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

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Defendant Ahmad Salti appealed a district court’s determination of how to calculate his restitution obligation when his co-conspirator also paid some of it. Defendant was sentenced to pay the victim $35,000 in restitution, which was a “Joint and Several Amount” also owed by co-conspirator Pattrick Towner. Towner’s sentence required him to pay restitution to the victim of $72,000, owed jointly and severally with Defendant. After Defendant deposited $35,000 with the court clerk as restitution, the clerk informed the government that Defendant should receive a refund for overpayment. The clerk explained that Towner had paid $5,117.92 in restitution and the clerk had apportioned that amount pro rata between the obligation owed by both Defendant and Towner ($35,000) and the amount owed solely by Mr. Towner ($37,000). Because 35/72 of Towner’s payments ($2,487.87) had been credited to the $35,000 in restitution owed jointly and severally by both defendants, Defendant had overpaid by that amount. The government moved the district court to order the clerk not to pay Defendant a refund of $2,487.87. The district court agreed with the government, declaring that Defendant had to continue to make payments toward his $35,000 obligation unless (because of payments by Towner) the victim had already been fully compensated for its $72,000 loss. Defendant appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding the decision of the district court maximized compensation to the victim and treated both Defendant and Towner fairly. View "United States v. Salti" on Justia Law

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Doctor Shakeel Kahn (Dr. Kahn) was convicted in federal district court in Wyoming, in part, for dispensing controlled substances not “as authorized,” in violation of the Controlled Substances Act (the CSA). Included in his appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was his contention that the jury instructions issued by the district court improperly advised the jury regarding the mens rea requirement of CSA § 841(a). The Tenth Circuit affirmed Dr. Kahn’s convictions, rejecting both his challenge to the instructions given, and his challenges to multiple searches and the evidence seized. In upholding the instructions, the Tenth Circuit relied on precedent, United States v. Nelson, 383 F.3d 1227 (10th Cir. 2004), and further reaffirmed its holding, which was guided by 21 C.F.R. § 1306.04(a). Dr. Kahn appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, raising only his instructional challenge. The Supreme Court held that § 841(a)’s “knowingly or intentionally” mens rea applied to the “except as authorized” clause of the statute, vacated the Tenth Circuit's judgment, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The parties submitted supplemental briefing, and the matter went again before the Tenth Circuit. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the jury instructions issued in Dr. Kahn’s trial incorrectly stated the mens rea requirement of § 841(a) and the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. This prejudicial error infected all of Dr. Kahn’s convictions. Therefore, Dr. Kahn’s convictions were v View "United States v. Kahn" on Justia Law

