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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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In this case, Plaintiff-Appellant Lazy S Ranch Properties, LLC (Lazy S) filed a lawsuit against Defendants-Appellees Valero Terminaling and Distribution Company and related entities (collectively, Valero), alleging that Valero's pipeline leaked and caused contamination on Lazy S's property. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Valero.Lazy S runs cattle operations on a large property in Oklahoma, beneath which several pipelines transport hydrocarbons. In 2018, a representative of the ranch noticed a diesel fuel odor emanating from a cave near a water source on the property. Samples were taken and tested, and these tests revealed trace amounts of refined petroleum products in soil, surface water, groundwater, spring water, and air on the ranch.Lazy S brought several claims against Valero, including private nuisance, public nuisance, negligence per se, and negligence. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Valero, holding that Lazy S did not present sufficient evidence to establish a legal injury or causation.On appeal, the Tenth Circuit found that Lazy S had presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to legal injury on its claims of private nuisance, public nuisance, and negligence per se. The court noted that Lazy S had presented evidence of a strong odor emanating from a cave near a water source on the property, headaches suffered by individuals due to the odor, and changes in behavior due to the odor. As such, a rational trier of fact could conclude that the odor injured the ranch.The Tenth Circuit also found that Lazy S had presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to causation. The court noted that the pipeline was a major source of potential contamination beneath the ranch, that it had leaked in the past, and that a pathway existed for hydrocarbons to travel from the pipeline to the water source.The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Lazy S's claims of constructive fraud and trespass, finding that Lazy S had not presented sufficient evidence to support these claims.The court remanded the case to the district court for trial on the issues of negligence per se, private nuisance, and public nuisance, including Lazy S's claims for damages. View "Lazy S Ranch Properties v. Valero Terminaling and Distribution" on Justia Law

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In a case brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the plaintiff organization, Speech First, Inc., challenged three policies implemented by Oklahoma State University (OSU) that allegedly suppressed the freedom of speech of its student members. The organization provided declarations of three pseudonymous students, Student A, Student B, and Student C, describing how these policies stifled their constitutionally protected expression. The main issue in this case was whether pseudonymous declarations could establish Article III standing for Speech First to bring the action. The defendant, OSU President Kayse Shrum, had successfully argued in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma that the plaintiff lacked standing because it failed to identify its members by name, as required by the Supreme Court in Summers v. Earth Island Institute.The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of Summers, stating that the Supreme Court had not intended to require legal names for standing and had not suggested that it was overruling decades of precedent allowing anonymous plaintiffs. The Tenth Circuit explained that the Supreme Court in Summers had simply required that there be a specific person who is injured, not just a statistical probability that some member would suffer an injury. The appeals court found that this requirement could be satisfied by identifying an injured member as “Member 1” just as well as by a legal name. It also pointed to previous cases where standing was granted based on pseudonymous or anonymous declarations.The Tenth Circuit ultimately concluded that an organization can establish standing to bring a suit if at least one of its members, even if identified by a pseudonym, would have standing to sue in their own right. The court therefore reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Speech First v. Shrum" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit was considering an appeal by Elite IT Partners Inc. and its officer, James Michael Martinos, against a decision by the United States District Court for the District of Utah. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had previously sued the defendants and alleged a fraudulent scheme to sell unnecessary services. The parties had settled the suit with a stipulated judgment providing equitable monetary relief under § 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act and waiving future challenges. However, a year after the entry of the stipulated judgment, the Supreme Court held in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC that § 13(b) does not allow equitable monetary relief. The defendants then requested vacatur of the stipulated judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6), which the district court denied.Two main issues were considered by the Court of Appeals: whether the defendants' agreement to waive their right to challenge or contest the stipulated judgment prohibited them from arguing that the judgment was invalid, and whether the change in case law could be used as a basis for vacating the judgment. The court held that the defendants had indeed waived their rights to challenge the stipulated judgment and that the change in case law could not be used as a basis for vacating the judgment as it was unrelated to the facts of their case. The court affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to vacate the stipulated judgment. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Elite IT Partners" on Justia Law

