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

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The case involved Garrett Joseph Hurst, who was charged with knowingly engaging in a sexual act with a minor, in violation of various sections of the United States Code. At sentencing, the district court imposed the maximum term of imprisonment of 180 months, followed by a thirteen-year term of supervised release, which was higher than the advisory Guidelines imprisonment range.Hurst appealed, arguing that the district court erred in rejecting a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement proposed by the parties, incorrectly concluded that he was ineligible for a two-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence, and committed plain error by failing to explain why it selected a thirteen-year term of supervised release.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court held that the district court had not erred in rejecting the plea agreement, correctly concluded Hurst was ineligible for a two-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, and did not impose a substantively unreasonable sentence. The court also found that while the district court had erred in failing to explain its reasons for the term of supervised release, this error did not affect Hurst's substantial rights. View "United States v. Hurst" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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This case concerned an appeal by Matthew Ware, a former correctional officer, against the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Ware was convicted by a jury of two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 46 months of imprisonment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed this sentence.Ware was a correctional officer at the Kay County Detention Center in Oklahoma. The charges against him arose from two incidents where he was found to have abused his power and caused harm to inmates. In one incident, Ware ordered the transfer of two inmates to a different level of the detention center, despite knowing that this would likely result in a fight, which it did. In another incident, Ware ordered a detainee to be handcuffed in a painful position for an extended period of time.Ware appealed his sentence, arguing that the court did not give adequate weight to his personal history and lack of criminal record. However, the Court of Appeals found that the district court had thoroughly weighed each of the sentencing factors and detailed its reasoning. The Court of Appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Ware to 46 months of imprisonment, and affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Ware" on Justia Law

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A company named Coreslab Structures was found to have violated several provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The court affirmed the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) findings that Coreslab had engaged in unfair labor practices, including unilateral changes to its pension and profit-sharing plans, discrimination against union members, interference with an employee's right to speak with union representatives, and withdrawal of recognition from the union.Coreslab, which produces bridge components and other structural materials at its facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had recognized the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 627, AFL-CIO (the Union) as the bargaining representative of the company’s production and maintenance employees from 2004 until 2019. Starting in 2011, Coreslab made pension contributions only for hours worked by unit employees who were members of the Union, while providing annual profit-sharing payments to non-Union bargaining unit employees.The court held that substantial evidence supported the Board's findings that the Union lacked knowledge of the pension contribution/profit-sharing scheme until Coreslab informed the Union in September 2019. The court further held that Coreslab violated the NLRA by discriminating against union members and failing to bargain collectively with the Union. It also found that Coreslab's withdrawal of recognition from the Union was unlawful.However, the court found that the Board exceeded its statutory authority by ordering back-payments without offset and requiring Coreslab to retain the unlawfully-created profit-sharing program. The court remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Coreslab Structures v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has decided to transfer petitions for review to the D.C. Circuit. The petitions challenge a final rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the contested rule, the EPA disapproved state implementation plans (SIPs) for 21 states, including Oklahoma and Utah, considering that these states failed to sufficiently address their contributions to air-quality problems in downwind states. The EPA argued that the petitions should be reviewed in the D.C. Circuit because the disputed rule is nationally applicable. The Tenth Circuit agreed, stating that the jurisdiction for review depends on the nature of the EPA's final action, not the specifics of the petitioner’s grievance. The Tenth Circuit ruled that, on its face, the final EPA action being challenged is nationally applicable, hence, any challenge to that rule belongs in the D.C. Circuit. Therefore, the court granted the EPA's motion to transfer the petitions. View "Utah v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit denied the petitions for judicial review by Electric Clouds, Inc. and Cloud 9 Vapor Products, L.L.C. against the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The two companies had sought review of the FDA's rejection of their applications to market their flavored e-liquids, arguing that the FDA had misled them about the application process and had not adequately reviewed their proposed marketing plans. The court ruled that the FDA did not mislead the companies and acted reasonably in concluding that their evidence was inadequate to approve the applications. The court also found that even if the FDA erred in not reviewing the marketing plans, any such error was harmless because the FDA had previously found such plans to be ineffective in preventing youth access to e-cigarettes. View "Electric Clouds v. FDA" on Justia Law

