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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
by
The EEOC was authorized to obtain evidence by issuing a subpoena and seeking a court order enforcing it. The EEOC exercised those powers when it sought information from Centura Health ("Centura"), a multi-facility healthcare organization operating primarily in Colorado. Between February 2011 and October 2014, eleven current or former Centura employees, working across eight Colorado locations, filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC. They alleged Centura violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by terminating their employment or refusing to allow them to return to work after medical leave. These employment decisions were allegedly made because of their disabilities or their requests for accommodations. Centura petitioned the EEOC to revoke or modify the subpoena. The EEOC denied the petition and directed Centura to provide the requested information. Centura refused, so the EEOC filed a subpoena-enforcement action in the district court. Centura challenged only parts of the subpoena, including items 9 and 18(e), arguing that compliance would be unduly burdensome and that the information sought was not relevant to the eleven individual charges within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. 2000e-8(a). It alleged the information would only be relevant to a pattern-or-practice investigation, but the EEOC had not filed a pattern-or-practice charge. While the Tenth Circuit determined Centura’s representations of the disparate factual nature of the eleven charges was largely accurate, and agreed with the distinctions it drew regarding the EEOC’s cases, the Court concluded Centura failed to persuade the Court that eleven charges of disability discrimination, most alleging a failure to accommodate across a handful of an employer’s facilities, were insufficient to warrant finding information regarding an employer’s pattern-or-practice relevant. The Court affirmed the district court's enforcement of the EEOC's subpoena. View "EEOC v. Centura Health" on Justia Law

by
Antero Resources Company and South Jersey Gas Company entered into an eight-year contract for Antero to deliver natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation to gas meters located on the Columbia Pipeline in West Virginia. The parties tied gas pricing to the Columbia Appalachia Index.During performance of the contract, the price of natural gas linked to the Index increased. South Jersey contested the higher prices, arguing that modifications to the Index materially changed the pricing methodology, and that the Index should be replaced with one that reflected the original agreement. Antero disagreed. South Jersey then sued Antero in New Jersey state court for failing to negotiate a replacement index, and began paying a lower price based on a different index. Antero then sued South Jersey in federal district court in Colorado, where its principal place of business was located, for breach of contract for its failure to pay the Index price. The lawsuits were consolidated in Colorado and the case proceeded to trial. The jury rejected South Jersey’s claims, finding South Jersey breached the contract and Antero was entitled to $60 million damages. South Jersey argued on appeal the district court erred in denying its motion for judgment in its favor as a matter of law, or, alternatively, that the court erred in instructing the jury. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding a reasonable jury could find South Jersey breached its contract with Antero because the Index was not discontinued nor did it materially change. Furthermore, the Court found no defects in the jury instructions. View "Antero Resources Corp. v. South Jersey Resources Group" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Anthony Waller appealed a district court’s Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of his municipal liability claim against the City and County of Denver for a Denver deputy sheriff’s use of excessive force against him In 2012, while in pretrial detention, Waller was escorted in handcuffs and other restraints to a courtroom located within the Denver City Jail for a first advisement hearing. After the judge finished the advisement, Waller “politely address[ed] the Court in a normal and subdued voice,” stating that he thought the investigation should have come before his arrest. The judge began to respond, but while she was speaking, Deputy Sheriff Brady Lovingier, who had been standing directly behind Waller, suddenly and “without warning, justification[,] or provocation” grabbed Waller, spun him around, and threw him face first into a nearby glass wall and metal post, causing him to sustain “serious and permanent injuries.” Deputy Lovingier’s assault on Waller was captured on video recorded by the courtroom cameras. Approximately one year later, Deputy Lovingier received a thirty-day suspension for his assault on Waller. In 2014, Waller filed this federal lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging: a claim of excessive force against Deputy Lovingier, and a claim of municipal liability against Denver premised on Deputy Lovingier’s use of force. Arguing against the district court’s dismissal, Waller argued broadly he could prevail because the allegations in his complaint in general established “that Denver has a custom, policy, or practice of tolerating and ratifying the use of excessive force.” Assuming without deciding that this argument was properly preserved and supported on appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no error: “Deputy Lovingier’s actions, no matter how egregious, cannot in themselves give rise to an inference that the city must have been at fault, ‘for the officer’s shortcomings may have resulted from factors other than a faulty training program’ or other municipal deficiency. ‘To adopt lesser standards of fault and causation would open municipalities to unprecedented liability under [section] 1983.’” View "Waller v. City and County of Denver" on Justia Law

