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Oklahoma charged Raymond Johnson with one count of first-degree arson and two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his former girlfriend, Brooke Whitaker, and the couple’s seven-month-old daughter. The charges stemmed from Johnson’s brutal attack on Whitaker with a hammer, after which he doused her with gasoline and set her house on fire, killing both victims. The jury convicted Johnson on all three counts. The Oklahoma jury subsequently concluded that the mitigating evidence did not outweigh four aggravating circumstances surrounding the murders. The jury sentenced Johnson to death. Johnson petitioned for habeas relief when state courts denied relief, allegeing ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. The district court denied relief, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal granted a certificate of appealability on four issues: (1) whether Johnson’s appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the exclusion of certain mitigating evidence; (2) whether his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and develop certain mitigating evidence and present additional witnesses, and whether his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issues on direct appeal; (3) whether Johnson’s appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise claims of prosecutorial misconduct; and (4) cumulative error. The Tenth Circuit considered Johnson's habeas petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death-Penalty Act, but only if the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals unreasonably applied federal law in denying his claims. The Tenth Circuit concluded Johnson could not meet that burden, and therefore denied the district court’s denial of Johnson’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus. View "Johnson v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Kyle Lindsey and Zayne Mann were seriously injured when Lindsey lost control of his utility vehicle on a gravel road after a brief police pursuit. They claimed the accident was caused by an overzealous officer who should not have initiated a chase over a minor traffic infraction, alleging violations of both their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by Officer Brandon Hyler, the City of Webbers Falls, and several other municipal officials, based on Officer Hyler’s conduct during the pursuit as well as his previous training. Lindsey and Mann also sought relief under Oklahoma law. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on all federal claims and concluded that Officer Hyler was entitled to qualified immunity. Because the record could not credibly sustain plaintiffs’ allegations, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court appropriately dismissed their claims. View "Lindsey v. Hyler" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Tessa Farmer and Sara Weckhorst, two students at Kansas State University (“KSU”), alleged KSU, a recipient of federal educational funds, violated Title IX by being deliberately indifferent to reports it received of student-on-student sexual harassment which, in this case, involved rape. Plaintiffs alleged KSU violated Title IX’s ban against sex discrimination by being deliberately indifferent after Plaintiffs reported to KSU that other students had raped them, and that deliberate indifference caused Plaintiffs subsequently to be deprived of educational benefits that were available to other students. At the procedural posture presented by these interlocutory appeals, which addressed the denial of KSU’s motions to dismiss, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals accepted as true Plaintiffs’ factual allegations indicating that KSU was deliberately indifferent to their rape reports. Accepting that premise, the legal question presented to the Court was what harm Plaintiffs had to allege KSU’s deliberate indifference caused them. The Tenth Circuit concluded that, in this case, Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that KSU’s deliberate indifference made each of them “vulnerable to” sexual harassment by allowing their student-assailants (unchecked and without the school investigating) to continue attending KSU along with Plaintiffs. “This, as Plaintiffs adequately allege, caused them to withdraw from participating in the educational opportunities offered by KSU.” The Court affirmed the district court’s decision to deny KSU’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Title IX claims. View "Farmer v. Kansas State University" on Justia Law

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PetroChina Canada bought ten large heat-exchanger units from Kelvion’s Oklahoma plant for use in PetroChina’s oil and gas operations. Their contract included a mandatory forum-selection clause subjecting the parties to Canadian jurisdiction. After a dispute over unanticipated delivery costs that PetroChina refused to pay, Kelvion brought suit in Oklahoma. It asserted quantum meruit and unjust enrichment claims, arguing the forum-selection clause did not apply to its equitable claims. The district court disagreed, concluding the forum-selection clause applied, and dismissed the suit under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Finding no error in judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal for forum non conveniens. View "Kelvion, Inc. v. PetroChina Canada Ltd." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were all former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“FLDS”), which illegally practiced polygamy. In 2016, plaintiffs filed suit against the FLDS Prophet, Warren Jeffs, and Jeff’s lawyers, the law firm of Snow Christensen & Martineau (“SC&M”) and one of its partners, Rodney Parker, alleging defendants: (1) directly worked with Jeffs to create a legal framework that would shield him from the legal ramifications of child rape, forced labor, extortion, and the causing of emotional distress by separating families; (2) created an illusion of legality to bring about plaintiffs’ submission to these abuses and employed various legal instruments and judicial processes to knowingly facilitate the abuse; (3) held themselves out to be the lawyers of each FLDS member individually, thus creating a duty to them to disclose this illegal scheme; and (4) intentionally misused these attorney-client relationships to enable Jeffs’ dominion and criminal enterprise. Jeffs defaulted, and the district court dismissed every cause of action against the remaining defendants under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The issue before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stemmed from the district court’s dismissal of all claims against SC&M and Parker (collectively “defendants”). Reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. For fifteen plaintiffs who brought legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty claims, the Court determined they pled facts sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss: a factual question remained for each of these plaintiffs regarding whether (and how long) equitable tolling applies to their limitations periods, and whether individual implied attorney-client relationships existed. Twelve plaintiffs pled facts sufficient to survive dismissal of their fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation claims, again, there was a factual question regarding when they discovered their claims, thereby starting the running of the statutory period, and whether an implied attorney-client relationship existed. Civil RICO claims were deemed forfeited as inadequately presented in plaintiffs’ opening brief. With respect to TVPRA claims, nine plaintiffs pled facts sufficient to pass muster under the plausibility standard and thus survived dismissal. View "Bistline v. Jeffs" on Justia Law

