Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
West v. Dobrev
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
The Estate of B.I.C., et al v. Gillen
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
Schwartz, et al v. Booker, et al
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
Elwell, et al v. Byers, et al
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
Colony Insurance v. Burke
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
Sabourin v. University of Utah
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
Winters v. Jordan
Plaintiff Katherine Winters filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging violations of an asserted right to the care and custody of her biological grandchildren. She named the State of Kansas, the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, social workers and their supervisors and the state court judge who ruled on the "Child in Need of Care" (CINC) matter relating to all three children and the adoption proceeding of her grandson "C.W.," as well as a prosecutor, guardian ad litem and court-appointed special advocates. Plaintiff requested remedies including declaratory and injunctive relief voiding state-court placement and adoption orders, plus compensatory damages of $67 million and punitive damages. The district court dismissed the action, and Plaintiff appealed. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in its determinations on subject-matter jurisdiction, defendants’ immunity, and the sufficiency of her complaint. Her fundamental argument was that the district court failed to give proper consideration to her claim of a constitutional right to the custody and care of C.W. Having carefully reviewed the record on appeal and the appellate briefs in the light of the governing law, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court’s analysis of Plaintiff's claims. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment of the district court.
Yancey v. Thomas
Petitioner Christopher Yancey filed an action in district court contending that Oklahoma state-court rulings terminating his parental rights over his Indian child were invalid under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The district court dismissed his action, determining that either federal abstention was mandated, or the action was barred by the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution. Tiffany Leatherman and Petitioner are the natural parents of Baby Boy L. Petitioner was a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Indian Nation of Oklahoma, but Leatherman was not a member of any Native American tribe. Petitioner and Leatherman were teenagers when the child was conceived, and they never married. Before the child was born, Leatherman decided to place him for adoption, and she located Timothy and Tammy Thomas who were interested in adopting him. In December 2002, Leatherman brought an action in Oklahoma state court to terminate Petitioner's parental rights and to determine the child’s eligibility for adoption without Petitioner's consent. Leatherman appeared in court, relinquished her parental rights, and consented to the adoption. Petitioner appeared in the proceedings and objected to the adoption. On May 18, 2010, the Oklahoma trial court entered an order terminating Petitioner's parental rights. The court found that the ICWA had been complied with and that the Thomases had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Petitioner's custody of Baby Boy L. would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child. There was no indication in the record that Petitioner appealed that order. On the day after the Oklahoma trial court entered its order, Petitioner filed this action against the Thomases. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not err in dismissing Yancey’s federal-court action because it was barred by res judicata. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's decision terminating Appellant's parental rights.
J.W. v. Utah
This case arose from "an unfortunate situation" of child-on-child abuse within the foster care system. Plaintiffs J.W. and M.R.W. are a foster couple, and their now-adopted foster children were injured after an abusive foster child was placed in their home in 2002. Plaintiffs raised several state and federal claims against Utah and the state employees involved in placing the abusive child in their home. The district court dismissed several of Plaintiffs' negligence claims based on Utah's Governmental Immunity Act. As for Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claim, the court held that the caseworker and her supervisor were entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiffs had not shown a failure to exercise professional judgment on the part of the caseworker, nor had they shown any basis for holding the supervisor liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Plaintiffs challenged these decisions on appeal. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the undisputed evidence in the record reflected that there was an impermissible deviation from professional judgment on the part of the state employees. Furthermore, the Court found Plaintiffs did not set forth a valid basis for holding the employees liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Court affirmed the lower court's decisions.