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Citizen groups challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) environmental assessments (“EAs”) and environmental assessment addendum analyzing the environmental impact of 370 applications for permits to drill (“APDs”) for oil and gas in the Mancos Shale and Gallup Sandstone formations in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico. These challenges came after a separate but related case in which the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate five EAs analyzing the impacts of APDs in the area because BLM had failed to consider the cumulative environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). BLM prepared an EA Addendum to remedy the defects in those five EAs, as well as potential defects in eighty-one other EAs that also supported approvals of APDs in the area. Citizen Groups argued these eighty-one EAs and the EA Addendum violated NEPA because BLM: (1) improperly predetermined the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (2) failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals related to greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, water resources, and air quality. BLM disagreed, contending the challenges to some of the APDs were not justiciable because the APDs had not yet been approved. The district court affirmed the agency action, determining: (1) Citizen Groups’ claims based on APD’s that had not been approved were not ripe for judicial review; (2) BLM did not unlawfully predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (3) BLM took a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals. The Tenth Circuit agreed with BLM and the district court that the unapproved APDs were not ripe and accordingly, limited its review to the APDs that had been approved. Turning to Citizen Groups’ two primary arguments on the merits, the appellate court held: (1) BLM did not improperly predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum, but, even considering that addendum; (2) BLM’s analysis was arbitrary and capricious because it failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts from GHG emissions and hazardous air pollutant emissions. However, the Court concluded BLM’s analysis of the cumulative impacts to water resources was sufficient under NEPA. View "Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Taberon Honie confessed to murder. About two weeks before trial, following his lawyer’s advice, Honie waived his Utah statutory right to jury sentencing in favor of sentencing by the trial judge. Years later, Honie sought habeas relief, arguing: (1) soon after he waived jury sentencing, a fellow inmate told him that he had made a mistake in doing so; (2) a week before trial, Honie asked his trial counsel to withdraw the waiver; and (3) that counsel told him it was too late. During the defense’s opening statement at the murder trial, Honie’s counsel conceded that Honie was guilty of the aggravated-murder charge, telling the jury that the case would be about punishment. After hearing the evidence, a Utah state jury convicted him of aggravated murder. The trial judge imposed the death sentence. The Utah Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence. In seeking state postconviction relief, Honie argued under the Sixth Amendment that his trial counsel performed deficiently in two ways: (1) by inadequately explaining his right to jury sentencing, and (2) by not following his direction to retract his waiver. The Utah Supreme Court rejected Honie’s first claim, concluding that Honie’s counsel had performed competently. On the second, the court didn’t rule on the deficient-performance question. For both claims, the court ruled that Honie had suffered no prejudice. Before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Honie argued the Utah Supreme Court's application of the substantive-outcome test for prejudice announced in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) was unreasonable. Honie argued the holdings of three more-recent Supreme Court cases required the Utah Supreme Court to instead use the process-based test as done in Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52 (1985). If Hill’s standard applied, Honie would have instead needed to show a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would have chosen jury sentencing. The Tenth Circuit denied relief, finding: (1) the Supreme Court never applied Strickland’s general prejudice standard in a case involving a waiver of jury sentencing in a capital case; and (2) the Supreme Court has never held that a process-based prejudice test applied to jury-sentencing waivers. View "Honie v. Powell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Francisco Serna sued a police officer and local police department that allegedly prevented him from transporting hemp plants on a flight from Colorado to Texas. In the complaint, he asserted a single claim under § 10114(b) of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill), a statute that authorized states to legalize hemp and regulate its production within their borders, but generally precluded states from interfering with the interstate transportation of hemp. The district court dismissed Serna’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), concluding that Serna failed to state a viable claim because § 10114(b) did not create a private cause of action to sue state officials who allegedly violate that provision. Serna appealed, arguing that § 10114(b) impliedly authorized a private cause of action and that even if it didn't, the district court should have allowed him to amend the complaint to add other potentially viable claims rather than dismissing the case altogether. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that contrary to Serna’s view, the language in § 10114(b) did not suggest that Congress intended to grant hemp farmers a right to freely transport their product from one jurisdiction to another, with no interference from state officials. Because courts could not read a private cause of action into a statute that lacked such rights-creating language, the Court held the district court properly dismissed Serna’s § 10114(b) claim. The Court also concluded the trial court properly declined to allow Serna to amend his complaint. View "Serna v. Denver Police Department, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Rebecca Brigham worked as a flight attendant for defendant Frontier Airlines. Brigham was a recovering alcoholic who wanted to avoid overnight layovers because they tempted her to drink. To minimize overnight layovers, Brigham asked Frontier: (1) to excuse her from the airline’s bidding system for flight schedules; or (2) to reassign her to the General Office. Frontier rejected both requests. Unable to bypass the bidding system or move to the General Office, Brigham missed too many assigned flights and Frontier fired her. The firing led Brigham to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted summary judgment to Frontier, finding that the airline's “duty to accommodate” didn't require the employer to “take steps inconsistent with” a collective bargaining agreement. Further, Frontier had no vacancy in the General Office. A position in the General Office was available only for employees injured on-the-job. Brigham had no on-the-job injury, so she wasn’t similarly situated to the flight attendants eligible for reassignment to the General Office. Finding that the district court correctly granted summary judgment to Frontier, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Brigham v. Frontier Airlines" on Justia Law

