Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
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
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
Brigham v. Frontier Airlines
Plaintiff-appellant Rebecca Brigham worked as a flight attendant for defendant Frontier Airlines. Brigham was a recovering alcoholic who wanted to avoid overnight layovers because they tempted her to drink. To minimize overnight layovers, Brigham asked Frontier: (1) to excuse her from the airline’s bidding system for flight schedules; or (2) to reassign her to the General Office. Frontier rejected both requests. Unable to bypass the bidding system or move to the General Office, Brigham missed too many assigned flights and Frontier fired her. The firing led Brigham to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted summary judgment to Frontier, finding that the airline's “duty to accommodate” didn't require the employer to “take steps inconsistent with” a collective bargaining agreement. Further, Frontier had no vacancy in the General Office. A position in the General Office was available only for employees injured on-the-job. Brigham had no on-the-job injury, so she wasn’t similarly situated to the flight attendants eligible for reassignment to the General Office. Finding that the district court correctly granted summary judgment to Frontier, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Brigham v. Frontier Airlines" on Justia Law
Norwood v. United Parcel Service
Defendant United Parcel Service, Inc., engaged in an extensive back-and-forth to attempt to accommodate Plaintiff Susan Norwood. Yet Plaintiff still sued, alleging Defendant failed to immediately tell her that it approved a possible accommodation and formally offer it to her. The Tenth Circuit found the law imposed no burden on employers to immediately tell employees of approved possible accommodations or to formally offer them those accommodations, rather than informally asking if they would satisfy an employee. Besides challenging Defendant’s good faith during the interactive process, Plaintiff appealed the district court’s decision to exclude expert testimony and draw certain inferences in granting Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Finding no error in the district court judgment entered in UPS' favor, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Norwood v. United Parcel Service" on Justia Law
Johnson v. Reyna, et al.
Appellant Jabari Johnson, who proceeded pro se at district court but had counsel on appeal, alleged in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint against three prison officers that the officers slammed him on his untreated fractured jaw, stepped on his untreated injured foot, caused him excruciating pain, and inflicted further injury on his jaw and foot to the point that he needed physical therapy and surgery. He also alleged that the incident caused him depression and anxiety. The district court ruled that Johnson failed to allege a sufficient physical injury under § 1997e(e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to claim mental or emotional damages and dismissed his individual-capacity claims against the officers with prejudice. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded Johnson's allegations satisfied § 1997e(e)’s physical-injury requirement. The Court affirmed the dismissal of Johnson's § 1983 complaint against one officer, but reversed dismissal against the two others. The case was thus remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Reyna, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Personal Injury