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

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Guy Jean-Pierre, a corporate and securities attorney, aided an illegal stock trading operation. Through a series of self-dealing transactions, Jean-Pierre and his co-conspirators artificially inflated stock prices of a company they controlled. Jean- Pierre sent letters on the company’s behalf to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that contained false and misleading information and omitted material information from disclosures to potential investors. Jean-Pierre appealed his convictions for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud as to four of the twenty-eight counts of conviction, arguing the district court erred in admitting evidence that he had previously used his niece’s signature without her permission to submit attorney letters to a stock trading website. Jean- Pierre also argued that three of the four convictions should have been reversed because the district court declined to give a requested instruction reiterating the government’s burden as to a specific factual theory. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Jean-Pierre" on Justia Law

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Defendant Veng Xiong was convicted by jury on one count of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, and on weapons possession charges. On appeal, Defendant challenged his two firearm-related convictions based on what the Government admitted was an erroneous constructive possession charge tendered to the jury. The Tenth Circuit concluded Defendant did not meet his burden to show that there was a “reasonable probability that, but for the error, the outcome of the proceeding would have been different.” Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "United States v. Xiong" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a sexual-misconduct investigation conducted by the University of Denver and the subsequent expulsion of John Doe after a classmate accused him of sexual assault. Doe sued the University and various school administrators (collectively, the University) alleging, among other things, that the University violated the sex discrimination prohibition of Title IX, because anti-male bias pervaded the sexual-misconduct investigation, resulting in a disciplinary decision against the weight of the evidence. The district court concluded Doe failed to present sufficient evidence that the University’s actions were motivated by bias against him because of his sex, and it therefore granted summary judgment to the University on Doe’s Title IX claim. Doe challenged that conclusion, alleging the district court applied the wrong legal standard in resolving his motion for summary judgment. Applying the “McDonnell Douglas” evidentiary standard to Doe’s claim, the Tenth Circuit concluded he provided sufficient evidence for a jury to decide whether the investigation into the allegations and subsequent disciplinary action discriminated against him because of his sex. View "Doe v. University of Denver" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Matthew Maley appealed a district court’s denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. Maley was convicted in New Mexico of various conspiracy and drug offenses as well as possession of a firearm by a felon, for which he was sentenced to 262 months’ imprisonment on the drug-related counts and 120 months’ imprisonment on the felon-in-possession count to run concurrently. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions on direct appeal, rejecting the argument that he was denied his choice of counsel when the district court denied his fourth motion for a continuance and required his then-counsel to proceed to trial. Maley also faced charges in Arizona based upon evidence found in the travel trailer. In that case, however, Arizona counsel filed a motion to suppress which was granted and ultimately the charges were dismissed. In his section 2255 motion, Maley argued that had his New Mexico counsel filed a motion to suppress, it likely would have been granted and he would not have been convicted on the felon in possession of a firearm count. The district court granted a certificate of appealability on: (1) whether law enforcement officers had probable cause to believe that Maley would be found within the travel trailer he was using as his residence when they entered it on November 17, 2013, with a valid warrant for his arrest; and (2) if probable cause was lacking, whether the failure of New Mexico trial counsel to seek suppression of the evidence constituted ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC). Finding no reversible error in the district court judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Maley" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-Appellant John William Childers, then-incarcerated in Oklahoma, appealed a district court’s denial of his pro se 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief. Childers was convicted of violating two provisions of Oklahoma’s Sex Offenders Registration Act (SORA) for living within 2,000 feet of a school and for failing to update his address. He was serving two consecutive life sentences for these convictions. After seeking post-conviction relief in state court, Childers sought federal habeas relief, arguing, among other things, that his life sentences were the result of an impermissible retroactive application of SORA’s provisions in violation of the ex post facto clause of the Oklahoma Constitution. The district court determined that Childers’s section 2254 petition was time-barred and denied relief. The Tenth Circuit, however, granted a Certificate of Appealability (COA), concluding that “[r]easonable jurists could debate whether . . . Childers has advanced a colorable claim of actual innocence” to overcome the time-bar. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court’s procedural ruling was correct and that Childers did not raise a claim of actual innocence before the district court or in his application for a COA. Accordingly, the Court disagreed that a COA should have been granted. Even were this not the case, Childers’s ex post facto arguments on appeal changed substantially from those he presented in his COA application. The Court therefore declined to consider Childers’s new arguments because they exceeded the scope of the COA. View "Childers v. Crow" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Eric Martinez appealed a district court’s imposition of a 27-month sentence for his burglary conviction under the Indian Major Crimes Act. In February 2016, Martinez and two accomplices burglarized a residence within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation in McKinley County, New Mexico. During the burglary, Martinez used a hammer to break a hole in the front door near the doorknob to gain entry to the residence. He and his accomplices took valuable items from the residence, including electronics, jewelry, and ceremonial shawls and robes. Martinez ultimately pled guilty to an “assimilated” New Mexico burglary offense under N.M. Stat. Ann. 30-16-3. At sentencing, Martinez argued that federal law permitted the district court to impose a conditional discharge, which would allow a term of probation without entry of a judgment of conviction -- a sentence possible had his case been adjudicated in New Mexico state court. He also objected to a two-level sentencing enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2B2.1(b)(4) for possessing a dangerous weapon on the basis that he did not use the hammer as a weapon during the burglary. The district court rejected these arguments. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Martinez’s conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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A class of employees who participated in Banner Health, Inc.’s 401(k) defined contribution savings plan accused Banner and other plan fiduciaries of breaching duties owed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). A district court agreed in part, concluding that Banner had breached its fiduciary duty to plan participants by failing to monitor its recordkeeping service agreement with Fidelity Management Trust Company: this failure to monitor resulted in years of overpayment to Fidelity and corresponding losses to plan participants. During the bench trial, the employees’ expert witness testified the plan participants had incurred over $19 million in losses stemming from the breach. But having determined the expert evidence on losses was not reliable, the court fashioned its own measure of damages for the breach. Also, despite finding that Banner breached its fiduciary duty, the district court entered judgment for Banner on several of the class’s other claims: the court found that Banner’s breach of duty did not warrant injunctive relief and that Banner had not engaged in a “prohibited transaction” with Fidelity as defined by ERISA. The class appealed, arguing the district court adopted an improper method for calculating damages and prejudgment interest, abused its discretion by denying injunctive relief, and erred in entering judgment for Banner on the prohibited transaction claim. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court in each instance. View "Ramos v. Banner Health" on Justia Law

