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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Plaintiff Robert Kenney was a former employee of Defendant Helix TCS, Inc. (“Helix”), which provided security services for businesses in Colorado’s state-sanctioned marijuana industry. Kenney filed this lawsuit against Helix under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), alleging that Helix misclassified him and similarly situated workers as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime obligations. Helix moved to dismiss Kenney’s claim based on the Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”), arguing that Kenney’s employment activities were in violation of the CSA and are thus not entitled to FLSA protections. The Tenth Circuit concluded Helix wanted it to interpret the CSA in a manner implicitly repealing the FLSA’s overtime mandate for employers in the marijuana industry. The Tenth Circuit determined the “case law is clear that employers are not excused from complying with federal laws” because of their other federal violations. “Moreover, the purposes of the FLSA do not conflict with the CSA quite as directly as Helix implies. Helix cherry-picks among the enumerated purposes of the FLSA, citing only those most favorable to its arguments.” The Tenth Circuit did not draw conclusions about the merits of Kenney’s FLSA claims. Rather, the Court held only that Kenney and similarly situated individuals were not categorically excluded from FLSA protections. It therefore affirmed the denial of Helix’s motion to dismiss. View "Kenney v. Helix TCS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee C5 Medical Werks sued Defendant-Appellant CeramTec, a German company that produces ceramics and ceramic components for medical prostheses, in Colorado for cancellation of CeramTec’s trademarks and a declaratory judgment of non-infringement. CeramTec moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court denied CeramTec’s motion and, after a bench trial, found in favor of C5. CeramTec appealed both the district court’s finding of personal jurisdiction and its determination on the merits. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not have personal jurisdiction over CeramTec: CeramTec’s attendance at various tradeshows was fortuitous and, as such, was insufficient to show purposeful availment of the forum state, Colorado. Further, to the extent CeramTec engaged in enforcement activity, it did so outside of Colorado. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s denial of CeramTec’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and remand with instructions that the case be dismissed. View "C5 Medical Werks v. Ceramtec GMBH" on Justia Law

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Intervenor-Appellant the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (UKB) purchased an undeveloped 76-acre parcel of land near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with the intention of developing it into a tribal and cultural center (Subject Tract, or Subject Parcel). The Subject Parcel sat entirely within the boundaries of the former reservation of Appellees the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (Nation). In 2004, the UKB submitted an application to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), requesting the BIA take the Subject Parcel into trust, thereby formally establishing a UKB tribal land base. The Nation opposed the application. After seven years of review, the BIA approved the UKB’s application. The Nation sued Department of the Interior and BIA officials, with the UKB intervening as defendants, challenging the BIA’s decision on several fronts. The district court found in favor of the Nation, determining that the BIA’s decision to take the Subject Parcel into trust was “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.” Among other holdings, the district court concluded that: (1) the BIA had to obtain Nation consent before taking the Subject Parcel into trust; (2) the BIA’s analysis of two of its regulations as applied to the UKB application was arbitrary and capricious; and (3) the BIA must consider whether the UKB meets the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA)’s definition of “Indian” in light of the Supreme Court case Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009). On appeal, the Tenth Circuit determined the Secretary of the Interior had authority to take the Subject Parcel into trust under section 3 of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 (OIWA). The BIA was therefore not required to consider whether the UKB met the IRA’s definition of “Indian.” Nor was the BIA required to obtain the Nation’s consent before taking the land into trust. The Court also held the BIA’s application of its regulations was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Cherokee Nation v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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Micheal Baca, Polly Baca, and Robert Nemanich (collectively, the Presidential Electors) were appointed as three of Colorado’s nine presidential electors for the 2016 general election. Colorado law required the state’s presidential electors to cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in the state for President and Vice President. Although Colorado law required the Presidential Electors to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, Mr. Baca cast his vote for John Kasich. In response, Colorado’s Secretary of State removed Mr. Baca as an elector and discarded his vote. The state then replaced Mr. Baca with an elector who cast her vote for Hillary Clinton. After witnessing Baca’s removal from office, Ms. Baca and Mr. Nemanich voted for Hillary Clinton despite their desire to vote for John Kasich. After the vote, the Presidential Electors sued the Colorado Department of State (the Department), alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Department moved to dismiss the complaint. The district court granted the motion, concluding the Presidential Electors lacked standing, and, in the alternative, the Presidential Electors had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Tenth Circuit concluded Mr. Baca had standing to challenge his removal from office and cancellation of his vote, but that none of the Presidential Electors had standing to challenge the institutional injury: a general diminution of their power as electors. