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

by
After a boiler exploded at a refinery, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the refinery’s owner, Wynnewood Refining Co., LLC, for violating 29 C.F.R. section 1910.119, which set forth requirements for the management of highly hazardous chemicals. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (the Commission) upheld the violations, noting that the refinery had previously violated section 1910.119, but the prior violations occurred before Wynnewood LLC owned the refinery, and therefore occurred under a different employer. Accordingly, the Commission did not classify the violations as “repeat[] violations” under 29 U.S.C. 666(a), which permitted increased penalties for “employer[s] who willfully or repeatedly violate[]” the regulation. Wynnewood appealed the Commission’s order, arguing that section 1910.119 did not apply to the boiler that exploded. The Tenth Circuit found section 1910.119’s plain text unambiguously applied to the boiler, and affirmed that portion of the Commission’s order upholding the violations. The U.S. Secretary of Labor also appealed the Commission's order, arguing the Commission erred by failing to characterize the violations as repeat violations. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed Wynnewood was not the same employer as the refinery's previous owner, thus affirming that portion of the Commission's order relating to the repeat violations. View "Scalia v. Wynnewood Refining" on Justia Law

by
Marvin Rowell was arrested for public intoxication and brought to the Muskogee County Jail in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In response to Rowell’s uncooperative conduct during processing, Jail officials decided to move him from the intake room to another room to place him in a restraint chair. In escorting Rowell down a hallway, Officer Dakota West applied forward pressure to Rowell’s right arm. After taking a few steps, Rowell fell and hit his head, and died shortly after from multiple blunt impact injuries to his head, which caused an acute subdural hematoma. Rowell's estate (the “Estate”), through administrator Zachary Rowell, sued Officer West, alleging a Fourteenth Amendment excessive force violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Estate also brought claims for failure to intervene against Officer Jacob Slay, supervisory liability against Shift Supervisor Lacy Rosson, and municipal liability against Muskogee County Sheriff Rob Frazier in his official capacity and the Board of County Commissioners of Muskogee, Oklahoma (the “County”). The district court granted summary judgment for the Defendants because it found that Officer West had not committed a constitutional violation. The Estate appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment. View "Rowell v. Muskogee County Board" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-Appellant Eldon Miller challenged his sentence entered upon a guilty plea to one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. The charges arose out of Miller’s operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, leading to an accident that caused serious and permanent injuries to his sole passenger. The district court imposed a within-Guidelines sentence of 36 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Miller challenged his sentence on two grounds: (1) the sentence was substantively unreasonable because the district court unreasonably discounted, inter alia, the relationship between his disease of alcoholism and his criminal record, the detrimental effect that a lengthy prison term would have on his rehabilitation, and various mitigating facts related to his background; and (2) the district court’s impermissibly imposed a special condition of supervised release authorizing his probation officer to determine the number of drug tests to which he must submit during his term of supervised release. As to the latter objection, Miller contended the district court’s imposition of this condition unconstitutionally delegated judicial authority in contravention of Article III; and the district court erred in failing to make findings on the record supporting imposition of the challenged condition. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding Miller fell "far short" of rebutting the presumption of substantive reasonableness of the within-Guidelines sentence. With regard to the special condition, the Court rejected Miller's argument that the district court impermissibly delegated to probation judicial authority, and found he failed establish that any of the asserted errors constituted plain error. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

by
In 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Defendant Martin Perea on nine counts of production of a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. In 2016, Defendant produced a report by Dr. Alexander Paret, which opined that Defendant lacked competency to stand trial. In light of this report, the Government moved for a psychiatric and psychological examination of Defendant, and Defendant was sent for evaluation. In 2017, Dr. Lisa Bellah, a licensed psychologist with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), reported that Defendant suffered from a mental disease or defect which rendered him unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to properly assist in his defense. Dr. Bellah thus determined Defendant was presently incompetent to stand trial. But she also suggested that Defendant could achieve competency within a reasonable amount of time if he were educated on criminal matters. In response, the district court entered an order finding Defendant incompetent to stand trial. And upon the Government’s motion, the court ordered that Defendant be committed for treatment and restoration. In 2018, Dr. Jacob X. Chavez, another psychologist with the BOP reported that Defendant was incompetent and substantially unlikely to be restored to competency in the foreseeable future. Upon recommendation, the district court ordered a risk assessment. During the pre-risk assessment and risk assessment interviews, however, Dr. Chavez observed that Defendant presented as “notably different” from his previous presentation, revealing a “higher level of understanding than portrayed previously.” Based in part on this observation, Dr. Chavez issued a new report which found Defendant was, more likely than not, competent to proceed. At competency hearings, Dr. Chavez testified, leading the district court to enter an order finding Defendant competent to stand trial. Defendant filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court’s last order. Because a competency determination was a non-final order, and the collateral order doctrine did not apply, the Tenth Circuit granted the Government's motion to dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "United States v. Perea" on Justia Law