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In a case brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Bruce McWhorter, a mechanic, had his certification revoked by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after it was discovered that he had not replaced certain components of an aircraft's engine despite claiming to have performed a major overhaul. McWhorter appealed the decision to an administrative law judge who affirmed the FAA's decision. McWhorter then sought to appeal this decision to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), but failed to serve the FAA with his notice of appeal in a timely manner. The NTSB dismissed McWhorter's appeal on these grounds. McWhorter subsequently petitioned for a review of the NTSB’s dismissal, but did so 111 days after the NTSB issued its final order, exceeding the 60-day limit prescribed by law.The court clarified that the 60-day limit for seeking appellate review stipulated in 49 U.S.C. § 1153(b)(1) is not a jurisdictional requirement, but rather a claim-processing rule. This means that a petitioner’s failure to comply with this time limit does not affect the court’s jurisdiction to hear the appeal. However, the court found that McWhorter had not established reasonable grounds for the delay in filing his petition for review, as required by the same statute for petitions filed after the 60-day limit. The court determined that the primary blame for the delay was on McWhorter, not on any confusion created by the FAA or the NTSB. Therefore, the court denied McWhorter's petition as untimely. View "McWhorter v. FAA" on Justia Law

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In 2016 Watchous Enterprises, LLC contracted with one of the five individual defendant companies, Pacific National Capital, paying it a $7,600 nonrefundable deposit to secure help finding a lender or a joint-venture partner. Pacific introduced Watchous to companies affiliated with Waterfall Mountain LLC (collectively referred to as "Waterfall"). Watchous and Waterfall eventually executed a letter of intent to enter into a joint venture to which Waterfall would contribute more than $80 million. As part of the arrangement, Watchous paid Waterfall a $175,000 refundable deposit. Waterfall said that it would fund the venture through proceeds of loans backed by billions of dollars in Venezuelan sovereign bonds in the name of Waterfall or its lender (RPB Company). But Waterfall never funded Watchous, and Watchous was never refunded the $175,000. Watchous then filed suit under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and common-law claims under Kansas law against Pacific and Waterfall as well as against the five Appellants sued individually. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Watchous on its fraud claims (leaving damages for the jury to decide), essentially on the ground that Appellants misrepresented and failed to disclose “the historic and contemporary facts about Waterfall’s dubious finances, loan defaults, and consistent lack of success in funding similar projects.” Watchous’s remaining claims proceeded to trial, where a jury found that Appellants engaged in a civil conspiracy to defraud Watchous, and had violated RICO. Appellants appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Watchous Enterprises v. Mournes, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant E.W. was a participant in an employer-sponsored health insurance plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). E.W.’s daughter, Plaintiff-Appellant I.W., was a beneficiary of E.W.’s plan. From September 2016 through December 2017, I.W. received treatment in connection with mental health challenges and an eating disorder at Uinta Academy (“Uinta”), an adolescent residential treatment center in Utah. In January 2017, Defendants-Appellees Health Net Insurance Company and Health Net of Arizona, Inc. began covering I.W.’s treatment under E.W.’s ERISA plan (the “Plan”). Effective February 23, 2017, Health Net determined I.W.’s care at Uinta was no longer medically necessary, and it denied coverage from that day forward. In assessing whether to discontinue coverage, Health Net applied the McKesson InterQual Behavioral Health 2016.3 Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Criteria. Health Net determined I.W. did not satisfy the InterQual Criteria within the relevant period and notified Plaintiffs in a letter dated March 1, 2017. Plaintiffs allegedly did not receive Health Net’s March 2017 denial letter, and I.W. remained at Uinta until December 2017, when she was formally discharged. After receiving notice in May 2018 that Health Net had denied coverage effective February 23, 2017, Plaintiffs appealed the decision. Health Net again determined I.W. did not satisfy the InterQual Criteria during the relevant period and upheld its initial denial. Plaintiffs then appealed to an external reviewer, which upheld the decision to deny coverage. Health Net moved to dismiss plaintiffs' legal claims under ERISA and the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (“MHPAEA”). The district court denied Plaintiffs’ motion and granted summary judgment to Health Net. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to Health Net on Plaintiffs’ ERISA claim; the Court reversed the finding Plaintiffs failed to state a claim under MHPAEA; and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "W., et al. v. Health Net Life Insurance Company, et al." on Justia Law

