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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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This case arises from a regulatory dispute involving a hydroelectric project. The project aimed to boost a municipality’s water supply. To obtain more water, the municipality proposed to raise a local dam and expand a nearby reservoir. But implementation of the proposal would require amendment of the municipality’s license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a discharge permit to the municipality. A group of conservation organizations challenged the Corps’ decision by petitioning in federal district court. While the petition was pending, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowed amendment of the municipality’s license to raise the dam and expand the reservoir. The Commission’s amendment of the municipality’s license triggered a jurisdictional question: if federal courts of appeals had exclusive jurisdiction over petitions challenging decisions made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, did this jurisdiction extend to challenges against the Corps’ issuance of a permit to allow discharges required for the modification of a hydroelectric project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? The district court answered yes, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The conservation organizations were challenging the Corps’ issuance of a permit, not the Commission’s amendment of a license. So the statute didn’t limit jurisdiction to the court of appeals. View "Save The Colorado, et al. v. Spellmon, et al." on Justia Law

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Kelly Sorenson, acting as a qui tam relator, brought suit on behalf of the United States against his former employer, Wadsworth Brothers Construction Company (“Wadsworth”), under the provisions of the False Claims Act (“FCA”). Sorenson alleged Wadsworth, a contractor working on a federally funded transportation project, falsely certified its compliance with the prevailing-wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act. The district court granted Wadsworth’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion as to presenting a false claim, making a false record to obtain payment on a false claim, and an allegation of a conspiracy to defraud. The district court concluded Sorenson’s complaint failed to satisfy the demanding materiality standard set out by the Supreme Court in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 579 U.S. 176 (2016). Thereafter, the district court granted summary judgment to Wadsworth on Sorenson’s Claim 5, a retaliation claim based on the whistleblower provisions of 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h). The district court concluded Sorenson failed to put Wadsworth on notice his protected activities were related to purported violations of the FCA and, in addition, failed to demonstrate Wadsworth’s actions were retaliatory. Sorenson appealed the dismissal of the first three claims and the grant of summary judgment to Wadsworth on Claim 5. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal. View "Sorenson v. Wadsworth Brothers Construct" on Justia Law

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Defendant Pluralsight was a software company offering a cloud-based technology skills platform. Defendant Aaron Skonnard was Pluralsight’s Chief Executive Officer; defendant James Budge was the Chief Financial Officer. Plaintiffs purchased Pluralsight stock between January 16, 2019, and July 31, 2019. Beginning on January 16, 2019, Skonnard and Budge allegedly made materially false and misleading statements about the size and productivity of Pluralsight’s sales force, which Plaintiffs claim artificially inflated Pluralsight’s stock price, including during a secondary public offering (“SPO”) in March 2019. Pluralsight announced disappointing second-quarter earnings on July 31, 2019. Defendants attributed the low earnings to a shortage of sales representatives earlier in the year—but this explanation contradicted representations Pluralsight made in the first quarter of 2019 about the size of its sales force. Lead Plaintiffs Indiana Public Retirement System (“INPRS”) and Public School Teachers’ Pension and Retirement Fund of Chicago (“CTPF”) brought claims on behalf of a putative class of Pluralsight stock holders under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), and the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”) in federal district court in Utah. Defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), contending Plaintiffs failed to adequately allege: (1) any materially false or misleading statements or omissions; and (2) that Defendants acted with the requisite scienter. The district court found one statement (of eighteen alleged) was materially false or misleading but dismissed Plaintiffs’ Exchange Act claims because the complaint failed to allege a strong inference of scienter. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ Securities Act claims because none of the statements in Pluralsight’s SPO documents were materially false or misleading. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in dismissing Plaintffs’ Exhcange Act claims. “Although the district court correctly determined that Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged only one materially false or misleading statement, the district court’s scienter determination was erroneous.” The Court also concluded the district court relied on erroneous reasoning to dismiss the alleged violation of Item 303 of SEC Regulation S–K, so the case was remanded for further consideration. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Indiana Public Retirement, et al. v. Pluralsight, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant La’Tonya Ford worked at Jackson National Life Insurance (“Jackson”) for about four years. During her time there, Ford allegedly suffered sex- and race-based discrimination; faced retaliation for complaining about her treatment; endured a hostile work environment; and was constructively discharged. After she left Jackson for another job, Ford sued the company for (1) discrimination; (2) retaliation; (3) hostile work environment; and (4) constructive discharge. Jackson moved for summary judgment; the district court granted Jackson’s motion and dismissed all of Ford’s claims. Ford now appeals, urging us to reverse the court on each claim. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her discrimination claim. But it reversed in part the dismissal of her retaliation claim; her hostile-work-environment claim; and her constructive-discharge claim. View "Ford v. Jackson National Life, et al." on Justia Law

