Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Michelle Renee Lamb was born a male, but from a young age, however, displayed feminine characteristics and identified as a female. Lamb was in state prison experiencing gender dysphoria. For this condition, she received medical treatment. However, she claimed the treatment was so poor that it violated the Eighth Amendment. The undisputed evidence showed Lamb received hormone treatment, testosterone-blocking medication, and weekly counseling sessions. A 1986 precedent, Supre v. Ricketts, 752 F.2d 958 (10th Cir. 1986), suggested these forms of treatment would preclude liability for an Eighth Amendment violation. Based partly on this precedent, the district court granted summary judgment to the prison officials. Lamb challenged the grant of summary judgment. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded no genuine issue of material fact existed: “In light of the prison’s treatment for Michelle’s gender dysphoria, no reasonable factfinder could infer deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials. And the district court did not improperly curtail Michelle’s opportunity to conduct discovery. Thus, we affirm the award of summary judgment to the prison officials.” View "Lamb v. Norwood" on Justia Law

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This case was a qui tam action alleging violations of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) involving fraudulent reimbursements under the Medicare Act. Plaintiff Gerald Polukoff, M.D., was a doctor who worked with Defendant Sherman Sorensen, M.D. After observing some of Sorensen’s medical practices, Polukoff brought this FCA action, on behalf of the United States, against Sorensen and the two hospitals where Sorensen worked (collectively, “Defendants”). Polukoff alleged Sorensen performed thousands of unnecessary heart surgeries and received reimbursement through the Medicare Act by fraudulently certifying that the surgeries were medically necessary. Polukoff further alleged the hospitals where Sorensen worked were complicit in and profited from Sorensen’s fraud. The district court granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss, reasoning that a medical judgment could not be false under the FCA. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that a doctor’s certification to the government that a procedure is “reasonable and necessary” is “false” under the FCA if the procedure was not reasonable and necessary under the government’s definition of the phrase. View "Polukoff v. St. Mark's Hospital" on Justia Law

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Alpenglow Botanicals, LLC (“Alpenglow”) sued the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) for a tax refund, alleging the IRS exceeded its statutory and constitutional authority by denying Alpenglow’s business tax deductions under 26 U.S.C. 280E. The federal government classified marijuana as a “controlled substance” under schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), but it is legal for medical or recreational use in Colorado. This appeal was the product of the clash between these state and federal policies: Alpenglow is a medical marijuana business owned and operated by Charles Williams and Justin Williams, doing business legally in Colorado. After an audit of Alpenglow’s 2010, 2011, and 2012 tax returns, however, the IRS issued a Notice of Deficiency concluding that Alpenglow had “committed the crime of trafficking in a controlled substance in violation of the CSA” and denying a variety of Alpenglow’s claimed business deductions under section 280E. Alpenglow’s income and resultant tax liability were increased based on the denial of these deductions. Because Alpenglow was a “pass through” entity, the increased tax liability was passed on to Charles Williams and Justin Williams. The two men paid the increased tax liability under protest and filed for a refund, which the IRS denied. The district court dismissed Alpenglow’s suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and denied Alpenglow’s subsequent motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) to reconsider the judgment. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Alpenglow Botanicals v. United States" on Justia Law

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Xlear, Inc. and Focus Nutrition, LLC were both in the business of selling sweeteners that used the sugar alcohol xylitol. Xlear filed a complaint raising a trade dress infringement claim under the Lanham Act, a claim under the Utah Truth in Advertising Act (UTIAA), and a claim under the common law for unfair competition. The claims all alleged that Focus Nutrition copied the packaging Xlear used for one of its sweetener products. Focus Nutrition moved to dismiss Xlear’s Lanham Act claim. At a hearing on Focus Nutrition’s motion to dismiss, the district court judge made several comments questioning the validity of Xlear’s Lanham Act claim but, ultimately, denied the motion. Following the hearing, the parties, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), stipulated to the dismissal of all claims with prejudice. Under the stipulation, the parties reserved the right to seek attorneys’ fees and Focus Nutrition exercised its right by filing a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54 to recover its fees under the Lanham Act and the UTIAA. The district court concluded that Focus Nutrition was a prevailing party under both the Lanham Act and the UTIAA, and that Focus Nutrition was entitled to all of its requested fees. On appeal, Xlear raised five challenges to the district court’s order. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees under the Lanham Act because Focus Nutrition was not a prevailing party under federal law. As to the UTIAA, the Court vacated the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees and remanded for further proceedings to permit the district court to analyze the factors governing prevailing party status under Utah law and, if the court concluded Focus Nutrition was a prevailing party under the UTIAA, to determine what portion of the requested fees Focus Nutrition incurred in defense of the UTIAA claim and the reasonableness of the requested fees. View "Xlear v. Focus Nutrition" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a bankruptcy adversary proceeding, and centered on the ownership of a federal tax refund. The tax refund was issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to United Western Bancorp, Inc. (UWBI), a thrift holding company that had, under the terms of a written “Tax Allocation Agreement,” filed consolidated returns on behalf of itself and several subsidiary corporations. The tax refund was the result, however, of net operating losses incurred by United Western Bank (the Bank), one of UWBI’s subsidiaries. Simon Rodriguez, in his capacity as the Chapter 7 Trustee for the bankruptcy estate of UWBI, initiated this adversary proceeding against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), as receiver for the Bank, alleging that the tax refund was owned by UWBI and was thus part of the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy court agreed and entered summary judgment in favor of the Trustee. The FDIC appealed to the district court, which reversed the decision of the bankruptcy court. The Trustee appealed the district court’s decision. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the tax refund belonged to the FDIC, as receiver for the Bank. Consequently, the Court affirmed the district court and remanded to the bankruptcy court for further proceedings. View "Rodriguez v. FDIC" on Justia Law

