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

Articles Posted in Business Law
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The case involves Scott Johnson, Harlene Hoyt, and Covey Find Kennel, LLC, who challenged the constitutionality of a Kansas statute that allows warrantless inspections of their homestead, where Mr. Johnson operates a business that houses and trains bird dogs. They also claimed that their constitutional right to travel was infringed by a statutory requirement that they make the premises available for inspection within 30 minutes of the arrival of an inspector. The United States District Court for the District of Kansas dismissed their complaint for failure to state a claim.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their right-to-travel claim but remanded for further proceedings to determine whether Mr. Johnson’s business is closely regulated and, if so, whether warrantless inspections are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The court found that the boarding or training kennel industry was not clearly closely regulated, and the government had not shown that warrantless searches were necessary. The court also held that the regulations did not impose burdens beyond those commonly borne by owners of businesses who travel away from the locations of their businesses, and thus did not violate the plaintiffs' right to travel. View "Johnson v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between two competitors in the construction equipment market, I Dig Texas, LLC, and Kerry Creager, along with Creager Services, LLC. I Dig Texas used copyrighted photographs of Creager's products, which were made in China, in its advertisements to emphasize its own products' American-made status. This led to claims under the Copyright Act and the Lanham Act.Previously, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma granted summary judgment to I Dig Texas on Creager's federal claims and remanded all of the state-law claims to state court. Creager had claimed that the use of its photographs constituted copyright infringement and that the accompanying text misrepresented the origin of I Dig Texas's products.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Creager failed to present evidence of any profit from the use of its photographs, which was necessary to establish a claim for copyright infringement. The court also found that I Dig Texas's advertisements were not literally false under the Lanham Act. The advertisements were ambiguous as to whether a product is considered American-made when it is assembled in the United States but uses some foreign components. The court concluded that such a claim is not literally false because the claim itself is ambiguous. The court also affirmed the lower court's decision to decline supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims and remand these claims to state court. View "I Dig Texas v. Creager" on Justia Law

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In a complex and long-running series of legal disputes over attorney fees, two law firms, Shields Law Group and Paul Byrd Law Firm, and another firm, Hossley-Embry LLP, (collectively referred to as the "Objecting Firms") challenged the district court's approval of a settlement agreement among other firms involved in the litigation. The dispute arose from a class action lawsuit against Syngenta, an agricultural company, which was settled for $1.51 billion in 2018. One-third of the settlement was allocated for attorneys' fees, but the distribution of these fees among the numerous law firms involved in the case led to additional litigation.The district court approved a settlement agreement in which a group of firms (the Appellee Parties) agreed to pay $7 million to another firm, Watts Guerra. The Objecting Firms challenged this decision, arguing that it effectively reallocated money among the various pools of attorney fees. However, the Appellate Court concluded that the Objecting Firms lacked standing to challenge the district court's approval of the settlement agreement because they were not affected by it. The court also found that the Objecting Firms' challenges to the disbursement orders were moot. As a result, the court dismissed the appeals. View "SHIELDS LAW GROUP, LLC v. STUEVE SIEGEL HANSON LLP" 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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In this case, Plaintiff-Appellant Lazy S Ranch Properties, LLC (Lazy S) filed a lawsuit against Defendants-Appellees Valero Terminaling and Distribution Company and related entities (collectively, Valero), alleging that Valero's pipeline leaked and caused contamination on Lazy S's property. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Valero.Lazy S runs cattle operations on a large property in Oklahoma, beneath which several pipelines transport hydrocarbons. In 2018, a representative of the ranch noticed a diesel fuel odor emanating from a cave near a water source on the property. Samples were taken and tested, and these tests revealed trace amounts of refined petroleum products in soil, surface water, groundwater, spring water, and air on the ranch.Lazy S brought several claims against Valero, including private nuisance, public nuisance, negligence per se, and negligence. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Valero, holding that Lazy S did not present sufficient evidence to establish a legal injury or causation.On appeal, the Tenth Circuit found that Lazy S had presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to legal injury on its claims of private nuisance, public nuisance, and negligence per se. The court noted that Lazy S had presented evidence of a strong odor emanating from a cave near a water source on the property, headaches suffered by individuals due to the odor, and changes in behavior due to the odor. As such, a rational trier of fact could conclude that the odor injured the ranch.The Tenth Circuit also found that Lazy S had presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to causation. The court noted that the pipeline was a major source of potential contamination beneath the ranch, that it had leaked in the past, and that a pathway existed for hydrocarbons to travel from the pipeline to the water source.The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Lazy S's claims of constructive fraud and trespass, finding that Lazy S had not presented sufficient evidence to support these claims.The court remanded the case to the district court for trial on the issues of negligence per se, private nuisance, and public nuisance, including Lazy S's claims for damages. View "Lazy S Ranch Properties v. Valero Terminaling and Distribution" on Justia Law

