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

Articles Posted in Family Law
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At issue in this case was a district court’s determination concerning the location of children’s habitual residence. Shane Watts was a dual citizen of Australia and the United States. Carrie Watts was a citizen of the United States. In 2005, Shane and Carrie married in Park City, Utah. From December 2006 to June 2016, the couple lived in North Carolina, where they reared their three children—also dual citizens of Australia and the United States. In March 2016, the couple learned that their middle child would need specialized medical attention possibly including expensive palate-extension surgery. The family decided to move to Australia to benefit from that country’s universal- healthcare system. The couple intended to live in Australia until completion of their son’s medical treatment. The move to Australia placed additional stress on Shane and Carrie’s already- strained marriage. Concerned that she would be unable to work if she and Shane later divorced, Carrie applied for a permanent visa to Australia. Shane notified the Australian immigration authorities that they had separated, and he withdrew his sponsorship of Carrie’s permanent-visa application. Carrie obtained an “intervention order” against Shane. About three days after learning that Shane had withdrawn his sponsorship of her permanent-visa application, Carrie took the children and flew to Utah. She did not tell Shane beforehand, and she lied to customs agents that she was traveling to the United States for a short visit. Carrie and the children have remained in Utah since. In total, the family lived in Australia for just over eleven months. Shane petitioned a federal court in Utah for the return of the children. In his petition, Shane claimed that Carrie had wrongfully removed the children from their “habitual residence”—i.e., Victoria, Australia. Finding that Shane failed to prove the children's habitual residence was Australia, it denied his request for relief under the Hague Convention as "wrongful." The Tenth Circuit found no reversible error, and affirmed the district court's dismissal of Shane's petition. View "Watts v. Watts" on Justia Law

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I.B. and her mother, Jane Doe (collectively, “Does”), claimed that a caseworker from the El Paso County (Colorado) Department of Human Services ("DHA"), April Woodard, wrongfully searched I.B. at the Head Start preschool, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Without consent or a warrant, Woodard partially undressed I.B., performed a visual examination for signs of abuse, then photographed I.B.’s private areas and partially unclothed body. The Defendants moved to dismiss. The district court granted the motion, holding that qualified immunity precluded the Fourth Amendment unlawful search claim and that the complaint failed to state a Fourteenth Amendment claim. The Does appealed these rulings and the district court’s denial of leave to amend their complaint. Finding no constitutional violation, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Doe v. Woodard" on Justia Law

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J.H., a minor represented by his grandfather, claimed a child welfare specialist at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and two police officers wrongfully seized and questioned him about possible abuse by his father. Because of this conduct, J.H. argued these officials violated the Fourth Amendment, and that two of the three officials violated the Fourteenth Amendment by unduly interfering with J.H’s substantive due process right of familial association. The officials moved for summary judgment, arguing in relevant part that qualified immunity shielded them from liability. The district court denied qualified immunity, and the officials filed an interlocutory appeal. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court was correct that two of the three defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure claim. But the Court reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity for the officer who merely followed orders by transporting J.H. Furthermore, the Court reversed denial of qualified immunity on the Fourteenth Amendment interference with familial association claim since it was not clearly established that the officials’ conduct violated the Fourteenth Amendment. View "Halley v. Huckaby" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Donald Gutteridge, Jr. appealed a district court order granting summary judgment to defendants Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, and several individuals on two claims arising from injuries suffered by D.C., a child who was then in Oklahoma’s foster-care system. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on Gutteridge’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim. Likewise, the Court agreed Gutteridge’s state-law tort claim was barred to the extent it arose from D.C.’s placement in two different foster homes. But to the extent Gutteridge’s state-law claim instead arose from the alleged failure to timely remove D.C. from one of those homes and the alleged failure to provide D.C. with timely medical care for injuries she suffered there, the placement exemption did not apply. View "Gutteridge v. Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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Kelcey Patton, a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (“DDHS”), was one of those responsible for removing T.D., a minor at the time, from his mother’s home, placing him into DDHS’s custody, and recommending T.D. be placed and remain in the temporary custody of his father, Tiercel Duerson. T.D. eventually was removed from his father’s home after DDHS received reports that T.D. had sexual contact with his half-brother, also Mr. Duerson’s son. DDHS later determined that during T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson, T.D. had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. T.D. sued Patton under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating his right to substantive due process, relying on a “danger-creation theory,” which provided that “state officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials created the danger that caused the harm.” Patton moved for summary judgment on the ground that she is entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "T.D. v. Patton" on Justia Law

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Kelcey Patton, a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (“DDHS”), was one of those responsible for removing T.D., a minor at the time, from his mother’s home, placing him into DDHS’s custody, and recommending T.D. be placed and remain in the temporary custody of his father, Tiercel Duerson. T.D. eventually was removed from his father’s home after DDHS received reports that T.D. had sexual contact with his half-brother, also Mr. Duerson’s son. DDHS later determined that during T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson, T.D. had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. T.D. sued Patton under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating his right to substantive due process, relying on a “danger-creation theory,” which provided that “state officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials created the danger that caused the harm.” Patton moved for summary judgment on the ground that she is entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "T.D. v. Patton" on Justia Law