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Perry Odom suffered serious injuries when a semi-trailer collapsed on him at work. His employer, Penske Logistics, did not own the trailer, but his employer’s sole stockholder, Penske Truck Leasing, did. Odom and his wife sought to recover from Penske Truck Leasing through a personal injury action in federal court. The district court dismissed their complaint, reasoning Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation scheme as applied here shielded an employer’s stockholders from employee claims arising out of a workplace injury. The Odoms appealed, challenging the district court’s interpretation of the Oklahoma statute. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals certified the interpretive question to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and received an answer making it clear the district court applied an incorrect legal standard in dismissing this case. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Odom v. Penske Truck Leasing Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Taunya Perry was arrested and booked into the Ottawa County Jail on December 28, 2012. According to Perry, detention officer Daniel Clements raped her approximately two months later, on February 25, 2013. As a result of the alleged rape, Perry brought suit against the Ottawa County Sheriff, defendant Terry Durborow, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting that Durborow was responsible for the alleged rape under a theory of supervisory liability. In response, Durborow moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was entitled to qualified immunity. Durborow appealed the district court’s order denying his motion, arguing only that - even assuming he violated the Constitution - the district court erred in finding that the contours of the constitutional right at issue were clearly established. The Tenth Circuit agreed: “the clearly established law must be ‘particularized’ to the facts of the case. ... In reaching this conclusion, we do not mean to suggest that “[a] prior case” must have “identical facts” before it will put reasonable officials on notice that their specific conduct is unconstitutional." Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s order and remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in Durborow’s favor. View "Perry v. Durborow" on Justia Law

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The district court dismissed Marc Schenkel's claims against Xyngular Corporation and various third parties as a sanction for abuse of what he claims was pre-litigation discovery. The Tenth Circuit had not previously decided whether pre-litigation conduct that did not give rise to the substantive claims in a case was sanctionable by dismissal of a party’s claims. After review of Schenkel's arguments on appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded termination sanctions were permissible when pre-litigation conduct was aimed at manipulating the judicial process and was unrelated to the conduct that gave rise to the substantive claims in a case. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that these conditions were met in the present case, its judgment was affirmed. View "Xyngular v. Schenkel" on Justia Law

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Correct Care Solutions, LLC (CCS) terminated Alena Fassbender’s employment for violating CCS policy. Fassbender, who was pregnant at the time of her termination, argued she was terminated because CCS had one too many pregnant workers in Fassbender’s unit, which posed a problem for her supervisor. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded a reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s version of events. Accordingly, the Court reversed the portion of the district court’s order granting CCS summary judgment on Fassbender’s pregnancy discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. secs. 2000e–2000e-17. However, the Court affirmed in part, finding no reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s alternative claim that CCS terminated her in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. View "Fassbender v. Correct Care Solutions" on Justia Law

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Defendant Williams Companies, Inc. (Williams) was an energy company; its president and chief executive officer (CEO) was Defendant Alan Armstrong and its chief financial officer (CFO) was Defendant Donald Chappel. Armstrong also served on its board of directors. Defendant Williams Partners GP LLC (Williams Partners GP) was a limited-liability company owned by Williams. Armstrong was chairman of the board and CEO; and Chappel was CFO and a director. Defendant Williams Partners L.P. (WPZ) was a master limited partnership, whose general partner was Williams Partners GP. Williams owned 60% of WPZ’s limited-partnership units. Plaintiff’s case centered on merger discussions between Williams and Energy Transfer Equity L.P. (ETE), a competing energy firm. The members of the putative class purchased units of WPZ between May 13, 2015 (when Williams announced that it planned to merge with WPZ) and June 19, 2015 (when ETE announced that, despite having been rebuffed by Williams, it would seek to merge with Williams and that such a merger would preclude the merger with WPZ). The value of the units dropped significantly after this announcement. Ultimately, ETE merged with Williams and the proposed WPZ merger was not consummated. The Complaint alleged the class members paid an excessive price for WPZ units because Williams had not disclosed during the class period its merger discussions with ETE. Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island (Plaintiff) appealed the dismissal of its amended complaint in a putative class-action suit, alleging violations of federal securities law because of the failure to disclose merger discussions that affected the value of its investment. The Tenth Circuit concluded the complaint failed to adequately allege facts establishing a duty to disclose the discussions, the materiality of the discussions, or the requisite scienter in failing to disclose the discussions. View "Employees' Retirement System v. Williams Companies" on Justia Law