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

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Anjela Greer, an employee for the City of Wichita who worked at the Wichita Art Museum, contended her employer denied her a promotion because of her military service in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. She applied for a promotion but didn’t get an interview. Greer simultaneously served in the Navy Reserves and worked as a security guard at the Wichita Art Museum. After about five years as a security guard Greer learned of a vacancy for the museum’s “Operations Supervisor.” She and one other person applied. A city employee screened the applications and decided not to advance Greer to the next stage, where she would have been interviewed. The Museum attributed the denial of an interview to Greer’s lack of qualifications: the new job required at least one year of prior supervisory work in particular fields. The application called for Greer to state how many people she supervised. She answered “2,” but identified her job title only as “Security” and didn’t list any supervisory duties. Based on the job title and the absence of any listed supervisory duties, the Museum maintained Greer’s application had shown a lack of supervisory experience. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on two grounds: (1) any reasonable factfinder would determine that the defendants had declined to advance Greer to the interview stage because her application showed a lack of supervisory experience; and (2) the defendants had proven that they wouldn’t have advanced Greer to an interview regardless of her military status. The Tenth Circuit rejected both grounds. The first was invalid because a factfinder could reasonably infer that Greer’s military status was a motivating factor in defendants’ denial of an interview. The second ground was also invalid because a factfinder could have reasonably found Greer would have obtained an interview if she had not been serving in the military. The Court thus reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants. View "Greer v. City of Wichita, Kansas" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Brian Shotts was injured in a car accident caused by Dana Pollard. Shotts was insured under a policy issued by GEICO General Insurance Company (“GEICO”), which included underinsured motorist (“UM”) coverage. Pollard had automobile insurance through Farmers Insurance (“Farmers”). Shotts filed a claim with Farmers, which offered Pollard’s policy limits as settlement. Before accepting the offer, Shotts notified GEICO of the accident. GEICO opened a claim, assigned an adjuster, and began an investigation. GEICO also waived its subrogation rights, allowing Shotts to accept the offer from Farmers. GEICO’s investigation determined that Shotts’s injuries exceeded Pollard’s policy limits by $3,210.87. GEICO offered Shotts a settlement of that amount, but Shotts declined the offer as “unreasonably low.” Shotts demanded GEICO promptly “pay the first dollar of his claim, up to the value of [the] claim or the total available UM limits” of $25,000. He also asked GEICO to reevaluate the offer. In response, GEICO requested additional information about Shotts’s injuries. It then proposed a peer review to determine whether his injuries exceeded the $3,210.87 offer. Shotts sued for bad faith breach of contract, alleging that GEICO acted in bad faith by: (1) conducting “a biased and unfair investigation and evaluation of [his] claim”; and (2) failing to pay the full value of his claim. He also requested punitive damages. The district court granted summary judgment for GEICO on both bad faith claims and denied punitive damages. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Shotts v. GEICO" on Justia Law

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Nicholas Davis was convicted by an Oklahoma jury of first-degree murder, for which he was sentenced to death. He sought federal habeas relief. In relevant part, he asserted that both trial counsel and appellate counsel were constitutionally ineffective in failing to adequately investigate his mental health and discover that he suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Specifically, in Davis' trial PTSD claim, he alleged that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate, develop, and present evidence, at both the guilt and sentencing stages, that he suffered from PTSD. In his appellate PTSD claim, he alleged that appellate counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate, develop, and raise this aspect of trial counsel’s alleged ineffectiveness on appeal. He further argued that appellate counsel was likewise ineffective in failing to investigate and present “[a] complete mental[-]health claim . . . on appeal.” The district court ruled that these claims (regarding depression) were unexhausted and subject to an anticipatory procedural bar. The Tenth Circuit, however, affirmed denial of habeas relief. The Court found Davis' Depression Claims were subject to an anticipatory procedural bar. And because the Appellate PTSD Claim lacked merit, it did not excuse the procedural default of the Trial PTSD Claim or constitute an independent basis for granting the writ. Furthermore, the Court denied Davis’s request for an expanded COA to appeal the district court’s order denying relief on three additional claims he presented in his section 2254 petition because reasonable jurists could not debate the district court’s resolution of those claims. View "Davis v. Sharp" on Justia Law

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A jury found Defendant–Appellant Kevin Leffler guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, possessing a short-barreled shotgun in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, possessing with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, and possessing an unregistered firearm. Defendant appealed only his conviction for possession of a short-barreled shotgun in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, arguing the Government presented insufficient evidence for the jury to find him guilty of this offense. Because Defendant waived his only asserted ground for appeal, the Tenth Circuit declined to address the merits of his claim. View "United States v. Leffler" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Derrick Williams pled guilty to transportation of child pornography, and possession of child pornography, reserving his right to appeal the denial of a motion to suppress. Williams, an American citizen, boarded an international flight bound for Denver International Airport (DIA). Once on the ground, he proceeded to customs where his passport triggered multiple “lookout” alerts in the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) enforcement system. The alerts instructed CBP officers to escort Williams to DIA’s secondary screening area where he was met by a Homeland Security Special Agent. Authorities had not linked Williams to any terrorist activity, he was known to them for previous felony convictions involving weapons possession charges, trespass and fraud. At the close of the interview, the Agent Allen explained to Williams that his electronic devices, a laptop and a smartphone, would be searched. He asked for the devices’ passwords, which Williams refused to give. His electronics were taken to be returned to Williams later. In bypassing the device passwords, investigators discovered a folder containing child pornography. A search warrant was issued authorizing a full forensic search. The search ultimately yielded thousands of images and videos of child pornography. Williams was indicted and moved to suppress the evidence obtained from his laptop on grounds that it was tainted by the search conducted prior to the issuance of the search warrant. He argued that the agents needed reasonable suspicion for this kind of search and that, because they did not have it, his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The government countered that the Fourth Amendment allowed for suspicionless searches at the border and that, even if reasonable suspicion were required, they had ample reason to suspect that Williams was involved in criminal activity. The district court held a hearing on the matter and subsequently denied the suppression motion. Williams raised multiple issues on appeal to the Tenth Circuit, but finding no reversible errors, the Tenth Circuit affirmed denial of the motion. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Amanda M. (“Parent”), the mother of Nathan M., a child with autism, challenged an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) developed with Harrison School District No. 2 (“the District”) that proposed removing Nathan from Alpine Autism Center (a private, autism-only facility) and placing him in Otero Elementary School (a public school). Nathan’s mother contended the school district did not comply with numerous procedural requirements in developing the IEP and that the IEP itself failed to offer Nathan a “free appropriate public education” as required by the Act. The Tenth Circuit determined that because the IEP at issue governed a schoolyear that has passed, and because the various IEP deficiencies alleged by Parent were not capable of repetition yet evading review, the case was moot. View "Nathan M. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

