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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

by
This appeal grew out of Brent Sloan’s participation in two transactions: (1) a merger between Advanced Recovery Systems, LLC and Kinum, Inc.; and (2) the sale of software from Kinum to Sajax Software, LLC. American Agencies, LLC alleged harm from these transactions and sued Sloan for damages and restitution. After the close of evidence, Sloan filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law. Following the denial of this motion, a jury found Sloan liable on American Agencies’ claims of tortious interference with business relations, conspiracy to interfere with business relations, tortious interference with contract, copyright infringement, unjust enrichment, and misappropriation of trade secrets. Sloan unsuccessfully renewed his motion for judgment as a matter of law. After the district court denied this motion, Sloan appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part finding Sloan did not preserve his arguments as to tortious interference with business relations, conspiracy to interfere with business relations, and tortious interference with contract. The Tenth Circuit agreed the district court erred in instructing the jury on improper means, and the Court concurred with Sloan that on the claim of unjust enrichment, the jury could not have reasonably inferred the value of a benefit to him. View "Sloan v. American Agencies, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Chaparral Energy, L.L.C. (Chaparral) operated approximately 2,500 oil and gas wells in Oklahoma. Plaintiffs Naylor Farms, Inc. and Harrel’s, L.L.C. (collectively, Naylor Farms) had royalty interests in some of those wells. According to Naylor Farms, Chaparral systematically underpaid Naylor Farms and other similarly situated royalty owners by improperly deducting from their royalty payments certain gas-treatment costs that Naylor Farms contended Chaparral was required to shoulder under Oklahoma law. Naylor Farms brought a putative class-action lawsuit against Chaparral and moved to certify the class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court granted Naylor Farms’ motion to certify, and Chaparral appealed the district court’s certification order. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded Chaparral failed to demonstrate the district court’s decision to certify the class fell outside “the bounds of rationally available choices given the facts and law involved in the matter at hand.” View "Naylor Farms v. Chaparral Energy" on Justia Law

by
John and Deanne Roth appealed a Tax Court decision that imposed a 40% penalty for the Roths’ “gross misstatement” of the value of a conservation easement they donated to a land trust in Colorado. On appeal, the Roths largely argued that, before imposing the penalty, the IRS failed to obtain written, supervisory approval for its “initial determination” of a penalty assessment as required by I.R.C. 6751(b). The Roths also sought a deduction in 2007 for repayments they made on the proceeds from their sale of tax credits generated by their donation of a separate conservation easement in 2006. The Tenth Circuit disagreed as to both counts and therefore affirmed the Tax Court. View "Roth v. CIR" on Justia Law

by
Benjamin Grice suffered severe burns after an oil pump exploded at the refinery where he worked. He and his wife brought suit against the refinery’s two parent corporations, CVR Energy and CVR Refining, alleging the parent companies assumed responsibility for workplace safety at the oil refinery by entering into a services agreement for the benefit of Grice’s employer, Coffeyville Resources. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the parent companies, concluding that the agreement did not obligate them to provide safety services to the oil refinery. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) CVR Refining should have been dismissed as a party under 28 U.S.C. 1332, to preserve complete diversity of citizenship; and (2) the company did not have a duty to Grice to maintain the oil pump since the services agreement was for administrative and legal services and not for safety services that would subject CVR Energy to liability under Kansas law. View "Grice v. CVR Energy" on Justia Law

by
In this shareholder-derivative action, Shareholders of The Western Union Company averred several of Western Union’s Officers and Directors breached their fiduciary duties to the company by willfully failing to implement and maintain an effective anti-money-laundering-compliance program (AML-compliance program), despite knowing of systemic deficiencies in the company’s AML compliance. The Shareholders didn’t make a pre-suit demand on Western Union’s Board of Directors to pursue this litigation, and the district court found no evidence that such demand would have been futile. The district court thus dismissed the case, reasoning that the Shareholders’ obligation to make a pre-suit demand on the Board was not excused. The Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court's decision to dismiss, and affirmed. View "City of Cambridge Retirement v. Ersek" on Justia Law

