Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries
Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al.
The Pueblo of Jemez filed a quiet title action against the United States relating to lands comprising the Valles Caldera National Preserve (“Valles Caldera”), which the United States purchased from private landowners in 2000. In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded, finding that an 1860 federal grant of title to private landowners would not extinguish the Jemez Pueblo’s claimed aboriginal title. Upon remand, the Jemez Pueblo could establish that it once and still had aboriginal title to the lands at issue. After a twenty-one-day trial, the district court ruled that the Jemez Pueblo failed to establish ever having aboriginal title to the entire lands of the Valles Caldera, failing to show that it ever used the entire claimed land to the exclusion of other Indian groups. The Jemez Pueblo moved for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). But rather than seek reconsideration of its complaint’s QTA claim to the entire Valles Caldera, the Jemez Pueblo shrunk its QTA claim into claims of title to four discrete subareas within the Valles Caldera: (1) Banco Bonito, (2) the Paramount Shrine Lands, (3) Valle San Antonio, and (4) the Redondo Meadows. The district court declined to reconsider all but Banco Bonito, on grounds that the Jemez Pueblo hadn’t earlier provided the government notice of these claims. Even so, being thorough, the court later considered and rejected those three claims on the merits. Of the issues raised by the Jemez Pueblo on appeal, we primarily address its challenge to the district court’s ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously interpreted "Jemez I" in ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. So in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, and by the district court’s findings, the Court held the Jemez Pueblo still had aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Court reversed in part the denial of the Jemez Pueblo’s motion for reconsideration, and vacated in part and remanded with instructions to the district court. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
Andrew v. White
Petitioner Brenda Evers Andrew, an Oklahoma state prisoner convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, appealed the district court’s denial of her habeas petition seeking a new trial or resentencing under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Andrew was convicted of the 2001 shooting death of her husband Robert. A jury found, beyond a reasonable doubt, two aggravating factors that warranted the death penalty: (1) Andrew committed the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration; and (2) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Andrew a Certificate of Appealability (“COA”) on ten issues. Taking each in turn, but finding no reversible error in the denial of habeas relief, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the federal district court. View "Andrew v. White" on Justia Law
Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellant Wyo-Ben, Inc., (“Wyo-Ben”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of its complaint against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (the “Secretary”) and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM;” collectively, “Respondents”) asserting a single claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). In 1993, Wyo-Ben filed a mineral patent application with BLM. While that application was pending, in 1994, Congress enacted a moratorium on processing mineral patent applications. In the same legislation, Congress also enacted an exemption to the moratorium: if a patent application was still pending by September 30, 1994, and it otherwise complied with certain conditions, the patent application was not subject to the moratorium and the Secretary was required to process the application. On October 3, 1994, BLM—not the Secretary—determined that Wyo-Ben’s mineral patent application did not qualify for the exemption. Congress thereafter reenacted the 1995 Act (including the moratorium and exemption) annually through 2019. In 2019, Wyo-Ben filed suit alleging that, pursuant to § 706(1) of the APA, the Secretary “unlawfully withheld” and “unreasonably delayed” agency action by failing to review Wyo-Ben’s pending application to determine whether it was exempt from the moratorium. The court found that Wyo-Ben’s claim was statutorily barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a), reasoning that Wyo-Ben’s § 706(1) claim first accrued on the date BLM determined that Wyo-Ben’s patent application was not exempt (i.e., October 3, 1994) and that the limitations period expired six years later (i.e., October 3, 2000). On appeal, Wyo-Ben contended the district court misconstrued its § 706(1) claim by characterizing the allegedly unlawful conduct as BLM’s decision that Wyo- Ben’s application falls within the moratorium. Respondents maintained: (1) Wyo-Ben submitted an incomplete application in that BLM rejected its tender of the purchase price before the moratorium took effect; and (2) BLM properly determined in 1994, pursuant to authority the Secretary lawfully delegated to BLM, Wyo-Ben’s application fell within the moratorium. The district court did not resolve either of the foregoing two issues in dismissing Wyo-Ben’s claim. And, specifically as to the second issue, the court did not determine whether the lawful effect of any such delegation from the Secretary was that BLM properly stood in the shoes of the Secretary for purposes of determining that Wyo-Ben’s application was subject to the moratorium. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit remanded the action to the district court for further proceedings. View "Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al.
