Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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This appeal arose from a grant of summary judgment against Plaintiff-Appellant Parker Excavating, Inc. (“PEI”) on its civil rights claim against Defendants-Appellees Lafarge West, Inc. (“Lafarge”), Martin Marietta Minerals, Inc. (“MMM”), and Nick Guerra, an employee of Lafarge and MMM. Lafarge, a construction company, was the primary contractor on a paving project for Pueblo County, Colorado (“the County”). PEI, a Native American-owned construction company, was a subcontractor for Lafarge. MMM replaced Lafarge as the primary contractor. PEI’s participation in the project was terminated before it entered into a new subcontract with MMM. PEI alleged Lafarge retaliated against it with a letter of reprimand and a demand to sign letters of apology after PEI Vice President Greg Parker complained that County employees discriminated against PEI on the basis of its Native American ownership. In separate orders, the district court granted summary judgment on PEI’s 42 U.S.C 1981 retaliation claim to: (1) MMM and Guerra, because PEI could not show its opposition to County employees’ discrimination was “protected” opposition under section 1981; and (2) Lafarge, because PEI could not show Lafarge took an adverse action against it. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Parker Excavating v. LaFarge West" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Pueblo of Pojoaque appealed a district court’s dismissal of its claim for declaratory and injunctive relief based on the New Mexico’s alleged unlawful interference with Class III gaming operations on the Pueblo’s lands. In July 2005, the Pueblo and New Mexico executed a Class III gaming compact pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) that allowed it to operate casino-style gaming on its lands. Prior to the expiration of the compact, the New Mexico Gaming Control Board (“the Gaming Board”) sought to perform its annual compliance review of the Pueblo’s gaming operations. The Pueblo complied on June 24; on June 30, 2015, the compact expired at midnight. The Gaming Board announced that despite the U.S. Attorney’s decision allowing the Pueblo’s gaming operations to continue pending the review, the Pueblo’s casinos were operating illegally due to the absence of a compact, and it placed in abeyance approval of any license application or renewal for vendors who did business with the Pueblo. The Pueblo commenced this action, asserting in part that New Mexico failed to conduct compact negotiations in good faith in violation of IGRA and that individual defendants conspired under the color of state law to “deprive the federal right of the Pueblo and its members to be free of state jurisdiction over activities that occur on the Pueblo lands.” The Pueblo sought an injunction, contending that the Gaming Board’s actions were an impermissible attempt to assert jurisdiction over gaming operations on tribal lands, despite the termination of New Mexico’s jurisdiction over such activities upon the expiration of the compact. The district court entered final judgment, stayed the effects of the preliminary injunction, and issued an indicative ruling that it would vacate or dissolve the preliminary injunction on remand. The Pueblo sought to stay the district court’s judgment and restore the preliminary injunction. The district court declined to do so, but the Tenth Circuit extended a temporary injunction against the State mirroring the preliminary injunction entered by the district court. On appeal, the Pueblo argued the district court did not have jurisdiction to proceed to the merits given the interlocutory appeal of the preliminary injunction and, even if it did, it erred in concluding that IGRA did not preempt New Mexico’s regulatory action. The Tenth Circuit found the text of IGRA clearly evinced congressional intent that Class III gaming would not occur in the absence of a compact, and no such compact existed. Accordingly, conflict preemption also does not apply. For similar reasons, the Court rejected the Pueblo’s argument that the Gaming Board’s determination as to the unlawful nature of the Pueblo’s gaming activities was an improper assertion of jurisdiction preempted by IGRA. Because the Pueblo’s gaming activities are not conducted pursuant to a compact or an alternative mechanism permitted under IGRA, the Pueblo’s present gaming is unlawful under federal law, and the State’s conclusion to this effect was not an exercise of jurisdiction that IGRA preempts. View "Pueblo of Pojoaque v. New Mexico" on Justia Law

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This matter arose from the death of Todd Murray, a Ute tribal member, following a police pursuit on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. Murray’s parents, his estate, and the Ute Indian Tribe (the “Tribal Plaintiffs”) sued the officers involved in Ute Tribal Court for wrongful death, trespass, and other torts. The officers then filed suit in federal court against the Tribe, its Business Committee, the Tribal Court, the Acting Chief Judge of the Tribal Court, and the other Tribal Plaintiffs. The district court enjoined the Tribal Court action, holding that Nevada v. Hicks, 533 U.S. 353 (2001), barred tribal civil jurisdiction over the officers, making exhaustion of tribal court remedies unnecessary. It further determined that certain defendants were not entitled to tribal sovereign immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in excusing the officers from exhaustion of tribal remedies with respect to the Tribe’s trespass claim; that claim at least arguably implicates the Tribe’s core sovereign rights to exclude and to self-govern. The Court further concluded this claim was not barred by Hicks. However, the Court agreed the remaining Tribal Court claims were not subject to tribal jurisdiction and thus exhaustion was unnecessary. The Court reversed the district court’s denial of tribal sovereign immunity as to the Tribe, its Business Committee, and the Tribal Court. View "Norton v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah" on Justia Law