by
Defendants ultimately filed two motions based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). The motions were decided by different judges. After the first judge denied the first motion, he retired and the court reassigned the case to another judge. Defendants then filed their second motion, reurging or elaborating on what they had argued in their prior motion. This time, the second judge granted the motion. The Tenth Circuit determined the motion as presented was an improper Rule 59(e) motion because it had simply rehashed arguments from the first motion. Because the motion was improper, the district court erred in granting it. The Court therefore reversed. View "Nelson v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

by
WildEarth Guardians appealed after the United States Forest Service published a 2014 environmental assessment (“EA”) to the Tennessee Creek Project, and subsequently issued a Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact. The Service undertook the project for a stated purpose of protecting from insects, disease, fire, improvement of wildlife habitat and to maintain watershed conditions. One of the conclusions in the EA determined none of these actions would adversely impact the Canadian lynx. WildEarth Guardians alleged the EA failed to adequately assess the Project’s effects on lynx and by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). The district court upheld the agency action. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the Agency’s actions, finding the Service satisfied its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) obligations when it reasonably concluded in its EA that under a worst-case scenario the lynx would not be adversely affected by the Project and reasonably concluded that an EIS was not necessary. View "WildEarth Guardians v. Conner" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-Appellant Jerud Butler was a government employee, a supervisor for the San Miguel County, Colorado, Road and Bridge Department. He alleged his supervisors violated his First Amendment freedom of speech when they demoted him for testifying truthfully in state court as a character witness for his sister-in-law. The state-court proceeding concerned a domestic child custody dispute between Butler’s sister-in-law and her ex-husband, who also worked for the County’s Road and Bridge Department. The district court dismissed Butler’s First Amendment claim with prejudice under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), concluding at step two of the Garcetti/Pickering analysis that Butler’s testimony at the custody hearing, given as a private citizen, was not on a matter of public concern. The Tenth Circuit rejected Butler’s assertion that any truthful sworn testimony given by a government employee in court as a citizen was per se always a matter of public concern. The Tenth Circuit employed a case-by-case approach, considering whether, in this particular case, the content of Butler’s testimony, as well as its form and context, made it speech involving a matter of public concern. After applying such an analysis here, the Court concluded Butler’s testimony during the child custody proceeding was not on a matter of public concern. "Although Butler’s testimony involved a matter of great significance to the private parties involved in the proceeding, it did not relate to any matter of political, social or other concern of the larger community." View "Butler v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

by
Blue Valley Hospital, Inc., (“BVH”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of its action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) terminated BVH’s Medicare certification. The next day, BVH sought an administrative appeal before the HHS Departmental Appeals Board and brought this action. In this action, BVH sought an injunction to stay the termination of its Medicare certification and provider contracts pending its administrative appeal. The district court dismissed, holding the Medicare Act required BVH exhaust its administrative appeals before subject matter jurisdiction vested in the district court. BVH acknowledged that it did not exhaust administrative appeals with the Secretary of HHS prior to bringing this action, but argued: (1) the district court had federal question jurisdiction arising from BVH’s constitutional due process claim; (2) BVH’s due process claim presents a colorable and collateral constitutional claim for which jurisdictional exhaustion requirements are waived under Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976); and (3) the exhaustion requirements foreclosed the possibility of any judicial review and thus cannot deny jurisdiction under Bowen v. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, 476 U.S. 667 (1986). The Tenth Circuit disagreed and affirmed dismissal. View "Blue Valley Hospital v. Azar" on Justia Law

by
John Teets, a participant in an employer retirement plan, invested money in Great-West Life Annuity and Insurance Company’s investment fund which guaranteed investors would never lose their principal or the interest they accrued. The investment fund was offered to employers as an investment option for their employees’ retirement savings plans, which were governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Teets later sued Great-West under ERISA, alleging Great-West breached a fiduciary duty to participants in the fund or that Great-West was a nonfiduciary party in interest that benefitted from prohibited transactions with his plan’s assets. After certifying a class of 270,000 plan participants like Mr. Teets, the district court granted summary judgment for Great-West, holding that: (1) Great-West was not a fiduciary; and (2) Mr. Teets had not adduced sufficient evidence to impose liability on Great-West as a non-fiduciary party in interest. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "Teets v. Great-West Life" on Justia Law