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Ms. Baca’s and Mr. Nemanich’s claims but reversed the district court’s standing determination as to Mr. Baca. On the merits of Mr. Baca’s claim, the Court concluded the state’s removal of Mr. Baca and nullification of his vote were unconstitutional. As a result, Mr. Baca stated a claim upon which relief could be granted, and we reversed dismissal of his claim under rule 12(b)(6). The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Baca v. Colorado Department of State" on Justia Law

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Cameo Williams, Sr. was a veteran of the United States Army, who spent his entire service stateside - never overseas or in combat. But for years, based on false statements about combat service, he obtained VA benefits for combat-related PTSD. The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in this case was whether it mattered about Williams’ lies about overseas service to obtain his PTSD benefits. The Court rejected Williams’s argument that his lie was not material under 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2), as well as his two challenges to evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The EEOC was authorized to obtain evidence by issuing a subpoena and seeking a court order enforcing it. The EEOC exercised those powers when it sought information from Centura Health ("Centura"), a multi-facility healthcare organization operating primarily in Colorado. Between February 2011 and October 2014, eleven current or former Centura employees, working across eight Colorado locations, filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC. They alleged Centura violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by terminating their employment or refusing to allow them to return to work after medical leave. These employment decisions were allegedly made because of their disabilities or their requests for accommodations. Centura petitioned the EEOC to revoke or modify the subpoena. The EEOC denied the petition and directed Centura to provide the requested information. Centura refused, so the EEOC filed a subpoena-enforcement action in the district court. Centura challenged only parts of the subpoena, including items 9 and 18(e), arguing that compliance would be unduly burdensome and that the information sought was not relevant to the eleven individual charges within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. 2000e-8(a). It alleged the information would only be relevant to a pattern-or-practice investigation, but the EEOC had not filed a pattern-or-practice charge. While the Tenth Circuit determined Centura’s representations of the disparate factual nature of the eleven charges was largely accurate, and agreed with the distinctions it drew regarding the EEOC’s cases, the Court concluded Centura failed to persuade the Court that eleven charges of disability discrimination, most alleging a failure to accommodate across a handful of an employer’s facilities, were insufficient to warrant finding information regarding an employer’s pattern-or-practice relevant. The Court affirmed the district court's enforcement of the EEOC's subpoena. View "EEOC v. Centura Health" on Justia Law

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Antero Resources Company and South Jersey Gas Company entered into an eight-year contract for Antero to deliver natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation to gas meters located on the Columbia Pipeline in West Virginia. The parties tied gas pricing to the Columbia Appalachia Index.During performance of the contract, the price of natural gas linked to the Index increased. South Jersey contested the higher prices, arguing that modifications to the Index materially changed the pricing methodology, and that the Index should be replaced with one that reflected the original agreement. Antero disagreed. South Jersey then sued Antero in New Jersey state court for failing to negotiate a replacement index, and began paying a lower price based on a different index. Antero then sued South Jersey in federal district court in Colorado, where its principal place of business was located, for breach of contract for its failure to pay the Index price. The lawsuits were consolidated in Colorado and the case proceeded to trial. The jury rejected South Jersey’s claims, finding South Jersey breached the contract and Antero was entitled to $60 million damages. South Jersey argued on appeal the district court erred in denying its motion for judgment in its favor as a matter of law, or, alternatively, that the court erred in instructing the jury. