district court concluded that EC Design did not own a valid copyright in its asserted LifePlanner compilation. On trade dress, the district court held that EC Design had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact over whether the LifePlanner’s trade dress had acquired secondary meaning. Though the Tenth Circuit disagreed with how the district court framed the copyright issue, the Tenth Circuit affirmed because no reasonable juror could conclude that the allegedly infringing aspects of Appellees’ organizer were substantially similar to the protected expression in the LifePlanner compilation. With respect to the trade dress issue, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court: EC Design had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact over whether the LifePlanner’s trade dress had acquired secondary meaning. Summary judgment as to both claims was affirmed. View "Craft Smith v. EC Design" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Aaron Jensen sued defendant-appellees West Jordan City and Robert Shober for Title VII retaliation, First Amendment retaliation, malicious prosecution, and breach of contract. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Jensen on all his claims and awarded $2.77 million in damages. The trial court discovered the jury did not properly fill out the verdict form, so the court instructed the jury to correct its error. When the jury returned the corrected verdict, it had apportioned most of the damages to Jensen’s Title VII claim. Because the district court concluded that Title VII’s statutory damages cap applied, the court reduced the total amount of the award to $344,000. Both parties appealed. They raised nine issues on appeal, but the Tenth Circuit concluded none of them warranted reversal and affirmed. View "Jensen v. West Jordan City" on Justia Law

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Zen Magnets, LLC's small rare-earth magnets were shiny and smooth, resembling candies that commonly garnish cookies and desserts. The appearance sometimes leads young children to put the magnets in their mouths. Older children also sometimes put the magnets in their mouths to magnetize braces or mimic facial piercings. When put in children’s mouths, the magnets were sometimes swallowed, lodging in the digestive system and causing serious injury or death. The Consumer Product Safety Commission tried to address this danger through both rulemaking and adjudication. The Commission conducted two proceedings involving the making of small rare-earth magnets: (1) a rulemaking affecting all manufacturers of these magnets; and (2) an adjudication affecting only one manufacturer: Zen Magnets, LLC. For the adjudication, the Commission needed to provide Zen with a fair proceeding under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Zen contended the adjudication was unfair for two reasons: (1) the Commissioners conducted the adjudication after engaging in a rulemaking on closely related issues; and (2) three Commissioners participated in the adjudication after making public statements showing bias. The district court found: (1) the Commission had not denied due process by simultaneously conducting the adjudication after the related rulemaking; (2) two of the Commissioners had not shown bias through their public statements; but (3) one Commissioner did show bias through a public statement specifically about Zen. Both parties appealed: the Commission appealed the district court's decision as to the third Commissioner's statements; Zen cross-appealed, arguing a due process violation, and that the district court issued an advisory opinion on the merits. After its review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the Commissioners’ participation in the rulemaking and their statements did not result in a denial of due process, so the district court's judgment as to Commissioners Robinson and Kaye were affirmed. The Court reversed, however, as to Commissioner Adler. The Court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to decide whether the district court rendered an advisory opinion. View "Zen Magnets v. Consumer Product Safety" on Justia Law

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Reniery Adalberto Galeano-Romero sought review of a Board of Immigration Appeals decision that denied both his application for cancellation of removal under 8 U.S.C.1229b(b)(1) and his motion to remand and reopen his case to raise a Convention Against Torture (CAT) claim. The Board acknowledged his removal would result in hardship to his citizen spouse but concluded that the hardship would not be “exceptional and extremely unusual,” leaving him ineligible for cancellation of removal. Furthermore, the Board denied his motion to remand to present his CAT claim to an Immigration Judge (IJ) after finding Galeano-Romero had referenced no previously unavailable and material evidence, a prerequisite to any such motion to reopen. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider Galeano-Romero's challenge to the Board's discretionary hardship decision, so that portion of his petition was dismissed. With regard to Galeano-Romero's request for remand, the Court found the Board did not abuse its discretion in concluding how he could proffer material evidence that was not previously available or could have been discovered at the original hearing. View "Galeano-Romero v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Everett Johnson, a citizen of the Bahamas, became a United States permanent resident in 1977. But in 2016, he pleaded guilty to possessing a schedule II controlled substance in violation of Colorado law. Soon after, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) charged Johnson as removable from the United States based on the state drug conviction. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) then ordered Johnson’s removal from the United States back to the Bahamas. He appealed, challenging that the state drug conviction subjected him to deportation from the United States. The Tenth Circuit determined Colorado Revised Statute section 18-18-403.5(1), (2)(a) was overbroad and indivisible as to the identity of a particular controlled substance. Therefore, Johnson’s conviction could not subject him to removal from the United States. The Court therefore granted Johnson’s petition for review, vacated the BIA’s order, and remanded to the BIA for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Barr" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from an attempt to hold Defendant Paul Robben liable for securities fraud. Various Plaintiffs alleged that Robben fraudulently induced them to purchase ownership interests in a Kansas limited liability company named Foxfield Villa Associates, LLC (“Foxfield”). Plaintiffs argued that those interests were securities under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Plaintiffs contended Robben violated section 10(b) of the 1934 Act (its broad antifraud provision) and SEC Rule 10b-5 (an administrative regulation expounding upon that antifraud provision) when engaging in his allegedly deceitful conduct. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the specific attributes of the LLC interests in this case lead it to conclude the interests at issue were not securities as that term was defined by the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Court affirmed the district court's order declining to characterize the LLC interests as securities, thus granting summary judgment to defendants on those grounds. View "Foxfield Villa Associates v. Robben" on Justia Law

