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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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In 2015, the Government filed a civil action against Neldon Johnson, Gregory Shepard, and Johnson’s three companies: RaPower-3 LLC (“RaPower”), International Automated Systems, Inc. (“IAS”), and LTB1, LLC (“LTB”) (collectively, Defendants). The Government alleged Defendants promoted an abusive tax scheme. Following a bench trial, the district court found for the Government, enjoined the Defendants from further promoting their scheme, and ordered disgorgement of ill-gotten gains. In 2018, the district court appointed a receiver (Appellee) to take control of Defendants' assets and to investigate whether their affiliated entities possessed proceeds from the illicit tax scheme. On the Receiver’s recommendation, the court added 13 nonparty affiliated entities to the Receivership. Six of the added entities (“Appellant Entities”) appeals, arguing the district court included them in the Receivership without providing sufficient due process. Finding the "Receivership Expansion Order" was not immediately appealable because the Appellant Entities did not show the order was final, the Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "United States v. RaPower-3" on Justia Law

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In separate claims, appellees Willie Carr and Kim Minor sought disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). In each case, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied the claim, and the agency’s Appeals Council declined to review. While his case was pending in district court, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) ALJs were “inferior officers” under the Appointments Clause, and therefore must be appointed by the President, a court, or head of the agency. Shortly thereafter, Minor also sued in district court to challenge the denial of benefits in her case. In response to the Supreme Court case, Lucia v. S.E.C., 138 S. Ct. 2044 (2018), the SSA Commissioner appointed the SSA's ALJs to address any Appointments Clause questions Lucia posed. After the Commissioner’s action, Carr and Minor each filed a supplemental brief, asserting for the first time that the ALJs who had rejected their claims had not been properly appointed under the Appointments Clause. The district court upheld the ALJs’ denials of the claims, but it agreed with the Appointments Clause challenges. The court vacated the SSA decisions and remanded for new hearings before constitutionally appointed ALJs. It held that appellees did not waive their Appointments Clause challenges by failing to raise them in their SSA proceedings. On appeal, the Commissioner argued Appellees waived their Appointments Clause challenges by failing to exhaust them before the SSA. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Commissioner and reversed. View "Carr v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

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The United States Forest Service approved two forest thinning projects in the Santa Fe National Forest pursuant to authority granted by a 2014 amendment to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA). By thinning the forest and then conducting prescribed burns in the project areas, the Forest Service sought to reduce the risk of high-intensity wildfires and tree mortality related to insects and disease. Certain environmental organizations and individuals (collectively Wild Watershed) challenged the projects’ approval under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), asserting the Forest Service failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and HFRA. The district court rejected these claims, and the Tenth Circuit concurred, finding the Forest Service adequately considered the projects’ cumulative impacts as well as their potential effects on sensitive species in the area and the development of old growth forest. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Wild Watershed v. Hurlocker" on Justia Law