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In a dispute between ORP Surgical, LLC (ORP), and Howmedica Osteonics Corp., also known as Stryker, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's ruling. ORP and Stryker, both involved in medical device sales, had a successful business relationship under two sales contracts, the Joint Sales Representative Agreement (JSRA) and the Trauma Sales Representative Agreement (TSRA). The relationship soured when Stryker terminated the JSRA and hired one of ORP's sales representatives, and later, when ORP terminated the TSRA, Stryker hired a dozen of ORP's representatives. The district court ruled in favor of ORP, finding that Stryker breached the sales contracts and owed ORP damages, attorneys’ fees, sanctions, and costs. On appeal, Stryker challenged the rulings on the breach of contract claims, the attorneys’ fees award, and the nominal damages award. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s holdings on the breach-of-contract claims but reversed its award of attorneys' fees under the indemnification provision. It also affirmed the award of nominal damages for Stryker's breach of the non-solicitation/non-diversion provision. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "ORP Surgical v. Howmedica Osteonics Corp." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between Harvest Group, LLC ("Harvest") and Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Inc. and Musket Corp. (collectively, "Love’s") over a breach-of-contract claim. Harvest, a company that assists businesses in acquiring economic development incentives, entered into a contract with Love’s to help secure incentives for a renewable diesel facility. In return, Harvest would receive a fee of 10% of the value of any incentives it helped Love's secure.A property tax assessment for the project, which significantly reduced the estimated tax burden, was at the center of the dispute. Harvest claimed that this assessment qualified as an incentive under their agreement, and thus they were entitled to a fee. Love’s, however, argued that the assessment was not an incentive as defined by their contract and that it was not the product of Harvest’s efforts, but simply the result of the assessor’s application of Nebraska tax law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the lower court's grant of summary judgment to Love’s on the issue of whether the assessment was an incentive/benefit under the Agreement and whether the assessment was the product of Harvest’s efforts. There were genuine disputes of material fact about these issues, meaning they must be decided at trial, not on summary judgment. The court also reversed the lower court on the issues of Harvest’s entitlement to interest and whether Harvest was the prevailing party. The case was sent back to the lower court for further proceedings. View "Harvest Group v. Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, private citizens and a non-profit organization sued High Mountain Mining Company for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. The plaintiffs claimed that High Mountain Mining, which operates a gold mine in Colorado, allowed pollutants from its settling ponds to seep into the groundwater, which then migrated into a nearby river. Under the Clean Water Act, a permit is required for any discharge of pollutants from a point source into navigable waters. The district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the settling ponds were a point source and that the operation of these ponds constituted an unpermitted discharge of pollutants into navigable waters, thus violating the Clean Water Act. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit disagreed and reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the district court made a legal error by not adequately considering all the relevant factors to determine whether the connection between the point source and the navigable water was the functional equivalent of a direct discharge. Given the potentially broad implications of the Clean Water Act for mines throughout the Western United States, the appellate court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "Stone v. High Mountain Mining Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Team Industrial Services, Inc. (Team) suffered a $222 million judgment against it in a wrongful-death lawsuit arising out of a steam-turbine failure in June 2018 at a Westar Energy, Inc. (Westar) power plant. Team sought liability coverage from Westar, Zurich American Insurance Company (Zurich), and two other insurance companies, arguing that it was, or should have been, provided protection by Westar’s Owner-Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP) through insurance policies issued by Zurich and the two other insurers. Team’s claims derived from the fact that its liability for the failure at the Westar power plant arose from work that had previously been performed by Furmanite America, Inc. (Furmanite), which had coverage under Westar’s OCIP. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, and Team appealed. Not persuaded by Team's arguments for reversal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Team Industrial Services v. Zurich American Insurance Company, et al." on Justia Law

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Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. appealed a district court’s grant of Affiliated FM Insurance Company’s (“AFM”) motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, which denied Monarch coverage under AFM’s all-risk policy provision, business-interruption provision, and eight other additional-coverage provisions. Monarch also moved the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to certify a question of state law or issue a stay. Monarch presented AFM with claims incurred through business interruption losses from COVID-19 and government orders directing Monarch to close its casinos. AFM denied certain coverage on the ground that COVID-19 did not cause physical loss of or damage to property. Monarch sued for breach of contract, bad faith breach of insurance contract, and violations of state law. The Tenth Circuit denied Monarch’s motions to certify a question of state law and issue a stay. And it affirmed the district court’s judgment: (1) AFM’s policy had a Contamination Exclusion provision that excludes all-risk coverage and business-interruption coverage from the COVID-19 virus; and (2) Monarch could not obtain coverage for physical loss or damage caused by COVID-19 under AFM’s all-risk provision, business-interruption provision, or eight additional-coverage provisions because the virus could not cause physical loss or damage and no other policy provisions distinguished this case. Accordingly, Monarch could not obtain the coverage that the district court denied. View "Monarch Casino & Resort v. Affiliated FM Insurance Company" on Justia Law