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Darren Gonzales owned and operated Concrete Specialists, Inc. in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As a side business, he sold cocaine and methamphetamine. Gonzales used his personal and business bank accounts to launder the proceeds of his drug sales. After extensive investigations by state and federal law enforcement, a federal grand jury charged Gonzales with committing a multitude of drug and financial crimes. He eventually agreed to plead guilty to ten of the fifty-four counts set out in the indictment, specifically including seven counts of concealment money laundering. On appeal, Gonzales argued for the first time that the guilty pleas underlying two of his money laundering convictions, Counts 50 and 52, were not supported by a sufficient factual basis. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err in finding that Gonzales’s guilty pleas to Counts 50 and 52 were supported by a sufficient factual basis. The conduct Gonzales admitted as part of his plea agreement and at the plea colloquy established the existence of every element of a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) as to both relevant counts. View "United States v. Gonzales" on Justia Law

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Rande Isabella was convicted of persuading and attempting to persuade S.F., a 14-year-old girl, to “engage . . . in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense” (Count 1), and of attempting to persuade S.F. to produce child pornography (Count 2). On appeal, he argued: (1) the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions; (2) the district court made six improper evidentiary rulings; and (3) his convictions and sentences under 18 U.S.C. sections 2422(b) and 2251(a) and (e) violated the Double Jeopardy Clause. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Isabella's convictions. View "United States v. Isabella" on Justia Law

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Defendant Dustin Ash pled guilty to two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) identified a 2012 Kansas conviction for reckless aggravated battery as a “crime of violence” under U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a). Concluding that Ash had one such prior conviction, the PSR set his base offense level at 20 pursuant to section 2K2.1(a)(4)(A). After making several adjustments, the PSR indicated Ash’s total offense level was 23. Paired with a criminal history category of V, the PSR determined his Guidelines range was 84 to 105 months’ imprisonment. In a cross-appeal, the parties challenged two district court rulings that considered whether certain offenses were crimes of violence under U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined : (1) the U.S. Supreme Court recently determined that robbery qualified as a crime of violence if the offense required the perpetrator to overcome victim resistance; and (2) offenses with a mens rea of recklessness cannot qualify as crimes of violence. The Court thus held that Dustin Ash’s Missouri conviction for second-degree robbery was a crime of violence, and his Kansas conviction for reckless aggravated battery was also a crime of violence. Because Ash had two prior convictions for crimes of violence under the Guidelines, the district court miscalculated his advisory Guidelines range. The Tenth Circuit then remanded this case and instructed the district court to vacate Ash’s sentence and resentence him consistent with its opinion. View "United States v. Ash" on Justia Law

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Keshia Porter appeals the district court’s dismissal of her complaint as time barred. Porter’s husband, Delandis Richardson, was killed in an auto accident in Campbell County, Wyoming, on November 25, 2014. Within two years, on November 21, 2016, Vance Countryman filed a “Petition/Action for the Appointment of Wrongful Death Representative” in the District Court of Campbell County, Wyoming. Countryman requested appointment as Richardson’s WDR under Wyo. Stat. Secs. 1-38-101 to 105. The state court judge expressed concern that appointing Countryman, who would be acting as an attorney in the wrongful death suit, could pose ethical problems. On April 27, 2017, Porter filed an “Amended Petition/Action for the Appointment of Wrongful Death Representative” asking the court to appoint her as Richardson’s WDR. It stated that “[t]his petition is ‘made in a separate action brought solely for appointing the wrongful death representative’ pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. 1-38-103(b).” The document was filed in the existing state court action. On July 10, 2017, the court appointed Porter the WDR for Richardson. Porter then filed this action against Ford Motor Company on August 7, 2017, as Richardson’s WDR. Ford moved to dismiss, arguing that Porter’s claims were barred by Wyoming’s two-year limitations period for wrongful death actions. The district court agreed and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Porter timely appealed. The Tenth Circuit determined that a WDR petition was filed by another putative representative within two years and Porter was appointed WDR in that state court action. She then filed the present suit within thirty days of her appointment. On these facts, the Court concluded Porter’s complaint was timely under Wyo. Stat. 1-38-103(b)(ii). Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Porter v. Ford Motor Company" on Justia Law

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In 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Delano Medina. He appeared for the first time in federal court 27 months later on January 11, 2017. During that time, Medina was transferred between various state authorities in three different states on at least 10 different sets of charges and was tried in two different state courts. He moved to dismiss the federal indictment, arguing that the delay violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. He contended that the pretrial delay impaired his defense because his cell phone containing alibi evidence was lost before he was brought to federal court. He also argued the delay prevented him from invoking his rights under the Speedy Trial Act at an earlier date. The district court denied the motion because Medina had not adequately shown he suffered prejudice from the delay. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Medina" on Justia Law