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Jane Doe and two boys were accused of killing Doe’s parents. Even though Doe was a juvenile at the time of the murders, the government charged her with two counts of first-degree murder. The government successfully moved to transfer her case to adult court, where the punishments for first-degree murder are death or mandatory life imprisonment without parole. These punishments would be unconstitutional when applied to a juvenile. Doe argued she could not be transferred to adult court because, even if guilty, there was no statutory punishment available for her alleged crime. She also argued the district court used an incorrect legal standard for transfer from juvenile to adult court and improperly weighed the relevant factors for transfer. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found her constitutional argument was not ripe, the district court applied the correct legal standard, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in weighing the transfer factors. The Court therefore affirmed the district court’s transfer of Doe’s case from juvenile to adult court. View "United States v. Doe" on Justia Law

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Michelle Caddell died from cervical cancer while in custody as a pretrial detainee in the Tulsa County Jail. Yolanda Lucas, as special administrator of decedent Caddell’s estate, initiated this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 bringing claims of deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments against Dr. Gary Myers and against Turn Key Health Clinics, LLC (“Turn Key”) and Sheriff Vic Regalado in his official capacity through municipal liability, violations of the Equal Protection clause against Turn Key and Sheriff Regalado, and negligence and wrongful death under Oklahoma state law against Dr. Myers and Turn Key. The three Defendants individually moved to dismiss all claims and the district court granted the motions. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the district court’s determinations that she failed to plausibly allege: (1) deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against Dr. Myers; (2) municipal liability against Turn Key and Sheriff Regalado; and (3) violation of the Equal Protection clause against Turn Key and Sheriff Regalado. She also challenged the finding that Dr. Myers and Turn Key were entitled to immunity for the state law claims under the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (“OGTCA”). The Tenth Circuit found it would need to determine the OGTCA's applicability to private corporations (and their employees) that contract with the state to provide medical services at the summary judgment stage if the factual record is sufficiently developed and the facts are uncontroverted. Accordingly, the Court reversed as premature the district court’s decision that Turn Key and Dr. Myers were immune under the OGTCA. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Lucas v. Turn Key Health Clinics, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Joshua Leib challenged the 100-month sentence he received for his conviction for being a previously convicted felon in possession of a firearm. The specific sentencing question presented by this appeal was whether the district court clearly erred in calculating Leib’s advisory prison range under the sentencing guidelines by enhancing his base offense level under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded there was sufficient evidence for the sentencing court to find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that this enhancement applied in Leib’s case. The Court therefore affirmed Leib’s sentence. View "United States v. Leib" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Germaine Coulter, Sr. appealed his convictions for child sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit child sex trafficking. For many years, Coulter was a pimp in the Oklahoma City area. Upon release from a five-year state prison term in 2017, he conscripted an underage girl, “Doe 2,” to recruit a schoolmate, “Doe 1,” to perform sex work for him. After Doe 1 expressed interest, Elizabeth Andrade, one of Coulter’s longtime sex workers, took pictures of Doe 1 in various stages of undress and sent them to Coulter. He forwarded the photos to potential clients with messages suggesting that Doe 1 would perform sex acts for money. Andrade also sent the photos to potential clients and used one of the photos to advertise Doe 1’s services online. A grand jury indicted Coulter and later issued a superseding indictment charging him with (1) conspiring with Andrade to commit child sex trafficking, (2) child sex trafficking with respect to Doe 1, and (3) child sex trafficking with respect to "Doe 3." The grand jury also indicted Andrade for conspiracy to commit child sex trafficking. She pled guilty. Relevant to this appeal, the jury deliberated for about six hours before reporting it had reached a verdict. It filled out verdict forms finding Coulter guilty on Counts 1 and 2 related to Doe 1, but said it was deadlocked on Count 3 related to Doe 3. When the district court polled the jury, one juror said the verdict did not reflect her opinion and expressed that she did not want to return to the deliberations. The he district court recessed for the weekend. On Monday morning, Coulter moved for a mistrial based on these events with the jury. The district court denied the motion. The jury did continue deliberations, but reached the same result. Coulter thereafter moved for a new trial, arguing (1) the evidence against him was insufficient to support the jury verdict and (2) the district court erred in admitting certain testimony. The motion was denied and Coulter was sentenced to 360 months in prison. The Tenth Circuit found the trial court handled its post-trial jury interactions without abusing its discretion. Further, the Court found any admission of testimony was harmless. Accordingly, Coulter's convictions and sentence were affirmed. View "United States v. Coulter" on Justia Law