by
Because Stella Padilla’s nominating petition for Albuquerque mayor lacked the required number of valid signatures, the Albuquerque City Clerk, Natalie Howard, rejected her request to appear on the ballot as a candidate in the city’s 2017 mayoral election. Padilla promptly sued Howard in her official capacity in state court for a declaration that she had satisfied the nominating petition requirements to be a candidate for mayor. Less than a month later, Howard, represented by the city attorney’s office in the state action, filed a “Motion for a Protective Order Against Harassment of the Defendant by any Volunteer or Other Person Associated with Plaintiff’s Campaign Organization,” and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In her affidavit, Howard complained specifically about harassing conduct that Padilla’s daughter, Vanessa Benavidez, had exhibited toward her on two recent occasions. The federal district court held that all Defendants were absolutely immune from Plaintiffs’ section 1983 action, because in submitting the motion for a protective order to the state court they were participating as advocates in the judicial process. In her motion, Howard asked the state court to prohibit Plaintiffs and others “from engaging in conduct directed at [Howard’s] person, which a reasonable person would find to be annoying, alarming, hostile or menacing in nature.” Though the state court never ruled on the motion, Plaintiffs argued the mere filing of the motion created a chilling effect. The federal district court granted summary judgment to the city, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that “being properly named as a defendant in a declaratory judgment suit, however styled, would not chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in constitutionally protected activity.” The Tenth Circuit found Plaintiffs did not allege a violation of the First Amendment, "and the absence of such an allegation entitles Howard to qualified immunity." View "Benavidez v. Howard" on Justia Law

by
Political subdivisions of the State of Colorado challenged Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (“TABOR”) under the Colorado Enabling Act and the Supremacy Clause, contending that TABOR contradicted the Enabling Act’s requirement that Colorado maintain a “republican form of government.” TABOR allowed the people of Colorado to raise or prevent tax increases by popular vote, thereby limiting the power of Colorado’s legislative bodies to levy taxes. The issue currently before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was whether certain school districts, a special district board, and/or a county commission had standing to challenge TABOR. On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), the district court held that plaintiffs had Article III standing but that they lacked political subdivision standing and prudential standing. Accordingly, the court dismissed the complaint. The Tenth Circuit concluded that it could not properly reach its conclusions at this stage of litigation. Because the Court held the political subdivision plaintiffs were not barred by standing requirements, the district court was reversed. View "Kerr v. Hickenlooper" on Justia Law

