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

Articles Posted in Family Law

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Legina and Todd Thomas, parents of M.T., a twelve-year-old girl at the time of the events at issue in this case, placed M.T. in the University of New Mexico Children's Psychiatric Center after she revealed suicidal tendencies during a police investigation of a potential sexual assault. Doctors diagnosed her as exhibiting several serious psychiatric problems and recommended a prescription of psychotropic drugs. The Thomases resisted the doctors' diagnoses and recommendations. M.T. was evaluated for several weeks until Mrs. Thomas decided to remove her from the hospital. Concerned about her safety, M.T.'s doctors and therapist placed M.T. on a medical hold and pursued an involuntary residential treatment petition in state court. After a seven-day hold, M.T. was released before the involuntary commitment proceedings began. The Thomases claimed the doctors and the hospital violated their constitutional right to direct M.T.'s medical care and their right to familial association when they placed a medical hold on M.T. and when they filed the petition for involuntary residential treatment in state court. The defendants moved to dismiss, asserting absolute and qualified immunity. The district court granted the motion on qualified immunity grounds, and the Thomases appealed. The Court of Appeal agreed with the district court that the Thomases did not stated a claim for a violation of their right to direct M.T.'s medical care. But the Court held that the Thomases stated a claim for a violation of the right to familial association for the defendants' placing a medical hold on M.T. and seeking an order for involuntary residential treatment in state court. The Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Thomas, et al v. Kaven, et al" on Justia Law

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Dr. Charles Dahl and Ms. Kim Dahl divorced in 2010. Ms. Dahl filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah, alleging federal-law and state-law claims stemming from the terms of the divorce: (1) that Dr. Dahl improperly administered the pension trust of his medical practice to deny her funds and an accounting and (2) that her telephone conversations with the Dahls’ minor children were unlawfully monitored, recorded, and disclosed by Dr. Dahl, his attorney, and the children’s guardian ad litem (GAL) in the divorce proceedings. The district court dismissed the federal-law pension claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and granted summary judgment against Ms. Dahl on the federal-law wiretapping claims. It then declined to exercise jurisdiction on the state-law claims. Ms. Dahl appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit: affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Ms. Dahl’s pension claims on the ground that the pension trust did not qualify as an employee benefit plan under ERISA, but that the claim should have been on the merits rather than for lack of jurisdiction. The Court affirmed the district court in all other respects. View "Dahl v. Dahl, et al" on Justia Law

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Hoping to remain in the United States from her native Jamaica, Defendant-Appellant Shannakay Hunter married a United States citizen. The government regarded the marriage as a sham and charged defendant with conspiracy and participation in a fraudulent marriage. A jury found her guilty on both charges. Defendant appealed, arguing that: (1) the district court should have required proof that defendant had married solely to evade the immigration laws; (2) the evidence of guilt was insufficient; (3) the marriage was “void” under state law; (4) the application of 8 U.S.C. 1325(c) resulted in a denial of equal protection, and (5) section 1325(c) is overbroad. Rejecting each argument, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Hunter" on Justia Law