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Northern Natural Gas Company initiated proceedings against a number of parties to condemn certain rights relating to the storage of natural gas in and under more than 9,000 acres of land in southeast Kansas, known as the Cunningham Storage Field. Northern Natural Gas brought this action under the Natural Gas Act of 1938 (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717 et seq. A three-person commission was appointed to determine the appropriate condemnation award, and the district court adopted the commission’s findings and recommendations in full. Both sides appealed, asserting various arguments in support of their positions that the award either over- or under-compensated the Landowners and Producers. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded: the condemnation award should not have included either (1) the value of storage gas in and under the Cunningham Field on the date of taking, or (2) the lost value of producing such gas after the date of certification, because certification extinguished any property interests the Landowners and Producers may have held in the gas before that date. But the Court agreed with the award’s inclusion of value for Extension Area tracts based on their potential use for gas storage and buffer rights, the commission’s valuation for the eight Extension Area wells, and the district court’s denial of attorneys’ fees. View "Northern Natural Gas v. Approximately 9117 Acres" on Justia Law

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Philip White obtained a judgment for $100,000 in compensatory damages and moved for an award of prejudgment interest. The district court denied the motion, viewing the bulk of the award as compensation for noneconomic damages. White argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that the Court should: (1) overrule earlier opinions and find that prejudgment interest was always available for compensatory awards under 42 U.S.C. 1983; or (2) conclude that the district court abused its discretion in disallowing prejudgment interest. The Court rejected both of White's arguments, finding it could not overrule published opinions by other Tenth Circuit panels. Applying an abuse-of-discretion standard, the Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying prejudgment interest on the award of noneconomic compensatory damages; and (2) the district court could reasonably decline to speculate on the amount the jury had regarded as economic damages. View "White v. Wycoff" on Justia Law

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This case involved claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) by a temporary employee whose assignment by a staffing agency to work as the receptionist for another business was terminated after she missed a significant amount of work while being tested for breast cancer and informed the agency that, due to her cancer, she needed to take a full week plus an additional unknown amount of time off for more tests, appointments, and radiation treatments. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the staffing agency and the business on both of these claims. The employee appealed that ruling, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Punt v. Kelly Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Ralph Rogerson, a licensed pest-control applicator in Kansas, challenged a regulation of the Kansas Department of Agriculture on the ground that it required excessive pesticide treatment in preconstruction applications. He filed suit for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Secretary of the Department, claiming that the regulation: (1) was preempted by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) because it conflicted with pesticide labels approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and (2) was preempted by the Sherman Antitrust Act because it limited consumer choice and competition through retail price maintenance. The United States District Court for the District of Kansas rejected both claims, and Plaintiff appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed: the Kansas regulation was neither expressly nor impliedly preempted by FIFRA. And Plaintiff conceded the absence of an essential element of his Sherman Act claim. View "Schoenhofer v. McClaskey" on Justia Law

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After settlement of a class action for royalties from gas wells, the federal district court for the Western District of Oklahoma awarded attorney fees to class counsel and an incentive award to the lead plaintiff to be paid out of the common fund shared by class members. The court rejected claims by two objectors, and they appealed. Finding the district court failed to compute attorney fees under the lodestar method, as required by Oklahoma law in this diversity case, and the incentive award was unsupported by the record, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded. View "Chieftain Royalty v. Enervest Energy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Bridgette Marlow sued her employer The New Food Guy, Inc., d/b/a Relish Catering, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA required employers to pay a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, plus time and a half for overtime. Relish paid Ms. Marlow $12 an hour and $18 an hour for overtime. Despite this, Marlow claimed Relish was obligated to turn over to her a share of all tips paid by catering customers. She relied on the tip-credit provision of the FLSA, which was directed to employers who satisfy their minimum-wage obligations in part with tips retained by their employees, and on a regulation promulgated by the Department of Labor (DOL) purportedly interpreting that provision. The Tenth Circuit was not persuaded by this argument, finding the tip-credit provision does not apply in this case and that the regulation was beyond the DOL’s authority. The law’s “silence” about employers who decline the tip credit was no “gap” for an agency to fill. Instead, the text limits the tip restrictions in the statute to those employers who take the tip credit, leaving the DOL without authority to regulate to the contrary. View "Marlow v. The New Food Guy, Inc." on Justia Law

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In response to a request from the Quapaw Tribe, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) Acting General Counsel issued a legal opinion letter stating that the Tribe’s Kansas trust land was eligible for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The State of Kansas and the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Cherokee, Kansas, filed suit, arguing that the letter was arbitrary, capricious, and erroneous as a matter of law. The district court concluded that the letter did not constitute reviewable final agency action under IGRA or the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). The Tenth Circuit affirmed: the IGRA’s text, statutory scheme, legislative history, and attendant regulations demonstrated congressional intent to preclude judicial review of legal opinion letters. Further, the Acting General Counsel’s letter does not constitute final agency action under the APA because it did not determine any rights or obligations or produced legal consequences. In short, the letter merely expresses an advisory, non-binding opinion, without any legal effect on the status quo ante. View "Kansas v. National Indian Gaming Comm'n" on Justia Law