by
Believing that Utah state law required the Utah Department of Corrections ("UDOC") to pay interest on prison accounts, plaintiff-appellant Reginald Williams investigated the relationship between UDOC and Zions First National Bank (Zions Bank). Based on his investigation, he concluded that Zions Bank had a contract with UDOC to hold prisoner funds in an account administered by UDOC, and that the interest earned on the funds was illegally retained by the bank, when it should have been paid to the prisoners who owned the funds. Williams believed that, in response to this investigation, UDOC retaliated against him by, among other things, seizing his legal papers and giving him a negative parole report, which resulted in the denial of parole. He claimed that he was a model prisoner who was similarly situated to other prisoners who had been granted parole. Proceeding pro se, Williams filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 against UDOC, numerous prison officials, Zions Bank, and several Zions Bank employees, alleging takings and due-process constitutional violations for withholding interest on inmate funds, and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment for raising these issues. After the district court appointed counsel for Williams, all defendants moved to dismiss. The district court dismissed all claims except the retaliation claim, and dismissed all defendants except five prison officials. The remaining defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment on the retaliation claim, which the district court granted. In their motion to dismiss, UDOC and the prison-official defendants asserted Eleventh Amendment immunity, claiming that as an arm of the State of Utah, UDOC was immune from suit, and that the prison personnel were similarly immune from suit for claims against them in their official capacities. Williams presented no argument regarding the Eleventh Amendment, and the district court did not address Eleventh Amendment immunity in any of its rulings. On appeal, the UDOC Defendants renewed their argument that they were immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Finding that the Supreme Court’s recent holding in Knick v. Twp. of Scott, No. 17-647, 2019 WL 2552486 (U.S. June 21, 2019) that a property owner could bring a federal suit claiming a Fifth Amendment taking without first bringing suit in state court, the Tenth Circuit concluded Knick did not involve Eleventh Amendment immunity, which was the basis of its holding in this case. Therefore, the Court held the takings claim against the UDOC Defendants had to be dismissed based on Eleventh Amendment immunity; the matter was remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss it without prejudice. View "Williams v. Utah Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
Defendants Keith Daron Syling, Roger Schoolcraft, David Kunihiro and Audra Smith were officers or employees of the Alamogordo Police Department (APD) who were allegedly responsible for the public release of information regarding the arrest of a juvenile, A.N, in violation of New Mexico law. Plaintiffs A.N. and her mother, Katherine Ponder brought this action against Defendants and others, asserting claims under federal and state law. Defendants appealed the district court’s denial of their motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 based on qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit concluded Defendants were on notice they would violate A.N.’s right to equal protection under the law if they intentionally and without a rational basis differentiated between her and similarly situated juvenile arrestees in applying New Mexico’s laws against the disclosure of juvenile arrest and delinquency records. As a result, “any reasonable official in [Defendants’] shoes would have understood that he was violating” Plaintiffs’ equal protection rights by these actions. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court's judgment denying them qualified immunity on Plaintiffs' equal protection claim. View "A.N. v. Alamogordo Police Department" on Justia Law

by
In 2008, Kane County, Utah sued the United States under the Quiet Title Act, which was “the exclusive means by which adverse claimants c[an] challenge the United States’ title to real property.” Kane County alleged that it held title to fifteen rights-of-way under Section 8 of the Mining Act of 1866, more commonly known as “Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477.” In this case’s third trip before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the issue this time was Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s (SUWA) challenge to the district court’s denial of its second motion to intervene. SUWA filed this second motion after the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s determinations on the width of rights-of-way on three roadways. Responding to the issues raised, the Tenth Circuit concluded: SUWA had standing to intervene as a party defendant; SUWA’s second motion to intervene was reviewable de novo and not for an abuse of discretion; and SUWA met all requirements to intervene as of right under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court therefore reversed the district court’s denial of SUWA’s second motion to intervene. View "Kane County, Utah v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Brenda Patterson and her husband, Plaintiff Timothy Welker, appealed a district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant PowderMonarch, LLC, on their claims of negligence and loss of consortium based on injuries Ms. Patterson allegedly sustained at Defendant’s ski resort. Because the district court correctly held that these claims are barred by an exculpatory agreement included on Ms. Patterson’s ski lift ticket, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Patterson v. PowderMonarch" on Justia Law

by
Big Horn Coal Company petitioned the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for review of a Department of Labor Benefits Review Board (“Board”) decision awarding benefits to Edgar Sadler, a then-living miner, under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA or “the Act”). The BLBA’s statute of limitations required miners to file claims for benefits within three years of receiving a medical determination of total disability due to pneumoconiosis. In interpreting this statute of limitations, the Secretary of the Department of Labor issued 20 C.F.R. 725.308(c) (2010), which provided that the time limits in section 932(f) “are mandatory and may not be waived or tolled except upon a showing of extraordinary circumstances.” The issue this appeal presented turned on the validity of the Secretary’s regulation in section 725.308(c) and the interpretation and application of the “extraordinary circumstances” test contained therein. Sadler received a total disability diagnosis in 2005, but he did not file the claim at issue here until 2010. Despite that delay, an administrative law judge (ALJ) awarded benefits to Sadler upon finding that “extraordinary circumstances” existed to warrant tolling the statute of limitations. Big Horn Coal argued there were no "extraordinary circumstances" sufficient here to justify tolling the statute of limitations. The Tenth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction because Big Horn Coal failed to exhaust that issue before the Board. View "Big Horn Coal Company v. Sadler" on Justia Law