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding a reasonable jury could find South Jersey breached its contract with Antero because the Index was not discontinued nor did it materially change. Furthermore, the Court found no defects in the jury instructions. View "Antero Resources Corp. v. South Jersey Resources Group" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Anthony Waller appealed a district court’s Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of his municipal liability claim against the City and County of Denver for a Denver deputy sheriff’s use of excessive force against him In 2012, while in pretrial detention, Waller was escorted in handcuffs and other restraints to a courtroom located within the Denver City Jail for a first advisement hearing. After the judge finished the advisement, Waller “politely address[ed] the Court in a normal and subdued voice,” stating that he thought the investigation should have come before his arrest. The judge began to respond, but while she was speaking, Deputy Sheriff Brady Lovingier, who had been standing directly behind Waller, suddenly and “without warning, justification[,] or provocation” grabbed Waller, spun him around, and threw him face first into a nearby glass wall and metal post, causing him to sustain “serious and permanent injuries.” Deputy Lovingier’s assault on Waller was captured on video recorded by the courtroom cameras. Approximately one year later, Deputy Lovingier received a thirty-day suspension for his assault on Waller. In 2014, Waller filed this federal lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging: a claim of excessive force against Deputy Lovingier, and a claim of municipal liability against Denver premised on Deputy Lovingier’s use of force. Arguing against the district court’s dismissal, Waller argued broadly he could prevail because the allegations in his complaint in general established “that Denver has a custom, policy, or practice of tolerating and ratifying the use of excessive force.” Assuming without deciding that this argument was properly preserved and supported on appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no error: “Deputy Lovingier’s actions, no matter how egregious, cannot in themselves give rise to an inference that the city must have been at fault, ‘for the officer’s shortcomings may have resulted from factors other than a faulty training program’ or other municipal deficiency. ‘To adopt lesser standards of fault and causation would open municipalities to unprecedented liability under [section] 1983.’” View "Waller v. City and County of Denver" on Justia Law

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Because Stella Padilla’s nominating petition for Albuquerque mayor lacked the required number of valid signatures, the Albuquerque City Clerk, Natalie Howard, rejected her request to appear on the ballot as a candidate in the city’s 2017 mayoral election. Padilla promptly sued Howard in her official capacity in state court for a declaration that she had satisfied the nominating petition requirements to be a candidate for mayor. Less than a month later, Howard, represented by the city attorney’s office in the state action, filed a “Motion for a Protective Order Against Harassment of the Defendant by any Volunteer or Other Person Associated with Plaintiff’s Campaign Organization,” and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In her affidavit, Howard complained specifically about harassing conduct that Padilla’s daughter, Vanessa Benavidez, had exhibited toward her on two recent occasions. The federal district court held that all Defendants were absolutely immune from Plaintiffs’ section 1983 action, because in submitting the motion for a protective order to the state court they were participating as advocates in the judicial process. In her motion, Howard asked the state court to prohibit Plaintiffs and others “from engaging in conduct directed at [Howard’s] person, which a reasonable person would find to be annoying, alarming, hostile or menacing in nature.” Though the state court never ruled on the motion, Plaintiffs argued the mere filing of the motion created a chilling effect. The federal district court granted summary judgment to the city, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that “being properly named as a defendant in a declaratory judgment suit, however styled, would not chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in constitutionally protected activity.” The Tenth Circuit found Plaintiffs did not allege a violation of the First Amendment, "and the absence of such an allegation entitles Howard to qualified immunity." View "Benavidez v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Political subdivisions of the State of Colorado challenged Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (“TABOR”) under the Colorado Enabling Act and the Supremacy Clause, contending that TABOR contradicted the Enabling Act’s requirement that Colorado maintain a “republican form of government.” TABOR allowed the people of Colorado to raise or prevent tax increases by popular vote, thereby limiting the power of Colorado’s legislative bodies to levy taxes. The issue currently before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was whether certain school districts, a special district board, and/or a county commission had standing to challenge TABOR. On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), the district court held that plaintiffs had Article III standing but that they lacked political subdivision standing and prudential standing. Accordingly, the court dismissed the complaint. The Tenth Circuit concluded that it could not properly reach its conclusions at this stage of litigation. Because the Court held the political subdivision plaintiffs were not barred by standing requirements, the district court was reversed. View "Kerr v. Hickenlooper" on Justia Law