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Yusuf Awadir Abdi sued the directors of several federal agencies challenging his placement on a federal government’s terrorist watchlist. He alleged his being on the list subjected him to enhanced screening at the airport and requires the government to label him as a “known or suspected terrorist” and to disseminate that information to government and private entities. As a result of these alleged consequences, Abdi alleged placement on the Selectee List violated his Fifth Amendment rights to substantive and procedural due process and consequently the Administrative Procedure Act, for which he sought declarative and injunctive relief. The district court dismissed Abdi’s complaint with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal. View "Abdi v. Wray" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Buck Leon Hammers served as the Superintendent of the Grant-Goodland Public School District in Grant, Oklahoma, until he was charged with conspiring with his secretary to commit bank fraud and embezzle federal program funds. Prior to trial, the Government moved to exclude a suicide note written by defendant’s secretary and co-conspirator, Pamela Keeling. In that note, Keeling took full responsibility for the fraud and exculpated Defendant of any wrongdoing. The district court granted the Government’s motion and prohibited Defendant from introducing the note at trial. The jury subsequently convicted Defendant of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to embezzle federal program funds. The jury acquitted Defendant on the seven substantive counts of embezzlement and bank fraud. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) the district court erred in excluding the suicide note; (2) the Government did not present sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction; (3) the Government committed prosecutorial misconduct; and (4) the district court committed procedural error at sentencing. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the suicide note; the record contained evidence sufficient to support Defendant’s conviction, there was no prosecutorial misconduct, and no procedural error in the court’s calculation of Defendant’s sentence. View "United States v. Hammers" on Justia Law

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Jonella Tesone claimed that Empire Marketing Strategies (“EMS”) discriminated against her under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) when it terminated her employment. The district court granted summary judgment to EMS. EMS hired Tesone as a Product Retail Sales Merchandiser. Her job duties included changing or “resetting” retail displays in grocery stores. When she was hired, Tesone informed EMS that she had back problems and could not lift more than 15 pounds. On appeal, Tesone alleged the district court erred when it denIed her motions: (1) to amend the scheduling order to extend the time for her to designate an expert; and (2) amend her complaint. She also contended the district court erred in granting summary judgment to EMS. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not err with respect to denying Tesone’s motions, but did err in granting summary judgment in favor of EMS. “Whether Ms. Tesone can make a prima facile case of a disability, and whether her doctor’s note can be considered at summary judgment, is open to the district court’s further consideration.” View "Tesone v. Empire Marketing Strategies" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs and counterclaim-defendants Mrs. Fields Famous Brands, LLC (Famous Brands) and Mrs. Fields Franchising, LLC (Fields Franchising) appealed a district court order granting a preliminary injunction in favor of defendant and counterclaim-plaintiff MFGPC Inc. (MFGPC). The sole member of Famous Brands is Mrs. Fields Original Cookies, Inc. (MFOC). MFOC entered into a Trademark License Agreement (License Agreement) with LHF, Inc. (LHF), an affiliate of MFGPC. In 2003, LHF assigned all rights under the License Agreement to MFGPC, and MFGPC agreed to be bound by and perform in accordance with the License Agreement. The License Agreement granted MFGPC a license to develop, manufacture, package, distribute and sell prepackaged popcorn products bearing the “Mrs. Fields” trademark through all areas of general retail distribution. A dispute arose after Fields Franchising allowed MFGPC to be late with a royalty payment because of a fire that destroyed some of MFGPC’s operations. The franchisor sought to terminate the licensing agreement and collect the royalties owed. Fields Franchising filed suit against MFGPC. In August 2018, the district court entered partial summary judgment in favor of MFGPC on its counterclaim for breach of a trademark license agreement that afforded MFGPC the exclusive use of the “Mrs. Fields” trademark on popcorn products. The district court’s summary judgment order left only the question of remedy to be decided at trial. MFGPC then moved for a preliminary injunction, arguing that there was a substantial likelihood that it would prevail at trial on the remedy of specific performance. After conducting a hearing, the district court granted MFGPC’s motion and ordered Fields Franchising to terminate any licenses it had entered into with other companies for the use of the Mrs. Fields trademark on popcorn products, and to instead comply with the terms of the licensing agreement it had previously entered into with MFGPC. Famous Brands and Fields Franchising argued in this appeal that the district court erred in a number of respects in granting MFGPC’s motion for preliminary injunction. The Tenth Circuit agreed with appellants, and consequently reversed the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of MFGPC. View "Mrs. Fields Famous Brands v. MFGPC" on Justia Law