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Deborah and Dallas Platt purchased a 2016 Winnebago Era RV in 2016. This purchase was subject to Winnebago’s New Vehicle Limited Warranty, which required the Platts to bring the RV for repairs to an authorized dealer and then, if those repairs were insufficient, to Winnebago itself before they could bring an action against Winnebago. The RV suffered from a litany of defects and the Platts took it in for warranty repairs to Camping World of Golden, Colorado (Camping World), an authorized Winnebago dealership, on numerous occasions for numerous separate defects within the first seven and a half months of their ownership. When the Camping World repairs did not resolve the Platts’ issues with the RV, they scheduled an appointment for repairs with Winnebago in Forest City, Iowa, but they subsequently cancelled the appointment, claiming they had "lost faith" that Winnebago would repair their RV. The Platts sued Winnebago for breach of express and implied warranties under both the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and Colorado state law, and also for deceptive trade practices in violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). Winnebago filed a motion for summary judgment which the district court granted, dismissing all of the Platts’ claims. The Platts appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Platt v. Winnebago Industries" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a group of fourteen diversity cases that were consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and transferred to the Northern District of Oklahoma. The plaintiffs in all fourteen cases were cancer treatment providers who purchased multi-dose vials of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, from defendant Genentech, Inc. (Genentech). Plaintiffs alleged that Genentech violated state law by failing to ensure that each vial of Herceptin contained the labeled amount of the active ingredient, and by misstating the drug concentration and volume on the product labeling. After the cases were consolidated, Genentech moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs’ claims were pre-empted by federal law. The district court agreed with Genentech and granted its motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs' claims were preempted, and consequently, reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: MDL 2700 Genentech" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jorge Corona was a backseat passenger in a car pulled over for a routine traffic stop by Clovis Police Officer Brent Aguilar. Plaintiff was arrested when he did not produce identification in response to the officer's demand for ID. Defendant Aguilar charged Plaintiff with: (1) resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer; and (2) concealing his identity. The district attorney’s office dismissed the concealing-identity charge, and a jury later acquitted Plaintiff of the charge against him for resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer. Plaintiff subsequently sued the arresting officers, Defendant Aguilar and police officer Travis Loomis; the City of Clovis; and the Clovis Police Department for, among other things, alleged constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983. As relevant here, Plaintiff alleged Defendant Aguilar violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest by arresting him without probable cause. Defendant Aguilar moved for partial summary judgment on Plaintiff’s unlawful-arrest claim based on qualified immunity, but the district court denied his motion. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with Officer Aguilar's contention that the district court erred in denying him qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit determined the officer arrested plaintiff without probable cause. "Additionally, clearly established law would have put a reasonable officer in Defendant Aguilar’s position on notice that his conduct violated Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest. Defendant Aguilar is therefore not entitled to qualified immunity." View "Corona v. City of Clovis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Cody Cox sued Defendant Don Wilson, a deputy in the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Department, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Cox alleged that when Wilson shot him in his vehicle while stopped on Interstate 70, Wilson violated the constitutional prohibition against the use of excessive force by law-enforcement officers. Plaintiff appealed when the jury returned a verdict in favor of the deputy, arguing the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury to consider whether Wilson unreasonably created the need for the use of force by his own reckless conduct. The Tenth Circuit determined that although the district court incorrectly stated the Supreme Court had recently abrogated the Tenth Circuit's precedents requiring such an instruction in appropriate circumstances, the evidence in this case did not support the instruction. "No law, certainly no law clearly established at the time of the incident, suggests that Wilson acted unreasonably up to and including the time that he exited his vehicle and approached Cox’s vehicle." Therefore, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of Deputy Wilson. View "Cox v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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In August 2017, Kansas law enforcement officers, after a traffic chase, pulled over Matthew Holmes for suspected vehicular burglary. The officers were from the City of Newton Police Department (“NPD”), McPherson County Sheriff’s Office (“MCSO”), and Harvey County Sheriff’s Office (“HCSO”). After Holmes stopped and exited the car, officers wrestled him to the ground. McPherson County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Somers shot Holmes in the back. He later died from the gunshot wound. Holmes' estate sued, alleging constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983 ad a state law claim. The district court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motions. In particular, it denied each sheriff’s motion to dismiss based on Eleventh Amendment immunity because, “with respect to local law enforcement activities, sheriffs are not arms of the state but rather of the county that they serve.” The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not err in denying the sheriffs' motions, and therefore affirmed. View "Couser v. Gay" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Board of Education of Gallup-McKinley County Schools (Gallup) successfully obtained summary judgment on certain Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) claims made by Mavis Yazzie in the administrative action below. Subsequently, Gallup sought attorneys’ fees from Yazzie and her counsel, the Native American Disability Law Center (NADLC). The question presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether the controlling provision of the New Mexico Administrative Code (NMAC) permitted Gallup to pursue attorneys’ fees within 30 days of the final decision relating to any party in the administrative action, or did the NMAC limit Gallup to seeking fees within 30 days of obtaining summary judgment, which Gallup failed to do. The Tenth Circuit concluded the plain meaning of the regulatory language permitted petitions for attorneys’ fees made within 30 days of the final decision in the administrative action regardless of whether that decision related to the party seeking fees. Accordingly, Gallup’s petition was timely. The Court therefore reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Board of Education of Gallup v. Native American Disability Law" on Justia Law

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An Immigration Judge with the Board of Immigration Appeals moved sua sponte to reopen Juvenal Reyes-Vargas' removal proceedings. The Board ruled that under 8 C.F.R. 1003.23(b)(1) the Board ruled that this regulation removed the IJ’s jurisdiction to reopen an alien’s removal proceedings after the alien has departed the United States (the regulation’s “post-departure bar”). The Tenth Circuit reviewed the Board's interpretation of its regulation using the framework announced in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which clarified when and how courts defer to an agency interpreting its own regulations. Under that case, the Tenth Circuit determined it could defer to the Board’s interpretation only if the Court concluded, after rigorously applying all interpretative tools, that the regulation presented a genuine ambiguity and that the agency’s reading was reasonable and entitled to controlling weight. Applying this framework here, the Tenth Circuit concluded the regulation was not genuinely ambiguous on the issue in dispute: whether the post-departure bar eliminated the IJ’s jurisdiction to move sua sponte to reopen removal proceedings. In fact, the regulation’s plain language conclusively answered the question: the post-departure bar applies to a party’s “motion to reopen,” not to the IJ’s own sua sponte authority to reopen removal proceedings. So the Court did not defer, and granted Reyes-Vargas’s petition for review, vacated the Board’s decision, and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the Board had to review the IJ’s conclusory decision that Reyes-Vargas had not shown “exceptional circumstances” as required before an IJ can move sua sponte to reopen removal proceedings. View "Reyes-Vargas v. Barr" on Justia Law