In 2019, Western Watersheds Project sued to challenge the issuance of permits that expired in 2018. The district court dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that decision: Western Watersheds Project’s claims were brought against expired permits that had already been renewed automatically by 43 U.S.C. § 1752(c)(2). And the timing of a new environmental analysis of the new permits was within the Secretary’s discretion under 43 U.S.C. § 1752(i). Western Watersheds Project, therefore, lacked Article III standing because its claims were not redressable. View "Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. O’Neil
After the government charged defendant-appellant Steven O’Neil with violating the federal felon-in-possession statute, he moved to suppress eyewitness identification evidence and a gun seized from his backpack. The district court denied the motions. O’Neil appealed, arguing: (1) the identifications should have been excluded because they were unreliable; and (2) the district court erred in concluding the gun would have been inevitably discovered during an inventory search. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with O’Neil on both issues, and affirmed the district court. View "United States v. O'Neil" on Justia Law
United States v. Hayes
After a drug-sniffing dog alerted to Defendant Neoal Hayes’ vehicle during a traffic stop, law enforcement officers uncovered 2,505 grams of methamphetamine and 10 grams of heroin inside a duffel bag located behind the driver’s seat. Inside a backpack, also located behind the driver’s seat, officers retrieved a small safe containing: more methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine; Xanax; marijuana; a digital scale; packing material; and a 45 caliber handgun with one round in the chamber and a magazine containing nine rounds. Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The district court sentenced Defendant to 120 months’ imprisonment on Count 1 and 60 months’ imprisonment on Count 2, to run consecutively. As part of his Rule 11 plea agreement, Defendant reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence of the drugs and firearm. Defendant appeals, contending the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress. In its order denying Defendant’s motion, the district court provided alternative bases for why the stop and search of Defendant’s vehicle did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Defendant acknowledges the stop of his vehicle was justified based on the officer’s suspicion that his driver’s license was suspended. But Defendant challenged all other aspects of the district court’s ruling: the facts known to the officer did not establish reasonable suspicion that he was transporting drugs, such that the officer’s stop and search of his vehicle could not be justified on that basis. Defendant also argued the officer unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop to pursue an investigation into drug trafficking that was unrelated to the original purpose for the stop. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Hayes" on Justia Law
United States v. Anderson
In December 2019, defendant-appellant Steven Anderson was stopped by police after a woman complained he was harassing her and an officer observed him walking in the street in violation of a city ordinance. Anderson provided the officers with false identifying information and was arrested for concealing his identity. During a search incident to arrest, law enforcement found a firearm and a crystal-like substance determined to be methamphetamine on his person. Following a failed motion to suppress, Anderson pled guilty to being a felon in possession. At sentencing, the district court applied a four-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for possessing a firearm in connection with another felony offense and sentenced Anderson to fifty-one months in prison. On appeal, Anderson challenged the denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that law enforcement lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him and that the firearm was discovered in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. He also argues the district court erroneously applied § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B), primarily because it relied on an uncorroborated police report not admitted into evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Anderson" on Justia Law
United States v. Jimenez
Defendant Gerardo Jimenez was a habitual violator of immigration law. Between 1995 and the incident under review here, Defendant illegally entered the United States from his native Mexico and been returned there on nine previous occasions. He was convicted of heroin trafficking in Oklahoma state court, for which he received an eight-year prison sentence (four years suspended). The Government sought and obtained an indictment charging Defendant with one count of unlawfully reentering the United States as a removed alien. Defendant pleaded guilty without a plea agreement and the case proceeded to sentencing. At sentencing, the district court first adopted the PSR without objection and denied Defendant’s motions for a downward departure. When the Government indicated it did not wish to be heard, the district judge decided to rule on the motion for variance before affording Defendant the opportunity to allocute. After making this statement, and explaining his rationale in greater detail, the district judge invited Defendant to allocute. Defendant apologized for his wrongdoing and promised he would not offend again. Apparently unpersuaded, the district judge sentenced Defendant to 57 months’ imprisonment—the maximum under the guideline range. On appeal, Defendant contended the district judge violated his right to allocution at sentencing. Defendant did not object to this alleged violation before the district court. The Tenth Circuit determined that reversing under the circumstances here would represent an expansion of existing precedents, and that a case on plain error review was not the appropriate occasion for it to broaden the application of circuit caselaw. The Court affirmed the district court based on a plain error review. View "United States v. Jimenez" on Justia Law
United States v. Slinkard
In 2011, defendant-appellant Joshua Slinkard pleaded guilty in Oklahoma state court to child sex abuse, lewd molestation, and possession of child pornography. The state court sentenced him to 30 years in prison. But in May 2021 the State vacated Slinkard’s conviction for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020). Slinkard was then indicted in federal district court on two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor in Indian country, and one count of possession of child pornography. He pleaded guilty on all three counts without the benefit of a plea bargain. After adopting the factual recitations of the PSR and confirming Slinkard’s advisory guideline sentence, the district court recited the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and offered defense counsel the opportunity to be heard on the application of those factors in Slinkard’s case. Defense counsel asked the court to consider an oral motion for a downward variance based in part on Slinkard having already served 12 years in state prison. The government requested a life sentence. The court stated it would not vary from the advisory guideline for sentencing. The court then asked Slinkard if he wished to make a statement, but he declined. After the government made a statement on behalf of the victim, the court imposed a sentence of two terms of life in prison and one term of 240 months, all to run concurrently. In his single issue on appeal, Slinkard contended the district court plainly erred when it conclusively announced his sentence before permitting him to allocute. To this, the Tenth Circuit concurred: the court’s pre-allocution statement was a definitive announcement of sentence, in violation of Fed. R. Crim. P. 32(i)(4)(A)(ii) and Tenth Circuit precedent. The sentence was vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Slinkard" on Justia Law
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Native American Law
United States v. Polk
Defendant-appellant Conner Polk appealed his four-year prison sentence under the Assimilative Crimes Act (ACA), 18 U.S.C. § 13, for committing a state-law offense on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. Polk argued the district court should have considered imposing a shorter prison term under an Oklahoma statute that permitted a departure from a mandatory minimum sentence in certain circumstances. Because this state law conflicted with federal sentencing policy, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court properly declined to apply it. The Court, therefore, affirmed Polk’s sentence. View "United States v. Polk" on Justia Law
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Native American Law