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

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Yusuf Awadir Abdi sued the directors of several federal agencies challenging his placement on a federal government’s terrorist watchlist. He alleged his being on the list subjected him to enhanced screening at the airport and requires the government to label him as a “known or suspected terrorist” and to disseminate that information to government and private entities. As a result of these alleged consequences, Abdi alleged placement on the Selectee List violated his Fifth Amendment rights to substantive and procedural due process and consequently the Administrative Procedure Act, for which he sought declarative and injunctive relief. The district court dismissed Abdi’s complaint with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal. View "Abdi v. Wray" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Buck Leon Hammers served as the Superintendent of the Grant-Goodland Public School District in Grant, Oklahoma, until he was charged with conspiring with his secretary to commit bank fraud and embezzle federal program funds. Prior to trial, the Government moved to exclude a suicide note written by defendant’s secretary and co-conspirator, Pamela Keeling. In that note, Keeling took full responsibility for the fraud and exculpated Defendant of any wrongdoing. The district court granted the Government’s motion and prohibited Defendant from introducing the note at trial. The jury subsequently convicted Defendant of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to embezzle federal program funds. The jury acquitted Defendant on the seven substantive counts of embezzlement and bank fraud. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) the district court erred in excluding the suicide note; (2) the Government did not present sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction; (3) the Government committed prosecutorial misconduct; and (4) the district court committed procedural error at sentencing. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the suicide note; the record contained evidence sufficient to support Defendant’s conviction, there was no prosecutorial misconduct, and no procedural error in the court’s calculation of Defendant’s sentence. View "United States v. Hammers" on Justia Law

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Jonella Tesone claimed that Empire Marketing Strategies (“EMS”) discriminated against her under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) when it terminated her employment. The district court granted summary judgment to EMS. EMS hired Tesone as a Product Retail Sales Merchandiser. Her job duties included changing or “resetting” retail displays in grocery stores. When she was hired, Tesone informed EMS that she had back problems and could not lift more than 15 pounds. On appeal, Tesone alleged the district court erred when it denIed her motions: (1) to amend the scheduling order to extend the time for her to designate an expert; and (2) amend her complaint. She also contended the district court erred in granting summary judgment to EMS. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not err with respect to denying Tesone’s motions, but did err in granting summary judgment in favor of EMS. “Whether Ms. Tesone can make a prima facile case of a disability, and whether her doctor’s note can be considered at summary judgment, is open to the district court’s further consideration.” View "Tesone v. Empire Marketing Strategies" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs and counterclaim-defendants Mrs. Fields Famous Brands, LLC (Famous Brands) and Mrs. Fields Franchising, LLC (Fields Franchising) appealed a district court order granting a preliminary injunction in favor of defendant and counterclaim-plaintiff MFGPC Inc. (MFGPC). The sole member of Famous Brands is Mrs. Fields Original Cookies, Inc. (MFOC). MFOC entered into a Trademark License Agreement (License Agreement) with LHF, Inc. (LHF), an affiliate of MFGPC. In 2003, LHF assigned all rights under the License Agreement to MFGPC, and MFGPC agreed to be bound by and perform in accordance with the License Agreement. The License Agreement granted MFGPC a license to develop, manufacture, package, distribute and sell prepackaged popcorn products bearing the “Mrs. Fields” trademark through all areas of general retail distribution. A dispute arose after Fields Franchising allowed MFGPC to be late with a royalty payment because of a fire that destroyed some of MFGPC’s operations. The franchisor sought to terminate the licensing agreement and collect the royalties owed. Fields Franchising filed suit against MFGPC. In August 2018, the district court entered partial summary judgment in favor of MFGPC on its counterclaim for breach of a trademark license agreement that afforded MFGPC the exclusive use of the “Mrs. Fields” trademark on popcorn products. The district court’s summary judgment order left only the question of remedy to be decided at trial. MFGPC then moved for a preliminary injunction, arguing that there was a substantial likelihood that it would prevail at trial on the remedy of specific performance. After conducting a hearing, the district court granted MFGPC’s motion and ordered Fields Franchising to terminate any licenses it had entered into with other companies for the use of the Mrs. Fields trademark on popcorn products, and to instead comply with the terms of the licensing agreement it had previously entered into with MFGPC. Famous Brands and Fields Franchising argued in this appeal that the district court erred in a number of respects in granting MFGPC’s motion for preliminary injunction. The Tenth Circuit agreed with appellants, and consequently reversed the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of MFGPC. View "Mrs. Fields Famous Brands v. MFGPC" on Justia Law

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In removal proceedings, petitioner Sandra Lopez-Munoz appeared and requested cancellation of removal, but the immigration judge declined the request. Petitioner unsuccessfully appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, moved for the Board to reopen her case, petitioned for review to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, moved a second time for the Board to reopen her case, and moved for reconsideration of the denial of her second motion to reopen. The removal proceedings began with the service of a notice to appear. But because the notice to appear failed to include a date and time for her impending immigration hearing, petitioner argued the immigration judge lacked jurisdiction over the removal proceedings. If petitioner was correct, the Tenth Circuit concluded she might be entitled to relief based on the immigration judge’s lack of jurisdiction to order removal. In the Court’s view, however, the alleged defect would not preclude jurisdiction. It thus denied the petition for review. View "Lopez-Munoz v. Barr" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Curtis Anthony of child-sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit child-sex trafficking. The district court sentenced Anthony to the statutory mandatory-minimum 10 years’ imprisonment and ordered that he pay restitution to the two child victims— R.W. and M.M—in the amount of $327,013.50 and $308,233.50, respectively. On appeal, Anthony contended these amounts exceeded actual losses resulting from his two offenses of conviction. He raised two issues with the restitution order: (1) it impermissibly compensated harms that R.W. suffered from an earlier, unrelated sex-trafficking criminal enterprise run by a different wrongdoer; and (2) regarding his conspiracy count, it compensated R.W.’s and M.M.’s harms beyond a smaller conspiracy proved at trial (a subset of the broad, charged conspiracy). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Anthony on both issues, but we disagreed he established plain error on the second issue. Thus, the Court affirmed the district court’s restitution order as covering the broad, charged conspiracy, but vacated the order and remanded for a recalculation of losses to ensure that no restitution is awarded for harms that R.W. suffered during the earlier sex-trafficking offense. View "United States v. Anthony" on Justia Law

