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

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The defendants (collectively, the “New Mexico Courts”) appealed a district court’s entry of a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiff, Courthouse News Service (“Courthouse News”). Courthouse News was a news service that reports on civil litigation in state and federal courts across the country. The focus of the litigation here was on timely access to newly filed, non-confidential civil complaints in the state district courts of New Mexico. On July 30, 2021, Courthouse News filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the New Mexico Courts, seeking to “prohibit[] them preliminarily . . . from refusing to make newly-filed nonconfidential civil petitions available to the public and press until after such petitions are processed or accepted, and further directing them to make such petitions accessible to the press and public in a contemporaneous manner upon receipt.” The district court concluded that Courthouse News was entitled to a preliminary injunction enjoining the New Mexico Courts from withholding press or public access to newly filed, non-confidential civil complaints for longer than five business hours, but not to a preliminary injunction that provides pre-processing, on-receipt, or immediate access to such complaints. On appeal, the New Mexico Courts argued the district court erred in granting in part Courthouse News’ motion for preliminary injunction. After its review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Specifically, the Court affirmed the district court’s memorandum opinion and order to the extent that the district court: (1) declined to abstain from hearing this case; and (2) concluded that the First Amendment right of access attaches when a complaint is submitted to the court. However, the Court concluded the district court erred in imposing a bright-line, five-business-hour rule that failed to accommodate the state’s interests in the administration of its courts. Accordingly, the district court’s entry of a preliminary injunction was reversed, the preliminary injunction vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Courthouse News Service v. New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee Floyd Bledsoe spent sixteen years in prison for the November 1999 murder of his fourteen-year-old sister-in-law Camille in Jefferson County, Kansas. In 2015, new DNA testing and a suicide note from Bledsoe’s brother Tom supported Bledsoe’s longstanding claim that Tom was the killer and Bledsoe was innocent. A state court subsequently vacated Bledsoe’s convictions and prosecutors dismissed all charges against him. In 2016, Bledsoe filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against ten named defendants, most of whom were Kansas law enforcement officers. Bledsoe alleged that Defendants conspired to fabricate evidence implicating him in the murder and intentionally suppressed evidence that would have proved his innocence, thereby causing him to be charged, tried, and convicted without even probable cause to believe he was guilty. At issue in this appeal was the district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) by Defendant-Appellants, all of whom were law enforcement officers employed by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office. In their motion, Appellants argued they were entitled to qualified immunity because Bledsoe: (1) failed to state claims adequately alleging that Appellants deprived Bledsoe of his constitutional rights; and/or (2) any constitutional violations Bledsoe did adequately allege against Appellants were not clearly established in 1999, when the events at issue occurred. The district court denied Appellants qualified immunity on most of Bledsoe’s claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment. The Court concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision in Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981) did not preclude Bledsoe’s substantive due process claims. Further, the Court found Bledsoe adequately alleged substantive due process and Fourth Amendment claims against each Appellant for evidence fabrication and for suppressing exculpatory evidence, a malicious prosecution claim, conspiracy claims, and a failure-to-intervene claim. Lastly, the Court concluded all the constitutional violations Bledsoe alleged except his failure-to-intervene claim were clearly established in 1999. The district court, therefore, correctly denied Appellants qualified immunity on all but the failure-to-intervene claim. View "Bledsoe v. Board Cty Comm. Jefferson KS, et al." on Justia Law

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A transportation company, Wasatch Transportation, Inc., needed three buses to comply with a state contract. Compliance required "particularly durable buses" because the routes would exceed 350 miles in inclement weather with substantial changes in elevation. Wasatch bought Synergy buses from the manufacturer, Forest River, Inc., based on assurances from a Forest River sales personnel that the buses were “[q]uality buses” that Forest River “would take really good care of” and would “be amazing when they were done.” For each bus, Forest River provided a warranty packet containing three limitations: (1) the warranty covered only repair costs; (2) the warranty was exclusive, taking the place of other possible warranties; and (3) the warranty provided the buyer’s only remedy for defects under any legal theory. After the purchase, the buses developed mechanical problems. Even after the bus was repaired, it continued to break down. Another bus broke down soon after the purchase and was usable only a third of the next year. Given the breakdowns, Wasatch allegedly had to buy another bus to comply with the state contract; but the state cancelled the contract anyway. Wasatch thereafter sued Forest River for: breach of an express warranty; breach of an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose; and fraud. The district court granted summary judgment to Forest River, reasoning that its warranty packet prevented any relief. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined there were genuine issues of material fact to preclude the district court's grant of summary judgment. That judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wasatch Transportation v. Forest River" on Justia Law

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Defendant Troy Gregory, a former senior vice president of University National Bank (UNB) in Lawrence, Kansas, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, four counts of bank fraud, and two counts of making false bank entries. These charges arose from Defendant’s arrangement of a $15.2 million loan by 26 banks to fund an apartment development by established clients of UNB. After a ten-day trial, including two days of deliberations, a jury found Defendant guilty on all counts except the conspiracy count, on which the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. The court sentenced Defendant to 60 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of: (1) his motion for a judgment of acquittal; and (2) his motion for a new trial on the ground that the government’s extended hypothetical in closing argument was not based on facts in evidence and constituted prosecutorial misconduct. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, finding defendant’s conviction was supported by sufficient evidence and the government’s closing argument was rooted in evidence presented at trial or reasonable inferences drawn from that evidence. View "United States v. Gregory" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Brandon Fresquez filed suit against his former employer, defendant BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), claiming that BNSF violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) by terminating his employment in retaliation for him engaging in certain activities that were expressly protected under the FRSA. A jury found in favor of Fresquez on his claim of retaliation under the FRSA, and awarded him $800,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. Following the trial, Fresquez moved for an award of back and front pay. The district court granted that motion in part and awarded Fresquez a total of $696,173. BNSF argued on appeal: (1) it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the merits of Fresquez’s claims; (2) alternatively, it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages. BNSF further argues that it was entitled to a new trial on the merits of Fresquez’s claims based on the district court’s admission of character and other prejudicial evidence; (3) it was entitled to a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages; and (4) the district court abused its discretion by awarding Fresquez ten years’ worth of front pay. Rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed judgment. View "Fresquez v. BNSF Railway" on Justia Law

