Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al.
The Pueblo of Jemez filed a quiet title action against the United States relating to lands comprising the Valles Caldera National Preserve (“Valles Caldera”), which the United States purchased from private landowners in 2000. In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded, finding that an 1860 federal grant of title to private landowners would not extinguish the Jemez Pueblo’s claimed aboriginal title. Upon remand, the Jemez Pueblo could establish that it once and still had aboriginal title to the lands at issue. After a twenty-one-day trial, the district court ruled that the Jemez Pueblo failed to establish ever having aboriginal title to the entire lands of the Valles Caldera, failing to show that it ever used the entire claimed land to the exclusion of other Indian groups. The Jemez Pueblo moved for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). But rather than seek reconsideration of its complaint’s QTA claim to the entire Valles Caldera, the Jemez Pueblo shrunk its QTA claim into claims of title to four discrete subareas within the Valles Caldera: (1) Banco Bonito, (2) the Paramount Shrine Lands, (3) Valle San Antonio, and (4) the Redondo Meadows. The district court declined to reconsider all but Banco Bonito, on grounds that the Jemez Pueblo hadn’t earlier provided the government notice of these claims. Even so, being thorough, the court later considered and rejected those three claims on the merits. Of the issues raised by the Jemez Pueblo on appeal, we primarily address its challenge to the district court’s ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously interpreted "Jemez I" in ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. So in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, and by the district court’s findings, the Court held the Jemez Pueblo still had aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Court reversed in part the denial of the Jemez Pueblo’s motion for reconsideration, and vacated in part and remanded with instructions to the district court. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al.
In 2019, Western Watersheds Project sued to challenge the issuance of permits that expired in 2018. The district court dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that decision: Western Watersheds Project’s claims were brought against expired permits that had already been renewed automatically by 43 U.S.C. § 1752(c)(2). And the timing of a new environmental analysis of the new permits was within the Secretary’s discretion under 43 U.S.C. § 1752(i). Western Watersheds Project, therefore, lacked Article III standing because its claims were not redressable. View "Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al." on Justia Law
High Lonesome Ranch v. Board of County Commissioner, et al.
For years, the High Lonesome Ranch restricted access to two roads by locking a gate. But in 2015, during a county meeting, the Garfield County Commission directed the Ranch to remove the locked gate after concluding that the two disputed roads were subject to public rights-of-way. The Ranch refused and filed a declaratory-judgment action in Colorado state court opposing the County’s position. At first, the County asked the state court to dismiss the case for failure to name the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) as a party. But rather than dismissing, the state court ordered the Ranch to join the United States (BLM) as a necessary party, and the Ranch did so. The United States removed the case to federal district court. In October 2020, after a five-day bench trial, the district court ruled that the entire lengths of the two disputed roads were subject to public rights-of-way. On appeal—and for the first time—the Ranch contended that various procedural shortcomings deprived the district court of subject-matter jurisdiction. It also challenged the district court’s rights-of-way rulings. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s adverse-use ruling, but reversed its Colorado R.S. 2477 ruling and remanded for the court to reconsider that ruling under recent circuit authority governing acceptance of R.S. 2477 rights. The Court also remanded for the district court to determine the locations and widths of the rights-of-way by survey. View "High Lonesome Ranch v. Board of County Commissioner, et al." on Justia Law
Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Becerra, et al.
The Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Indian Health Service (IHS) entered into a contract under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act for the Tribe to operate a federal healthcare program. Under the contract, the Tribe provided healthcare services to Indians and other eligible beneficiaries. In exchange, the Tribe was entitled to receive reimbursements from IHS for certain categories of expenditures, including “contract support costs.” The contract anticipates that the Tribe will bill third-party insurers such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers. The Tribe contended that overhead costs associated with setting up and administering this third-party billing infrastructure, as well as the administrative costs associated with recirculating the third-party revenue it received, qualified as reimbursable contract support costs under the Self-Determination Act and the Tribe’s agreement with the IHS. But when the Tribe attempted to collect those reimbursements, IHS disagreed and refused to pay. Contending it had been shortchanged, the Tribe sued the government. The district court, agreeing with the government’s reading of the Self-Determination Act and the contract, granted the government’s motion to dismiss. A divided panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reverse (for different reasons). Under either of the jurists' interpretations, the administrative expenditures associated with collecting and expending revenue obtained from third-party insurers qualified as reimbursable contract support costs. View "Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Becerra, et al." on Justia Law
In re: Syngenta AG MIR162
Cases consolidated for review all centered on attorneys’ fees awarded following a historic class action settlement. Numerous plaintiffs from multiple different states sued Syngenta AG (“Syngenta”), an agricultural company. The suits against Syngenta were organized into complex, federal multi-district litigation (“MDL”) based in a court in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas (“Kansas district court”). Syngenta ultimately settled with the class action plaintiffs. The Kansas district court allocated approximately $503 million in attorneys’ fees and expense awards stemming from the settlement to the myriad firms participating in the class action. Appellants in this case—the various plaintiffs’ lawyers and law firms that took part in the MDL against Syngenta—challenged numerous orders published by the Kansas district court concerning the apportionment and allocation of that $503 million. Having concluded it possessed significant authority to craft the allocation of attorneys’ fees in the most reasonable manner, the Kansas district court had adopted a two-stage, “general approach” of an appointed special master to the allocation of the attorneys’ fee award. Appellees, also lawyers and law firms from Kansas, Minnesota, and Illinois, that acted as co-lead counsel (“CLCs” or “Leadership”) and by-and-large, spearheaded the litigation against Syngenta in the three main fora, opposed Appellants’ arguments, and they asked the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm the Kansas district court’s fee- allocation orders. Finding no reversible error in the Kansas court's distribution of the fees, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "In re: Syngenta AG MIR162" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Class Action
Balderas, et al. v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, et al.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a license to Interim Storage Partners to store spent nuclear fuel near the New Mexico border. New Mexico challenged the grant of this license, invoking the Administrative Procedure Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The Commission moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Objecting to the motion, New Mexico invoked jurisdiction under the combination of the Hobbs Act, and the Atomic Energy Act. The Tenth Circuit determined these statutes could combine to trigger jurisdiction only when the petitioner was an aggrieved party in the licensing proceeding. This limitation applied here because New Mexico didn’t participate in the licensing proceeding or qualify as an aggrieved party. "New Mexico just commented to the Commission about its draft environmental impact statement. Commenting on the environmental impact statement didn’t create status as an aggrieved party, so jurisdiction isn’t triggered under the combination of the Hobbs Act and Atomic Energy Act." The Court found the Nuclear Waste Policy Act governed the establishment of a federal repository for permanent, not temporary storage by private parties like Interim Storage. And even when an agency acts ultra vires, the Court lacked jurisdiction when the petitioner had other available remedies: New Mexico had other available remedies by seeking intervention in the Commission’s proceedings. So the Commission’s motion to dismiss the petition was granted for lack of jurisdiction. View "Balderas, et al. v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, et al." on Justia Law
Harrison v. Envision Management Holding, Inc. Board, et al.
