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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Plaintiff-Appellee Floyd Bledsoe spent sixteen years in prison for the November 1999 murder of his fourteen-year-old sister-in-law Camille in Jefferson County, Kansas. In 2015, new DNA testing and a suicide note from Bledsoe’s brother Tom supported Bledsoe’s longstanding claim that Tom was the killer and Bledsoe was innocent. A state court subsequently vacated Bledsoe’s convictions and prosecutors dismissed all charges against him. In 2016, Bledsoe filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against ten named defendants, most of whom were Kansas law enforcement officers. Bledsoe alleged that Defendants conspired to fabricate evidence implicating him in the murder and intentionally suppressed evidence that would have proved his innocence, thereby causing him to be charged, tried, and convicted without even probable cause to believe he was guilty. At issue in this appeal was the district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) by Defendant-Appellants, all of whom were law enforcement officers employed by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office. In their motion, Appellants argued they were entitled to qualified immunity because Bledsoe: (1) failed to state claims adequately alleging that Appellants deprived Bledsoe of his constitutional rights; and/or (2) any constitutional violations Bledsoe did adequately allege against Appellants were not clearly established in 1999, when the events at issue occurred. The district court denied Appellants qualified immunity on most of Bledsoe’s claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment. The Court concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision in Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981) did not preclude Bledsoe’s substantive due process claims. Further, the Court found Bledsoe adequately alleged substantive due process and Fourth Amendment claims against each Appellant for evidence fabrication and for suppressing exculpatory evidence, a malicious prosecution claim, conspiracy claims, and a failure-to-intervene claim. Lastly, the Court concluded all the constitutional violations Bledsoe alleged except his failure-to-intervene claim were clearly established in 1999. The district court, therefore, correctly denied Appellants qualified immunity on all but the failure-to-intervene claim. View "Bledsoe v. Board Cty Comm. Jefferson KS, et al." on Justia Law

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A transportation company, Wasatch Transportation, Inc., needed three buses to comply with a state contract. Compliance required "particularly durable buses" because the routes would exceed 350 miles in inclement weather with substantial changes in elevation. Wasatch bought Synergy buses from the manufacturer, Forest River, Inc., based on assurances from a Forest River sales personnel that the buses were “[q]uality buses” that Forest River “would take really good care of” and would “be amazing when they were done.” For each bus, Forest River provided a warranty packet containing three limitations: (1) the warranty covered only repair costs; (2) the warranty was exclusive, taking the place of other possible warranties; and (3) the warranty provided the buyer’s only remedy for defects under any legal theory. After the purchase, the buses developed mechanical problems. Even after the bus was repaired, it continued to break down. Another bus broke down soon after the purchase and was usable only a third of the next year. Given the breakdowns, Wasatch allegedly had to buy another bus to comply with the state contract; but the state cancelled the contract anyway. Wasatch thereafter sued Forest River for: breach of an express warranty; breach of an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose; and fraud. The district court granted summary judgment to Forest River, reasoning that its warranty packet prevented any relief. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined there were genuine issues of material fact to preclude the district court's grant of summary judgment. That judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wasatch Transportation v. Forest River" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Brandon Fresquez filed suit against his former employer, defendant BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), claiming that BNSF violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) by terminating his employment in retaliation for him engaging in certain activities that were expressly protected under the FRSA. A jury found in favor of Fresquez on his claim of retaliation under the FRSA, and awarded him $800,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. Following the trial, Fresquez moved for an award of back and front pay. The district court granted that motion in part and awarded Fresquez a total of $696,173. BNSF argued on appeal: (1) it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the merits of Fresquez’s claims; (2) alternatively, it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages. BNSF further argues that it was entitled to a new trial on the merits of Fresquez’s claims based on the district court’s admission of character and other prejudicial evidence; (3) it was entitled to a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages; and (4) the district court abused its discretion by awarding Fresquez ten years’ worth of front pay. Rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed judgment. View "Fresquez v. BNSF Railway" on Justia Law