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Tamatha Hennessey alleged a radiology technician sexually assaulted her during her visit to the University of Kansas hospital for emergency medical care. Proceeding pro se, Hennessey brought a civil action for negligent supervision against the University of Kansas Hospital Authority (“UKHA”), which oversaw operation of the hospital. UKHA moved to dismiss the action, arguing Hennessey failed to plead facts supporting subject matter/diversity jurisdiction and that it was entitled to sovereign immunity. UKHA premised both arguments on it being an arm of the state of Kansas and therefore entitled to the same immunities as the state. But the Tenth Circuit found UKHA failed to support its motion with any evidence demonstrating it was an arm of the state or any analysis of the factors governing whether a state-created entity is an arm of the state. The district court, relying on the statutory scheme creating UKHA, Kan. Stat. Ann. §§ 76-3301–3323 (the “University of Kansas Hospital Authority Act” or the “Act”), found the Act characterized UKHA as an entity of the state, UKHA was not autonomous from the state, and UKHA was concerned with state-wide rather than local functions. Therefore, the district court concluded UKHA was an arm of the state and, therefore, dismissed Hennessey’s action. Hennessey appeals, arguing: (1) a procedural argument that the burden was on UKHA to demonstrate it was an arm of the state and it failed to meet this burden by not presenting any evidence and not arguing the factors governing the arm-of- the-state analysis; (2) a substantive argument that, regardless of the burden, the University of Kansas Hospital Authority Act supported the conclusion that UKHA was not an arm of the state; and (3) a fallback argument that a remand for limited discovery and presentation of evidence was appropriate. The Tenth Circuit concluded the burden fell on the entity asserting it was an arm of the state, and UKHA did not meet its burden. While Tenth Circuit precedent permitted a district court to raise the issue sua sponge, the Tenth Circuit found the district court erred in concluding UKHA was not autonomous under the language of the Act. The district court’s order granting UKHA’s motion to dismiss was vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Hennessey v. University of Kansas Hospital Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Stacey Wright worked as the charge nurse in the cardiac catheterization lab at Castle Rock Adventist Hospital (“Castle Rock”), a unit of the Portercare Adventist Health System (“Portercare”). After she was denied a transfer within Portercare and was terminated from her position at Castle Rock, Wright brought Title VII claims for discrimination and retaliation. The district court granted Portercare summary judgment, concluding it advanced legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its employment decisions and Wright failed to adduce evidence supporting a finding of pretext. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court. View "Wright v. Portercare Adventist" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee Michaella Surat filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant-Appellant Officer Randall Klamser, alleging he violated her right to be free from excessive force during her arrest for misdemeanor charges of obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. Officer Klamser moved to dismiss, arguing Surat’s claim was barred by her underlying convictions. The district court granted Officer Klamser’s motion, in part, holding that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) did not bar Surat’s claim that Officer Klamser used excessive force to overcome her resistance when he slammed her face-first into the ground. Officer Klamser then moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, but the district court denied his motion. The district court concluded a reasonable jury could have found Officer Klamser used excessive force to overcome Surat’s resistance to arrest. Additionally, the district court determined Officer Klamser’s force violated clearly established law. In this interlocutory appeal of the denial of summary judgment, Officer Klamser claimed the district court erred because his use of force was reasonable and, alternatively, because the law did not clearly establish that his action during the arrest violated the Fourth Amendment. Although the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that Officer Klamser’s use of force violated the Fourth Amendment, it disagreed that clearly established law existing at the time of the incident would have put a reasonable officer on notice that his conduct was unlawful. Accordingly, judgment was reversed. View "Surat v. Klamser" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Ralph Menzies was convicted of first-degree murder in Utah state court and sentenced to death. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed the denial of his motion for a new trial, and then affirmed his conviction and death sentence. Menzies sought post-conviction relief, but the state courts rejected his claims. The state court decisions led Menzies to seek habeas relief in federal court. The federal district court denied relief, prompting Menzies to appeal. Finding no reversible error in the denial of habeas relief, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the federal district court. View "Menzies v. Powell" on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on the denial of tax benefits relating to petitioner Preston Olsen's purchase of solar lenses. The benefits were only available if the taxpayer had a profit motive for the purchases. Olsen bought the lenses in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, through a program created by Neldon Johnson. Under the program, Johnson would use the lenses in a new system to generate electricity by heating a liquid to generate steam and drive a turbine. Johnson never finished the system; he had completed the lenses on only one tower and hadn’t decided whether those lenses would heat water, oil, or molten salt. Johnson funded the program through investors like Olsen who bought lenses from Johnson’s companies and leased the lenses to another of Johnson’s companies. Once the system began producing revenue, Johnson's company would pay Olsen’s company $150 per lens per year. But the system never generated any revenue. From 2009 to 2014, Olsen annually claimed depreciation deductions and solar energy credits on the lenses. These claims allowed the Olsens to pay little or no federal income taxes. "So the Olsens came out ahead even though they had never obtained any money from the leases." The tax court disallowed the benefits in part because it found Petitioner lacked a profit motive. Finding no reversible error in the tax court's decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Olsen, et al. v. CIR" on Justia Law