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Consolidated cases arose from a 2015 Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil enforcement action against Roger Bliss, who ran a Ponzi scheme through his investment entities (collectively, “the Bliss Enterprise”). Bliss was ordered to repay millions of dollars to the victims of his fraudulent scheme, and the district court appointed Plaintiff-Appellee Tammy Georgelas as Receiver to investigate the Bliss Enterprise’s books and seek to recover its property. Defendant-Appellant David Hill was employed by the Bliss Enterprise from 2011 to 2015, providing administrative and ministerial services to the company. He received salary payments from the Bliss Enterprise both directly and through Defendant-Appellant Desert Hill Ventures, Inc. (“Desert Hill”), of which Hill was president. After the district court ordered Bliss to disgorge funds from his scheme, the Receiver brought these actions against Hill and Desert Hill. The Receiver asserted that the Bliss Enterprise estates were entitled to recover the $347,000 in wages paid to Defendants, in addition to $113,878 spent by the Bliss Enterprise on renovations to Hill’s house, under Utah’s Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act (“UFTA”). The district court granted summary judgment to the Receiver, finding that the wages received by Defendants from the Bliss Enterprise and the funds paid by the Bliss Enterprise for the renovations were recoverable by the estates under the UFTA. Defendants appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the district court erred in denying their affirmative defense under Utah Code Ann. § 25-6-9(1) and in finding that the renovations were made for Hill’s benefit, as required under Utah Code Ann. § 25-6-9(2)(a). The Court agreed with Defendants and, accordingly, reversed the district court’s summary judgment order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Georgelas v. Desert Hill Ventures" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Petitioner Mayra Estrada-Cardona entered the United States on a tourist visa which she subsequently overstayed. She resided in the United States with her two United States citizen children: A.E. and L.E. A.E. suffers from mental and physical disabilities, some of which are likely to be lifelong. While in the United States, Petitioner played a key role in ensuring A.E. received physical therapy and special education support—both vital to A.E.’s wellbeing and continued progress. In 2009, Petitioner was arrested for driving without a license. She pled guilty and paid the associated fines, but because of the traffic violation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Petitioner and began removal proceedings. At the hearing, Petitioner appeared unrepresented and conceded the charge contained in the notice to appear—rendering her removable. At the time, Petitioner was in the country for at most seven years, making her statutorily ineligible for any discretionary relief from removal. The immigration judge therefore ordered Petitioner to voluntarily depart the United States. Every year—from 2013 to 2017—Petitioner requested a stay of removal, and every year ICE approved her request. ICE denied her most recent request on December 28, 2017. ICE did not take any immediate action to remove Petitioner from the United States, only requiring her to attend regular check-ins at the local ICE office. ICE finally detained Petitioner and initiated removal on September 30, 2020. Petitioner asked the BIA to reopen removal proceedings pursuant to Pereira v. Sessions, 138 S. Ct. 2105 (2018). Petitioner's notice to appear failed to specify the “time and place at which the proceedings will be held.” Because the notice to appear did not stop the clock, Petitioner insisted that she had the requisite presence to be eligible for cancellation of removal because she had been in the country for 16 years. BIA held Petitioner was not eligible for cancellation of removal because the immigration judge issued the order to voluntarily depart, which qualified as a final order of removal, when Petitioner had accrued, at most, eight years of physical presence. The Tenth Circuit rejected the BIA's final-order argument, holding that a final order of removal did not stop the accrual of continuous physical presence. View "Estrada-Cardona v. Garland" on Justia Law