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After years of litigation, Plaintiff-Appellant Derma Pen, LLC (“Derma Pen”) was granted a permanent injunction against Stene Marshall and three related corporations that he had formed. Shortly thereafter, Derma Pen moved for a contempt order against Marshall, alleging that he had violated the injunction. Derma Pen also sought a contempt order against Marshall’s brother and sister- in-law, Joel and Sasha Marshall, and DP Derm, LLC, a corporation Joel and Sasha owned (collectively, the “Related Parties”). Movant-Appellant Derma Pen IP Holdings LLC (“DPIPH”), Derma Pen’s successor in interest, joined Derma Pen’s motion shortly before the contempt hearing. In its motion, Derma Pen asserted that the Related Parties had acted in concert with Marshall to violate the injunction. The Related Parties prevailed in the contempt proceeding and subsequently moved for attorney’s fees under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1117(a). The court granted the motion for fees, and Derma Pen and DPIPH appealed that award. The Tenth Circuit found that in its award of attorney’s fees to the Related Parties, the trial court relied upon a statutory provision in the Patent Act as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 572 U.S. 545 (2014). The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether the term “exceptional case” in the Patent Act differed in meaning from the same term used in the Lanham Act to a degree that required reversal. The Court concluded the exceptional case standard in the Lanham Act paralleled the standard in the Patent Act and affirmed. View "Derma Pen, LLC v. 4EverYoung Limited" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Conrad Truman sued state prosecutor Craig Johnson and various Orem City police officers for violating his civil rights by fabricating evidence that was used against him in a murder prosecution. Truman was prosecuted twice for the murder of his wife. According to the complaint, the prosecution knowingly falsified measurements of the murder scene to rule out the possibility of suicide or a self-inflicted accidental wound. As a result, the state medical examiner deemed Mrs. Truman’s death a homicide and Mr. Truman was indicted and successfully prosecuted for murder. After his conviction, he learned of the mismeasurements and the state court granted him a new trial. In the second trial where proper room measurements were admitted into evidence, Truman was acquitted. These events led Truman to file a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the prosecutor and the police. The district court found that the prosecutor was entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law and the claims against the police officers were barred by previous holdings in state court. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court that the prosecutor was entitled to qualified immunity at this stage in the proceedings. But summary judgment was appropriate as to the police officers because Truman forfeited his argument regarding issue preclusion in state court and did not argue for plain error review on appeal. View "Truman v. Orem City" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights
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In the summer of 2016, a large fire, later known as the Dog Head Fire, engulfed Isleta Pueblo and United States Forest Service land in the Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. The fire resulted from forest-thinning work performed by Pueblo crewmembers under an agreement with the Forest Service. Insurance companies and several owners of destroyed property (collectively, “Appellants”) sued the government, alleging negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction and, alternatively, for summary judgment on that same basis. The district court granted the government summary judgment, concluding: (1) the Pueblo crewmembers had acted as independent contractors of the government, and thus, the government wasn’t subject to FTCA liability based on the Pueblo crewmembers’ negligence; and (2) Appellants’ claims premised on the Forest Service employees’ own negligence, under the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception, were barred. On appeal, Appellants contended the district court erred in ruling that the FTCA jurisdictionally barred their claims. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ohlsen v. United States" on Justia Law