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Jimmy Dean Harris was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He appealed, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) reversed his sentence and remanded for a retrial at the penalty phase. After the retrial, the state district court reimposed the death penalty. Harris appealed and sought post-conviction relief in state court. When these efforts failed, he brought a habeas petition in federal district court. The federal court denied relief, and Harris appealed again, arguing in part, that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to seek a pretrial hearing on the existence of an intellectual disability, which would have prevented the death penalty. The federal court rejected this claim. In the Tenth Circuit’s view, the district court should have conducted an evidentiary hearing to decide this claim, so it reversed and remanded for further consideration to this issue. Given the need to remand on this issue, the Court also remanded for the district court to reconsider the claim of cumulative error. But the Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief on Harris’s other claims. View "Harris v. Sharp" on Justia Law

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In September 2017, law enforcement agents began investigating Defendant Brice Carter’s involvement in trafficking drugs and passing counterfeit notes. As part of that investigation, agents conducted a proffer with a confidential informant who had recently been arrested in connection with drug trafficking. The “CI” informed the agents that he or she had supplied Defendant with drugs for some months and that during that time Defendant had provided the CI with two firearms as partial payment for a quantity of methamphetamine. After executing a search warrant, agents recovered two firearms from the CI’s home and identified Defendant’s fingerprints on a box in which one of the firearms, a .22 caliber pistol, was stored. Based in part on the CI’s proffer, the government filed a criminal complaint against Defendant, and a grand jury returned an indictment against him for one count of possessing a firearm, the .22 caliber pistol, as a felon, and one count of manufacturing counterfeit notes. Defendant pled guilty to both counts pursuant to a plea agreement. At sentencing, the presentence investigation report noted the sentencing guideline for the firearm offense called for application of a cross-reference if the defendant uses the firearm cited in the offense of conviction in connection with the commission of another offense so long as the offense level resulting from application of the cross-reference is greater than it otherwise would be. Relying on the CI’s proffer, the PSR attributed to Defendant, for purposes of the cross-reference, an uncharged drug-distribution offense involving 9 ounces (or 255 grams) of methamphetamine, which, according to the CI, Defendant had purchased in exchange for the pistol. The PSR applied a cross-reference to the drug-distribution guideline and calculated Defendant’s total offense level, after all adjustments, at 25, which the PSR determined was a greater level than would result from a straightforward application of the firearm-offense guideline. In combination with Defendant’s criminal history category, the total offense level of 25 yielded an advisory guidelines range of 100 to 125 months’ imprisonment. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was the procedural and substantive reasonableness of Defendant’s sentence. Concluding that the procedural challenge was not subject to plain-error review and that the substantive challenge was without merit, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Carter" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Santos Raul Escobar-Hernandez has filed a petition for review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision affirming the immigration judge’s denial of his application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). The petition’s underlying facts rest on Petitioner’s testimony, which the immigration judge found to be credible. Petitioner is a native and citizen of El Salvador and entered the United States without a valid entry document. He fled El Salvador after he was assaulted by two men, resulting in injuries requiring medical treatment. The assault occurred when the men, one named "Nelson," noticed some graffiti critical of a political party on a fence near Petitioner’s home. Although Petitioner was not politically active and told the men he did not paint the graffiti, Nelson said Petitioner was responsible for it because it was on his house and demanded he remove it. When Petitioner responded that he could not pay for removal, the men hit him and threatened to kill him. Petitioner was unsure if the men assaulted him because of the political graffiti or if they used it as an excuse to assault him merely because he was a vulnerable youth. Petitioner later removed the graffiti, but Nelson attacked him twice more and continued to threaten him. Reports to local police went ignored; Petitioner averred he feared returning to his home town because of the threats, and he feared relocating elsewhere in El Salvador because other people could hurt him. In his petition for review, Petitioner contends the BIA should have granted him asylum and withheld his removal because he suffered past persecution and has a well- founded fear of suffering future persecution based on political opinions Nelson imputed to him. Petitioner also argues the BIA should have granted him protection under CAT because, if he returns to El Salvador, Nelson will likely torture him with the acquiescence of law enforcement. On the record before it, the Tenth Circuit could not say any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to reach conclusions contrary to those reached by BIA. The Court therefore affirmed denial of asylum and protection under CAT. View "Escobar-Hernandez v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Fernando Duran was convicted by jury on drug charges. On appeal, he argued the evidence was insufficient to convict on three counts, and the district court abused its discretion in admitting certain testimony on prior drug transactions and the interpretations of recorded calls. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Duran’s convictions. View "United States v. Duran" on Justia Law