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Tamatha Hennessey alleged a radiology technician sexually assaulted her during her visit to the University of Kansas hospital for emergency medical care. Proceeding pro se, Hennessey brought a civil action for negligent supervision against the University of Kansas Hospital Authority (“UKHA”), which oversaw operation of the hospital. UKHA moved to dismiss the action, arguing Hennessey failed to plead facts supporting subject matter/diversity jurisdiction and that it was entitled to sovereign immunity. UKHA premised both arguments on it being an arm of the state of Kansas and therefore entitled to the same immunities as the state. But the Tenth Circuit found UKHA failed to support its motion with any evidence demonstrating it was an arm of the state or any analysis of the factors governing whether a state-created entity is an arm of the state. The district court, relying on the statutory scheme creating UKHA, Kan. Stat. Ann. §§ 76-3301–3323 (the “University of Kansas Hospital Authority Act” or the “Act”), found the Act characterized UKHA as an entity of the state, UKHA was not autonomous from the state, and UKHA was concerned with state-wide rather than local functions. Therefore, the district court concluded UKHA was an arm of the state and, therefore, dismissed Hennessey’s action. Hennessey appeals, arguing: (1) a procedural argument that the burden was on UKHA to demonstrate it was an arm of the state and it failed to meet this burden by not presenting any evidence and not arguing the factors governing the arm-of- the-state analysis; (2) a substantive argument that, regardless of the burden, the University of Kansas Hospital Authority Act supported the conclusion that UKHA was not an arm of the state; and (3) a fallback argument that a remand for limited discovery and presentation of evidence was appropriate. The Tenth Circuit concluded the burden fell on the entity asserting it was an arm of the state, and UKHA did not meet its burden. While Tenth Circuit precedent permitted a district court to raise the issue sua sponge, the Tenth Circuit found the district court erred in concluding UKHA was not autonomous under the language of the Act. The district court’s order granting UKHA’s motion to dismiss was vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Hennessey v. University of Kansas Hospital Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Stacey Wright worked as the charge nurse in the cardiac catheterization lab at Castle Rock Adventist Hospital (“Castle Rock”), a unit of the Portercare Adventist Health System (“Portercare”). After she was denied a transfer within Portercare and was terminated from her position at Castle Rock, Wright brought Title VII claims for discrimination and retaliation. The district court granted Portercare summary judgment, concluding it advanced legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its employment decisions and Wright failed to adduce evidence supporting a finding of pretext. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court. View "Wright v. Portercare Adventist" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Wesley Vincent and Defendant-appellee Ava Nelson were involved in a collision while working as coal-haul truck drivers at a mine in Campbell County, Wyoming. Vincent filed a personal-injury case in Wyoming federal district court. Following a two-week trial, a jury concluded that Nelson did not act with willful and wanton misconduct, and thus was not liable for Vincent’s damages. Vincent appealed, arguing the trial court erred in its evidentiary rulings during trial, its denial of his pre-trial motion to compel the introduction of evidence regarding the mine’s financial interest in the litigation, and the denial of his motion for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Vincent v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee Atlas Biologicals, Inc. (“Atlas”) sued its former employee Thomas Kutrubes for various federal intellectual-property claims. Kutrubes, seemingly as an attempt to thwart Atlas’s ability to collect a likely judgment against him, transferred his 7% ownership interest in Atlas to Atlas’s rival Defendant- Appellant Biowest, LLC (“Biowest”). Once Atlas found out about this alleged transfer, it sought a writ of attachment in the district court against Kutrubes’s interest in Atlas, which the district court granted. But in granting the writ, the district court explained that it did not know what interest Kutrubes still had in Atlas and raised the idea of Atlas filing a separate declaratory judgment action. Atlas did so, and that was the lawsuit before the Tenth Circuit in this appeal: whether the district court properly found in favor of Atlas in this action in light of the fact that it did not have an independent source of federal jurisdiction to decide the question of state law that the action presented—a question that implicated a third party not involved in the initial suit, Biowest. Reviewing these matters de novo, the Tenth Circuit conclude the district court acted properly and within the scope of its jurisdiction, and agreed with the district court’s resolution of the merits. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Atlas Biologicals v. Biowest, et al." on Justia Law

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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