by
The Appellants objected to the IRS’s attempts to collect and audit information about their marijuana-related business practices, arguing: (1) the IRS investigation was quasi-criminal, exceeded the Agency’s authority, and was being conducted for an illegitimate purpose; (2) even if the investigation had a legitimate purpose, the information sought was irrelevant; and (3) the investigation was in bad faith and constituted an abuse of process because (a) the IRS may share the information collected with federal law enforcement agents, (b) the IRS summonses are overly broad and require the creation of new reports, (c) the dispensaries had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data they tender to state regulatory authorities, and (d) those state authorities could not provide the requested information without violating Colorado law. The Appellants further contended the district court applied the wrong standard of review when it denied motions to quash and granted motions to enforce the summonses. Relying on the reasoning outlined in Standing Akimbo, LLC v. United States, 955 F.3d 1146, 1150–69 (10th Cir. 2020), the Tenth Circuit rejected Appellants' arguments and affirmed the district court's rulings in favor of the IRS. View "Speidell v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Arapaho James Oldman and Matthew Whiteplume severely beat Charles Dodge III. One of them cut his throat. Dodge died from blunt-force trauma and/or sharp-force injuries. Oldman was convicted by jury of first-degree murder, both as a principal and an aider and abettor. The trial court refused his request for a lesser-included offense instruction on assault resulting in serious bodily injury (ARISBI). On appeal, Oldman argued the trial court erred by refusing to give the ARISBI instruction. He also contended the court erred when it “mishandled” graphic photos of Dodge’s body, allowed a defense witness to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege, communicated ex parte with a juror, and misapplied the spousal privilege. Finally, he claimed his trial counsel was ineffective. Rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Oldman's convictions. View "United States v. Oldman" on Justia Law

by
Daniel Koch pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography. The district court sentenced him to a twenty-year term of incarceration, to be followed by a ten-year term of supervised release. Without objection, the district court ordered Koch to comply with a special condition of supervised release (the “Sexual Material Prohibition”). For the first time on appeal, Koch asserts the district court erred in imposing upon him the Sexual Material Prohibition without first making particularized findings justified by compelling circumstances and based on an individual assessment of his case. Koch argued the condition interfered with his fundamental First Amendment right to access legal, sexually oriented materials. Upon review of the relevant Tenth Circuit authorities, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court plainly erred in imposing the Sexual Material Prohibition without first making the necessary case-specific findings. Accordingly, the condition was vacated and the matter remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "United States v. Koch" on Justia Law

by
Pretrial detainee Thomas Pratt exhibited alcohol withdrawal symptoms while in a county jail. Healthcare providers diagnosed and treated Pratt’s symptoms, but their course of treatment proved ineffective. Plaintiff Faye Strain, as Pratt’s guardian, sued. "Disagreement about course of treatment or mere negligence in administering treatment do not amount to a constitutional violation." To state a claim for deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must allege that an official acted (or failed to act) in an objectively unreasonable manner and with subjective awareness of the risk. "Indeed, the word deliberate makes a subjective component inherent in the claim." The Tenth Circuit concluded Plaintiff's allegations did not rise to the "high level" of deliberate indifference, and affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's federal claims (in addition to the court's decision not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims). View "Strain v. Regalado" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-Appellant Jose Jesus Cruz entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of heroin with intent to distribute and to possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. Cruz appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence, arguing that evidence should have been excluded because it was the result of an unlawful search and seizure. The district court concluded that there was probable cause for Cruz’s warrantless arrest, and that two exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry into his residence: (1) the destruction of evidence and (2) the hot pursuit of a suspect. Finding "abundant evidence" in the record to support probable cause for Cruz's arrest, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. View "United States v. Cruz" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-Appellant Randolfo Librado Chavez, Jr. was convicted by jury of two counts of distributing methamphetamine. His appeal of those convictions centered on the district court’s admission into evidence of three transcripts, which purportedly were of audio recordings of incriminating conversations that he had had in Spanish and in English. The district court did not admit into evidence the audio recordings themselves or play the recordings for the jury. In addition, the district court instructed the jury that they could not question the accuracy of the English-language translations in the transcripts. To the Tenth Circuit, Chavez challenged both the district court’s admission of the transcripts and the jury instructions relating to them, arguing the district court: (1) violated the best-evidence rule by admitting the transcripts into evidence without admitting the recordings themselves; and (2) committed plain error by instructing the jury to accept the accuracy of the translations in the transcripts. As to Chavez’s first contention, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court’s admission of the transcripts, without also admitting the recordings they purported to transcribe, violated the best-evidence rule and constituted reversible error. Accordingly, it reversed and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to vacate Chavez’s convictions and grant him a new trial. In light of that disposition, the Court did not reach the merits of Chavez's jury-instruction challenge. View "United States v. Chavez" on Justia Law