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On August 1, 2016, Plaintiff Sean Stetson and Defendant Edmonds were part of a low-speed, sideswipe vehicle accident. Although no one reported injuries on the scene, two weeks after the accident, Plaintiff sought medical treatment for injuries he claimed he sustained in the accident. With this visit, Plaintiff filed his now "plainly evident" campaign to fabricate a claim for damages. When a party to litigation seeks to intentionally deceive the court and its adversary, a district court may issue reasonable sanctions and require the deceitful party to pay attorney fees. Finding plaintiff did just that, and the district court sanctioned him with reasonable attorney fees and dismissal of his non-economic claims, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the sanctions. View "Stenson v. Edmonds, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Gracie Ann Forth appealed the grant of summary judgement entered in favor of Defendant-Appellee Laramie County School District Number 1 (“LCSD1”) on Forth’s claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”). Forth alleged that while she was a student at Johnson Junior High School (“JJHS”), a school within LCSD1, one of her seventh-grade teachers, Joseph Meza, sexually abused her over several years beginning in 2014. Forth alleged principals at JJHS had actual notice that Meza posed a substantial risk of abuse and were deliberately indifferent to these risks, thereby violating Title IX. On LCSD1’s motion, the district court concluded LCSD1 did not have actual notice Meza posed a substantial risk of abuse before it learned that Forth had reported him to the police. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded after review, that the district court erred in finding Forth failed to establish such notice by LCSD1 during the period before LCSD1 learned of her police report, and erred in concluding LCSD1 (in lacking such notice) was not deliberately indifferent during that period. The summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for the district court to address in the first instance. View "Forth v. Laramie County School District" on Justia Law

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Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. appealed a district court’s grant of Affiliated FM Insurance Company’s (“AFM”) motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, which denied Monarch coverage under AFM’s all-risk policy provision, business-interruption provision, and eight other additional-coverage provisions. Monarch also moved the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to certify a question of state law or issue a stay. Monarch presented AFM with claims incurred through business interruption losses from COVID-19 and government orders directing Monarch to close its casinos. AFM denied certain coverage on the ground that COVID-19 did not cause physical loss of or damage to property. Monarch sued for breach of contract, bad faith breach of insurance contract, and violations of state law. The Tenth Circuit denied Monarch’s motions to certify a question of state law and issue a stay. And it affirmed the district court’s judgment: (1) AFM’s policy had a Contamination Exclusion provision that excludes all-risk coverage and business-interruption coverage from the COVID-19 virus; and (2) Monarch could not obtain coverage for physical loss or damage caused by COVID-19 under AFM’s all-risk provision, business-interruption provision, or eight additional-coverage provisions because the virus could not cause physical loss or damage and no other policy provisions distinguished this case. Accordingly, Monarch could not obtain the coverage that the district court denied. View "Monarch Casino & Resort v. Affiliated FM Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Two law firms that represented Plaintiffs in this litigation, Schlichter Bogard & Denton LLP (“SBD”) and Schneider Wallace Cottrell Konecky LLP (“SWCK”), appealed the district court’s order imposing sanctions against them under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. Plaintiffs’ counsel represented individual shareholders and an employee retirement plan in a lawsuit claiming that the investment company, investment adviser, and recordkeeper (collectively “Empower”) servicing their mutual funds charged excessive fees in violation of its fiduciary duties under § 36(b) of the Investment Company Act. Following denial of Empower’s summary judgment and Daubert motions, the case proceeded to a bench trial where the district court ruled in favor of Empower. Thereafter, the court sanctioned Plaintiffs’ counsel for “recklessly pursu[ing] their claims through trial despite the fact that they were lacking in merit” and held SWCK and SBD jointly and severally liable for $1.5 million in Empower’s trial costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion and therefore reversed the order imposing sanctions. Accordingly, the Court did not reach the issues of SWCK and SBD’s joint and several liability or the court’s denial of SWCK’s motion to amend the judgment. View "Obeslo, et al. v. Empower Capital, et al." on Justia Law