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The case involves plaintiff-appellant Cassandra Kincaid, an assistant principal at Central Middle School in Kansas, who claimed that she was harassed by the Unified School District No. 500 in retaliation for her reporting a student-on-student sexual assault. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the school district. The court concluded that Kincaid did not satisfy her burden of creating a genuine dispute of material fact that the reasons given for the alleged material adverse actions against her were pretextual. The court examined various aspects of the case under Title VII and Title IX, which prohibit retaliation against individuals for complaining of sex discrimination. It considered numerous allegedly adverse employment actions, including two emails sent by the school principal, a request for Kincaid's transfer, and a letter of concern. The court concluded that none of the evidence Kincaid provided created a genuine dispute of material fact about pretext. View "Kincaid v. Unified School District No. 500, Kansas City, KS" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the convictions of Juanita Viridiana Garcia Rodriguez, the defendant-appellant, on charges of conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with the intent to distribute and interstate travel in aid of a drug-trafficking enterprise. The case stemmed from a cross-country car trip where secret compartments containing methamphetamine were found in the car driven by Tony Garcia, with Ms. Garcia-Rodriguez as a passenger.The court held that the prosecution failed to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Garcia-Rodriguez had knowledge of the methamphetamine hidden in the vehicle, which was required to prove her guilt. The court found that simply being a passenger in a car carrying drugs is insufficient to implicate the passenger in a criminal conspiracy. The court also found that the evidence presented by the prosecution, including the value of the methamphetamine, the appearance of the car's rear doors, and Ms. Garcia-Rodriguez's apparent nervousness, were insufficient to prove her knowledge of the drugs. The lack of evidence that Ms. Garcia-Rodriguez had ever tried to open the rear doors or that she knew about the secret compartments was particularly significant.The court concluded that any inferences about Ms. Garcia-Rodriguez's knowledge of the drugs were based on speculation, which is not sufficient to uphold a conviction. The court therefore reversed the convictions and remanded the case with instructions to enter a judgment of acquittal. View "United States v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In November 2018, Joseph Hoskins was stopped by a Utah state trooper, Jared Withers, because his Illinois license plate was partially obscured. The situation escalated when Trooper Withers conducted a dog sniff of the car, which led him to search the car and find a large amount of cash. Mr. Hoskins was arrested, and his DNA was collected. Mr. Hoskins sued Trooper Withers and Jess Anderson, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and state law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that Trooper Withers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop because Utah law requires license plates to be legible, and this applies to out-of-state plates. The court also found that the dog sniff did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop, as Mr. Hoskins was searching for his proof of insurance at the time. The court ruled that the trooper's protective measures, including pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins, handcuffing him, and conducting a patdown, did not elevate the stop into an arrest due to Mr. Hoskins's confrontational behavior.The court further held that the dog's reaction to the car created arguable probable cause to search the car and that the discovery of a large amount of cash provided arguable probable cause to arrest Mr. Hoskins. The court found that Trooper Withers did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights by pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins in retaliation for protected speech or as excessive force. Lastly, the court found no violation of Mr. Hoskins's due process rights related to the handling of his DNA sample, as neither the Due Process Clause nor state law created a protected interest in a procedure to ensure the destruction of his DNA sample. View "Hoskins v. Withers" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, Donald Alvin Tolbert, appealed against the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) opening his emails and attachments without a warrant. These emails contained child pornography and were detected by AOL's software, which reported them to the NCMEC. The NCMEC, state law enforcement in New Mexico, and the federal government subsequently conducted investigations leading to Tolbert's conviction.Tolbert argued that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated by the warrantless search of his emails and attachments. The court, however, ruled that even if Tolbert's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, the evidence would still be admissible under the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule. This exception allows illegally obtained evidence to be admitted if it would have inevitably been discovered by legal means.The court found that the investigations by the NCMEC and law enforcement would have proceeded in the same way, even if the emails and attachments had not been opened, based on their routine practices. They would have used information available in the CyberTips, such as IP addresses and email addresses, to link the CyberTips to Tolbert and conduct further investigations. Thus, the evidence against Tolbert would have been discovered even without opening his emails and attachments.The court, therefore, affirmed the district court's denial of Tolbert's motion to suppress and motion to reconsider. View "United States v. Tolbert" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the defendant, Jody Rufino Martinez, a member of the Syndicato de Nuevo México (“SNM”), a violent New Mexico-based prison gang, was convicted of murder under the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (“VICAR”) Act, racketeering conspiracy, and unlawful possession of a firearm. The convictions were related to the 2008 murder of David Romero and the 2018 shooting of Donald Salazar. On appeal, Mr. Martinez argued that the district court erred in three ways: (1) denying his motion to dismiss under the Speedy Trial Act, (2) admitting unduly prejudicial evidence during trial, and (3) denying his motion for a new trial after evidence emerged that he was involved in threats to kill the presiding district court judge. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decisions. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mr. Martinez's motion to dismiss under the Speedy Trial Act, as the court's finding that Mr. Martinez did not oppose a motion to continue the trial was plausible given the record as a whole. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of SNM's violent acts, as that evidence was probative of SNM's use of violence to maintain and augment organizational respect and played a critical role in the government's case. Lastly, the court held that the district court did not err in failing to recuse itself, as the judge had no knowledge during the trial that Mr. Martinez was connected to threats against him. View "United States v. Martinez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law