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When Plaintiff-appellant Linda Smith purchased a prescribed continuous blood glucose monitor (CGM) and its necessary supplies between 2016 and 2018, she sought reimbursement through Medicare Part B. Medicare administrators denied her claims. Relying on a 2017 ruling issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare concluded Smith’s CGM was not “primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose” and therefore was not covered by Part B. Smith appealed the denial of her reimbursement claims through the multistage Medicare claims review process. At each stage, her claims were denied. Smith then sued the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in federal court, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. Contending that her CGM and supplies satisfied the requirements for Medicare coverage. Instead of asking the court to uphold the denial of Smith’s claims, the Secretary admitted that Smith’s claims should have been covered and that the agency erred by denying her claims. Rather than accept the Secretary’s admission, Smith argued that the Secretary only admitted error to avoid judicial review of the legality of the 2017 ruling. During Smith’s litigation, CMS changed its Medicare coverage policy for CGMs. Prompted by several adverse district court rulings, CMS promulgated a formal rule in December 2021 classifying CGMs as durable medical equipment covered by Part B. But the rule applied only to claims for equipment received after February 28, 2022, so pending claims for equipment received prior to that date were not covered by the new rule. Considering the new rule and the Secretary’s confession of error, the district court in January 2022 remanded the case to the Secretary with instructions to pay Smith’s claims. The district court did not rule on Smith’s pending motions regarding her equitable relief claims; instead, the court denied them as moot. Smith appealed, arguing her equitable claims were justiciable because the 2017 ruling had not been fully rescinded. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Secretary that Smith’s claims were moot: taken together, the December 2021 final rule and the 2022 CMS ruling that pending and future claims for CGMs would be covered by Medicare deprived the Tenth Circuit jurisdiction for further review. View "Smith v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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In 1981, defendant-appellee Richard Roberts was a federal prosecutor preparing for a murder trial. Appellant Terry Mitchell, then a teenager, was a key trial witness for the prosecution. Thirty-five years later, Mitchell sued Roberts alleging he sexually assaulted her through the criminal trial proceedings. Roberts moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice, contending Mitchells’ claims were time barred. Mitchell conceded the claims had expired under the original statute of limitations, but claimed Utah’s Revival Statute made them timely. At Mitchell’s request, the magistrate judge certified questions to the Utah Supreme Court concerning the validity of the Revival Statute. The Utah Supreme Court issued a detailed opinion concluding the Utah legislature was prohibited from retroactively reviving time-barred claims in a manner that deprived defendants like Roberts of a vested statute of limitations defense. Based on the Utah Supreme Court’s conclusion that the Revival Statute was unconstitutional, Roberts again moved to dismiss with prejudice. Mitchell sought voluntary dismissal without prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). According to Mitchell, the Utah Supreme Court had not foreclosed the possibility that the Utah Constitution would be amended to permit legislative revival of time-barred child sexual abuse claims, and on that basis, she proposed a curative condition that would allow her to sue Roberts if such an amendment came to pass. The magistrate judge rejected Mitchell’s argument and dismissed her complaint with prejudice. She appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the magistrate judge’s decision. View "Mitchell v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee and attorney Jessica Peck represented parents and other family members in child abuse cases in Colorado juvenile courts. She brought suit against Defendant-Appellants, Colorado Executive Director of Health Services Michelle Barnes and Second Judicial District Attorney Beth McCann, to challenge the constitutionality of § 19-1-307 of the Colorado Children’s Code Records and Information Act (“Children’s Code”). Peck alleged Section 307 violated her First Amendment rights by restricting her disclosures and thereby chilling her speech on these matters. The district court agreed and struck down both of Section 307’s penalty provisions. The Tenth Circuit thought Section 307(1) and Section 307(4) had different scopes due to their distinct language and legislative histories. As a result, the Court found Peck could challenge Section 307(4)’s penalty as unconstitutional, but has not properly challenged Section 307(1). The Court thus reversed the district court’s order insofar as it invalidated Section 307(1). View "Peck v. McCann, et al." on Justia Law

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Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc. sent plaintiff-appellant Jason Tavernaro a letter attempting to collect a student loan debt. A district court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint filed under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for failing to state a claim because the alleged facts were insufficient to establish Pioneer used materially misleading, unfair or unconscionable means to collect the debt. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed: violations of the FDCPA is determined through the perspective of a reasonable consumer, and Pioneer’s letter was not materially misleading. View "Tavernaro v. Pioneer Credit Recovery" on Justia Law