Plaintiff Robert Harrison, a participant in a defined contribution retirement plan established by his former employer, filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) against the fiduciaries of the plan alleging that they breached their duties towards, and caused damages to, the plan. Harrison sought various forms of relief, including a declaration that Defendants breached their fiduciary duties, the removal of the current plan trustee, the appointment of a new fiduciary to manage the plan, an order directing the current trustee to restore all losses to the plan that resulted from the fiduciary breaches, and an order directing Defendants to disgorge the profits they obtained from their fiduciary breaches. Defendants moved to compel arbitration, citing a provision of the plan document. The district court denied that motion, concluding that enforcing the arbitration provision of the plan would prevent Harrison from effectively vindicating the statutory remedies sought in his complaint. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no reversible error in the district court’s ruling and affirmed. View "Harrison v. Envision Management Holding, Inc. Board, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, ERISA
Markley v. U.S. Bank
U.S. Bank National Association (“U.S. Bank”) employed Darren Markley as Vice President and Managing Director of Private Wealth Management at its Denver, Colorado location. Markley managed a team of wealth managers and private bankers, including Bob Provencher and Dave Crittendon, when issues arose in mid-2017. In violation of U.S. Bank policy, Markey provided Provencher a personal loan. Markley allegedly prevented Crittendon from “sandbagging” an investment. And members of Markley’s team, including Crittendon, accused Markley of giving Provencher commission credits for sales on which Provencher did not participate and had not met the clients. After an investigation, a disciplinary committee unanimously voted to terminate Markley’s employment. At no time during the investigation did Markley suggest the allegations against him were motivated by his age, but over a year later, Markley filed suit advancing a claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and a wrongful discharge claim under Colorado law. U.S. Bank moved for summary judgment. As to the ADEA claim at issue in this appeal, the district court concluded Markley did not sustain his burden of producing evidence capable of establishing that U.S. Bank’s reason for terminating his employment was pretext for age discrimination. On appeal, Markley contended U.S. Bank conducted a “sham” investigation, and this established pretext. For two reasons, the Tenth Circuit rejected Markley’s assertion: (1) while an imperfect investigation may help support an inference of pretext, there must be some other indicator of protected-class-based discrimination for investigatory flaws to be capable of establishing pretext; and (2) even if deficiencies in an investigation alone could support a finding of pretext, Markley’s criticisms of the investigation were unpersuasive and insufficient to permit a reasonable jury to find U.S. Bank’s reasons for termination pretextual. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. View "Markley v. U.S. Bank" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Labor & Employment Law
Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al.
Citizen groups challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) environmental assessments (“EAs”) and environmental assessment addendum analyzing the environmental impact of 370 applications for permits to drill (“APDs”) for oil and gas in the Mancos Shale and Gallup Sandstone formations in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico. These challenges came after a separate but related case in which the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate five EAs analyzing the impacts of APDs in the area because BLM had failed to consider the cumulative environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). BLM prepared an EA Addendum to remedy the defects in those five EAs, as well as potential defects in eighty-one other EAs that also supported approvals of APDs in the area. Citizen Groups argued these eighty-one EAs and the EA Addendum violated NEPA because BLM: (1) improperly predetermined the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (2) failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals related to greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, water resources, and air quality. BLM disagreed, contending the challenges to some of the APDs were not justiciable because the APDs had not yet been approved. The district court affirmed the agency action, determining: (1) Citizen Groups’ claims based on APD’s that had not been approved were not ripe for judicial review; (2) BLM did not unlawfully predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (3) BLM took a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals. The Tenth Circuit agreed with BLM and the district court that the unapproved APDs were not ripe and accordingly, limited its review to the APDs that had been approved. Turning to Citizen Groups’ two primary arguments on the merits, the appellate court held: (1) BLM did not improperly predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum, but, even considering that addendum; (2) BLM’s analysis was arbitrary and capricious because it failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts from GHG emissions and hazardous air pollutant emissions. However, the Court concluded BLM’s analysis of the cumulative impacts to water resources was sufficient under NEPA. View "Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Serna v. Denver Police Department, et al.
Plaintiff-appellant Francisco Serna sued a police officer and local police department that allegedly prevented him from transporting hemp plants on a flight from Colorado to Texas. In the complaint, he asserted a single claim under § 10114(b) of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill), a statute that authorized states to legalize hemp and regulate its production within their borders, but generally precluded states from interfering with the interstate transportation of hemp. The district court dismissed Serna’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), concluding that Serna failed to state a viable claim because § 10114(b) did not create a private cause of action to sue state officials who allegedly violate that provision. Serna appealed, arguing that § 10114(b) impliedly authorized a private cause of action and that even if it didn't, the district court should have allowed him to amend the complaint to add other potentially viable claims rather than dismissing the case altogether. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that contrary to Serna’s view, the language in § 10114(b) did not suggest that Congress intended to grant hemp farmers a right to freely transport their product from one jurisdiction to another, with no interference from state officials. Because courts could not read a private cause of action into a statute that lacked such rights-creating language, the Court held the district court properly dismissed Serna’s § 10114(b) claim. The Court also concluded the trial court properly declined to allow Serna to amend his complaint. View "Serna v. Denver Police Department, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Agriculture Law, Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Transportation Law