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Shortly before 3:00 a.m. on June 12, 2016, Sarah Ball was killed when the car in which she was a passenger drove off United States Forest Service Road 456.1A and over an earthen mound before falling into an abandoned mine shaft about 20 feet off the road. Plaintiffs, her parents and her estate filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), raising several causes of action alleging negligence by the United States Forest Service. The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, ruling that the government was immune from liability under the discretionary-function exception to the FTCA. Plaintiffs appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Ball v. United States" on Justia Law

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Denver Police Sergeant Justin Dodge fatally shot Joseph Valverde after he saw Valverde pull out a gun as a SWAT team arrived to arrest him after an undercover drug transaction. Plaintiff Isabel Padilla, as personal representative of Valverde’s estate, sued Dodge under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming Dodge used excessive force in violation of Valverde's Fourth Amendment rights. Dodge moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, but the district court denied the motion. The district court held: (1) a reasonable jury could find that Valverde had discarded the gun and was in the process of surrendering before Dodge shot him; and (2) the use of deadly force in that situation would violate clearly established law. Dodge appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court. "Dodge is entitled to qualified immunity because he had only a split second to react when Valverde suddenly drew a gun. He did not violate the Fourth Amendment by deciding to shoot without waiting to see whether Valverde was merely taking the gun from his pocket to toss away rather than to shoot an officer. And to the extent that Plaintiff is arguing that Dodge should be liable because he recklessly created the situation that led to the apparent peril, Dodge is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate clearly established law." View "Estate of Joseph Valverde v. Dodge" on Justia Law

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An employee of a federally supported health center failed to properly administer a drug to Alexis Stokes while she gave birth to Baby Stokes. As a result, Baby Stokes suffered from “cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia,” along with other disabilities, and his life expectancy was 22 years. The district court awarded damages to Baby Boy D.S. (Baby Stokes) and his parents, Alexis Stokes and Taylor Stokes, (collectively, the Stokes) in this Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) action. The government appealed, arguing that the district court erred in structuring damage payments. The Stokes cross appealed, arguing that the district court erred both by miscalculating the present value of a portion of the award and by awarding too little in noneconomic damages. After review, the Tenth Circuit: (1) vacated and remanded the portion of the district court’s order structuring a trust with respect to Baby Stokes’s future-care award, with instructions to fully approximate section 9.3 of the FTCA; (2) vacated and remanded the portion of the district court’s order calculating the present value of Baby Stokes’s future-care award, with instructions to apply Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. v. Pfeifer, 462 U.S. 523 (1983); and (3) affirmed the portion of the district court’s order regarding noneconomic damages. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Stokes v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant Gregory Lozado appealed the district court’s denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his sentence. Lozado was tried by jury and convicted of possessing ammunition as a previously convicted felon. The Presentence Report (“PSR”) prepared by the probation office in January 2014 recommended that he be sentenced as an armed career criminal under the ACCA based on five predicate violent-felony convictions, all from the state of Colorado: (1) a juvenile conviction for second-degree assault with a deadly weapon; and adult convictions for (2) robbery; (3) second-degree burglary of a building; (4) felony menacing; and (5) theft from a person. This increased the recommended offense level from 28 to 33. With Lozado’s criminal-history level of VI, the advisory Guidelines range was thus raised from 140–175 months to 235–293 months. Application of the ACCA changed the statutory maximum penalty of ten years for Lozado’s offense to a statutory minimum penalty of fifteen years. At Lozado’s sentencing hearing, the district court adopted the PSR with only a few non-substantive amendments. The district court then sentenced Lozado to 235 months of imprisonment, the bottom of the ACCA-enhanced advisory Guidelines range. In his 2255 motion, Lozad contended his sentence should have been vacated based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). Lozado contended the Johnson ruling affected the violent-felony classification of at least three of the five prior convictions the district court had relied on at his sentencing. The district court denied his 2255 motion, holding that Johnson affected the classification of two of his prior convictions but that the remaining three convictions were sufficient to sustain the enhancement. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the sentencing court classified two of the prior convictions as violent felonies based on the invalidated residual clause, and that a third conviction should not have been counted as a violent felony because it was a juvenile offense that did not involve a firearm, knife, or destructive device. Furthermore, the Court concluded the government could not show harmless error because none of these three convictions would have qualified as a valid ACCA predicate if Lozado were sentenced under current law, thus Lozado no longer has enough qualifying convictions to trigger the ACCA enhancement. View "United States v. Lozado" on Justia Law