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When a state fails to protect a foster child from harm, the foster child can sue the state under the special-relationship doctrine, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. The special-relationship doctrine provides an exception to the general rule that states aren’t liable for harm caused by private actors. This case is about the geographical reach of the special-relationship doctrine: whether the special relationship (and its accompanying duty to protect)—crosses state lines. James Dahn, a foster child, sued two Colorado social workers responsible for investigating reports that he was being abused, along with others involved with his adoption. Dahn had been in Oklahoma’s custody until, with Oklahoma’s approval, a Colorado-based private adoption agency placed him for adoption with a foster father in Colorado. The foster father physically abused Dahn before and after adopting him. The private adoption agency was responsible for monitoring Dahn’s placement. Together with Colorado, it recommended approval of his adoption by the abusive foster father. Dahn eventually escaped his abusive foster father by running away. Dahn then sued the private adoption agency, its employees, and the Colorado caseworkers who were assigned to investigate reports of abuse from officials at Dahn’s public school. The district court dismissed all of Dahn’s claims except a section 1983 claim against the two Colorado caseworkers and two state-law claims against the agency and its employees, concluding the special-relationship doctrine allowed Dahn to move forward with the 1983 claim, and it exercised supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims. The Colorado caseworkers appealed. Though the Tenth Circuit condemned their efforts to protect the vulnerable child, the Court concluded, under the controlling precedents, that the Colorado caseworkers were entitled to qualified immunity, and reversed. View "Dahn v. Amedei" on Justia Law

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Kody Brown, Meri Brown, Janelle Brown, Christine Brown, and Robyn Sullivan (“the Browns”) form a “plural family.” Kody Brown is legally married to Meri Brown and “spiritually married” to the other three women, whom he calls “sister wives.” When the family became the subject of a TLC reality television show in 2010, the Lehi Police Department opened an investigation of the Browns for violating Utah’s bigamy statute, Utah Code Annotated section 76-7-101. The Browns then filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action in federal district court against the Governor and Attorney General of the State of Utah and the Utah County Attorney. Claiming the Statute infringed their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the Browns sought declaratory relief and a permanent injunction enjoining enforcement of the Statute against them. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review of this matter that the district court erred by proceeding to the merits: "[f]ollowing adoption of the [Utah County Attorney’s Office] UCAO Policy, the Browns’ suit ceased to qualify as an Article III case or controversy. Their suit was moot before the district court awarded them relief, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction to decide the Browns’ claims." View "Brown v. Buhman" on Justia Law

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This appeal was brought by the Court Clerk for Tulsa County, Oklahoma, asking the Tenth Circuit to overturn a decision by the district court declaring unenforceable the Oklahoma state constitutional prohibition on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The issues presented to the Tenth Circuit in this appeal were: (1) whether plaintiffs could attack state constitutional provisions without simultaneously attacking state statutes to the same effect; and (2) whether the Court Clerk was a proper defendant as to the non-recognition portion of the Oklahoma constitutional prohibition. The Tenth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to directly attack the constitutionality under the United States Constitution of Oklahoma's same-sex marriage ban even though their claim did not reach Oklahoma's statutory prohibitions on such marriages. Under Oklahoma law, a constitutional amendment "takes the place of all the former laws existing upon the subject with which it deals." Because the statutory prohibitions were subsumed in the challenged constitutional provision, an injunction against the latter's enforcement will redress the claimed injury. An earlier appeal of this same case involving the standing inquiry led to a decision by a panel of the Tenth Circuit that dismissed proceedings brought against the Governor and Attorney General of Oklahoma. That panel ruled that "recognition of marriages is within the administration of the judiciary." ("Bishop I"). The Tenth Circuit concluded that the law of the case doctrine applied to Bishop I, but that the doctrine was overcome by new evidence demonstrating that the Tulsa County Court Clerk could not redress the non-recognition injury, thereby depriving Gay Phillips and Susan Barton of standing to sue. The Court affirmed the district court's ruling. View "Bishop, et al v. Smith, et al" on Justia Law

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Several Utah residents and same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in Utah and were denied. They filed suit against the Governor, the Attorney General of Utah and the Clerk of Sale Lake County, all in their official capacities, challenging provisions of Utah law relating to same-sex marriage. Utah Code 30-1-2(5) included among the marriages that were "prohibited and declared void," those "between persons of the same sex." The Legislature referred a proposed constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 3, to Utah's voters (Amendment 3 passed with approximately 66% of the vote and became section 29 of Article I of the Utah Constitution). Plaintiffs alleged that Amendment 3 violated their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving them of the fundamental liberty to marry the person of their choosing and to have such a marriage recognized. They also claimed that Amendment 3 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs raised their claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking both a declaratory judgment that Amendment 3 was unconstitutional and an injunction prohibiting its enforcement. On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, concluding that "[a]ll citizens, regardless of their sexual identity, have a fundamental right to liberty, and this right protects an individual's ability to marry and the intimate choices a person makes about marriage and family." Furthermore, the court held that Amendment 3 denied plaintiffs equal protection because it classified based on sex and sexual orientation without a rational basis. It declared Amendment 3 unconstitutional and permanently enjoined enforcement of the challenged provisions. The Governor and Attorney General filed a timely notice of appeal and moved to stay the district court's decision. Both the district court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a stay. The Supreme Court, however, granted a stay of the district court's injunction pending final disposition of the appeal by the Tenth Circuit. Having heard and carefully considered the argument of the litigants, the Tenth Circuit concluded that, consistent with the United States Constitution, the State of Utah may not deny a citizen benefit of the laws based solely on the sex of the person the citizen chooses to marry. View "Kitchen, et al v. Herbert, et al" on Justia Law