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Cross-Appellee/Appellant Eloisa Taylor appealed a decision of the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Tenth Circuit (BAP) that affirmed a United States Bankruptcy Court decision. The bankruptcy court granted summary judgment in favor of Eloisa’s former spouse, Matthew Taylor. The bankruptcy court determined that a $50,660.59 debt Eloisa owed to Matthew for overpayment of spousal support was nondischargeable because Eloisa incurred the debt “in connection with a separation agreement.” Matthew’s assertion that the debt was nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(5) as a “domestic support obligation” was previously dismissed by the bankruptcy court for failure to state a claim. Matthew filed a cross appeal from that ruling and from the BAP’s ruling that neither it, nor the bankruptcy court, had authority under the parties’ divorce settlement agreement to award Matthew attorney fees that he incurred during the bankruptcy proceeding. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the bankruptcy court’s ruling that the debt was nondischargeable under section 523(a)(15). With regard to Matthew’s cross appeal, the Court affirmed both the bankruptcy court’s ruling that the debt was not excepted from discharge under 523(a)(5), and the BAP’s denial of Matthew’s request for attorney fees. View "Taylor v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Respondent Stanislav Dobrev from sought a custodial arrangement from a Utah State court more favorable than the arrangement he received from a French court a few weeks prior. Petitioner and Respondent divorced in France; Petitioner found work in Belgium, Respondent found work in Utah. Petitioner was granted leave to move with her children to Belgium by the French court. Prior to waiving his right to appeal the French order, Respondent picked up the children and brought them to the United States for a pre-approved vacation. The children were scheduled to return to Belgium, but Respondent instead filed for “Emergency Jurisdiction and Custody” in Utah to challenge the French court’s order. A week after holding a preliminary hearing, the district court, pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and its implementing legislation, The International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA), summarily granted Petitioner petition for return of the children. On top of that, the district court awarded Petitioner fees, costs, and expenses. Respondent appealed to the Tenth Circuit, generally claiming a denial of due process based on the district court’s refusal to provide him an evidentiary hearing. The Tenth Circuit noted that Respondent alleged or could have alleged before the French court many of the facts he alleged in his state petition. Given the facts of this case, the Tenth Circuit saw “nothing to suggest the district court stepped beyond the bounds of its discretion in awarding Petitioner her fees, costs, and expenses. Based upon all [the Court has] written [. . .], much of which certainly suggests Respondent [was] not blameless for the current state of affairs,” the Court could not say the award was “clearly inappropriate.” The judgment of the district court was affirmed in all respects. View "West v. Dobrev" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the death of a minor child, 23-month-old Brooklyn Coons (BIC) at the hands of her father's girlfriend. Plaintiffs-Appellants, Larry and Mary Crosetto and the Estate of BIC, filed an action alleging that a social worker, Defendant-Appellee Linda Gillen, created the danger that resulted in the death of their granddaughter and denied them their rights to familial association. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ms. Gillen, and declined to hear a supplemental state law claim. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that qualified immunity was unwarranted on their state danger-creation and familial association claims. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit agreed that qualified immunity was not appropriate on the state danger-creation claim given genuine issues of material fact. Thus the Court reversed in part. The Court affirmed summary judgement on the familial association claims. View "The Estate of B.I.C., et al v. Gillen" on Justia Law

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At issue in this interlocutory appeal was the scope of the special relationship doctrine and whether it would apply to the facts alleged to expose two human services employees to potential individual liability for the death of a seven-year-old child in foster care. After their son Chandler died while in the care of Jon Phillips and Sarah Berry, Chandler's biological parents, Christina Grafner and Joshua Norris, and Melissa R. Schwartz, personal representative and administrator of Chandler’s estate, filed suit against two county human services departments and two employees alleging, among other things, a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim for violation of Chandler's substantive due process rights. The two employees, Defendants-Appellants Margaret Booker and Mary Peagler, appealed denial of their Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court correctly determined that plaintiffs sufficiently pled facts, when taken as true, showed Booker and Peagler plausibly violated Chandler's substantive due process right to be reasonably safe while in foster care, which right was clearly established at the time. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court. View "Schwartz, et al v. Booker, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellees Ann and Greg Elwell were in the process of adopting T.S., a young boy who had been in their care almost his entire life. But approximately one month after a complaint of emotional abuse of another child in the Elwells' care, state officials withdrew the license allowing the Elwells to care for T.S. and removed him from their home without any advance notice. Despite a state court's finding that the agency acted wrongfully in removing the boy, he was never returned to them. The Elwells brought suit against several state officials involved in the removal under 42 U.S.C. 1983. On a motion for summary judgment, the district court concluded that qualified immunity did not shield the state officials from liability. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the defendants violated the Elwells' Due Process rights when they removed T.S. without notice. However, despite the Court's sympathy for the Elwells' plight, the Court concluded that this violation was not clearly established in the case law at the time of T.S.'s removal. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment. View "Elwell, et al v. Byers, et al" on Justia Law

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In this appeal the Tenth Circuit addressed: (1) whether a foster child in Oklahoma had a "contractual or statutory" relationship with the insurance company that provided foster care liability insurance to the foster child's foster parent, such that the insurer owed the foster child either contractual obligations or an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing; (2) whether a judgment creditor may garnish a judgment debtor's insurance policy in excess of the insurer's actual liability to the judgment debtor; and (3) whether a defendant's status as intervenor in a co-defendant's cross-claim against a plaintiff was relevant to matters adjudicated solely between the defendant and the plaintiff. Upon review, the Court concluded that the answer to all three questions was no. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Colony Insurance v. Burke" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Michael Sabourin sued the University of Utah in the United States District Court for the District of Utah, claiming, among other things, that it had violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by deciding to eliminate his position and then fire him for cause while he was on leave for childcare in 2006. The district court granted the University summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his FMLA claims. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: all of Plaintiff’s claims failed because the undisputed facts showed that the University’s adverse decisions were not based on Plaintiff’s taking FMLA leave. The decision to eliminate his position was made before he sought FMLA leave; and he was fired for engaging in a course of insubordination. View "Sabourin v. University of Utah" on Justia Law