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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
by
The defendants (collectively, the “New Mexico Courts”) appealed a district court’s entry of a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiff, Courthouse News Service (“Courthouse News”). Courthouse News was a news service that reports on civil litigation in state and federal courts across the country. The focus of the litigation here was on timely access to newly filed, non-confidential civil complaints in the state district courts of New Mexico. On July 30, 2021, Courthouse News filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the New Mexico Courts, seeking to “prohibit[] them preliminarily . . . from refusing to make newly-filed nonconfidential civil petitions available to the public and press until after such petitions are processed or accepted, and further directing them to make such petitions accessible to the press and public in a contemporaneous manner upon receipt.” The district court concluded that Courthouse News was entitled to a preliminary injunction enjoining the New Mexico Courts from withholding press or public access to newly filed, non-confidential civil complaints for longer than five business hours, but not to a preliminary injunction that provides pre-processing, on-receipt, or immediate access to such complaints. On appeal, the New Mexico Courts argued the district court erred in granting in part Courthouse News’ motion for preliminary injunction. After its review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Specifically, the Court affirmed the district court’s memorandum opinion and order to the extent that the district court: (1) declined to abstain from hearing this case; and (2) concluded that the First Amendment right of access attaches when a complaint is submitted to the court. However, the Court concluded the district court erred in imposing a bright-line, five-business-hour rule that failed to accommodate the state’s interests in the administration of its courts. Accordingly, the district court’s entry of a preliminary injunction was reversed, the preliminary injunction vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Courthouse News Service v. New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts, et al." on Justia Law

by
The issue this appeal presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on the denial of tax benefits relating to petitioner Preston Olsen's purchase of solar lenses. The benefits were only available if the taxpayer had a profit motive for the purchases. Olsen bought the lenses in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, through a program created by Neldon Johnson. Under the program, Johnson would use the lenses in a new system to generate electricity by heating a liquid to generate steam and drive a turbine. Johnson never finished the system; he had completed the lenses on only one tower and hadn’t decided whether those lenses would heat water, oil, or molten salt. Johnson funded the program through investors like Olsen who bought lenses from Johnson’s companies and leased the lenses to another of Johnson’s companies. Once the system began producing revenue, Johnson's company would pay Olsen’s company $150 per lens per year. But the system never generated any revenue. From 2009 to 2014, Olsen annually claimed depreciation deductions and solar energy credits on the lenses. These claims allowed the Olsens to pay little or no federal income taxes. "So the Olsens came out ahead even though they had never obtained any money from the leases." The tax court disallowed the benefits in part because it found Petitioner lacked a profit motive. Finding no reversible error in the tax court's decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Olsen, et al. v. CIR" on Justia Law

by
In 1999, Javier Zapata-Chacon, then a conditional permanent resident, admitted his removability based on a Colorado conviction for possession of marihuana. An Immigration Judge (“IJ”) ordered Zapata-Chacon removed and a final administrative order issued and was executed that same year. Since his removal, Zapata-Chacon illegally reentered the United States on three occasions. In 2020, Zapata-Chacon moved for reconsideration of the 1999 removal order, arguing his possession of marihuana conviction was not a categorical match to a federal “controlled substance offense” because Colorado’s definition of marihuana used broader language than the federal definition. An IJ denied the motion. The Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) adopted and affirmed the IJ’s denial, and Zapata-Chacon appealed. With the petition pending before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals court, the Government, through a letter pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 28(j), contended for the first time that the IJ and the BIA lacked authority to reopen or review Zapata-Chacon’s proceeding based on him having illegally reentered the United States. The Tenth Circuit concluded 8 U.S.C. § 1231(a)(5) clearly stripped the BIA of authority to review a prior order of removal or to grant any relief provided by the Immigration and Nationality Chapter of Title 8 once a removed alien illegally reentered the United States. Accordingly, Zapata-Chacon’s petition for review was denied. View "Zapata-Chacon v. Garland" on Justia Law

by
The Tenth Circuit found the EPA’s own written decision indicated the EPA concluded that the statutory and regulatory definitions of “small refinery” did not provide specific “guidance []or limits” on how the terms “refinery” and “average aggregate daily crude oil throughput” should have been “evaluated.” Accordingly, the EPA proceeded as though it “ha[d] discretion to choose what factors and information it w[ould] consider in this evaluation.” The EPA’s decisions to deny an extension of a temporary exemption to “small refineries” from complying with the Clean Air Act’s Renewable Fuel Standard Program were reversed and remanded. "That does not mean that the EPA could not again arrive at the same conclusion. But, to do so, the EPA would need to (a) either consider and apply its own regulatory definition of “facility” to the circumstances presented here or explain why that regulatory definition is inapplicable, (b) provide clear guidance on its integration analysis, to the extent it continues to rely on that factor, and (c) omit any consideration of Suncor’s management structure or public statements unless it can demonstrate that those factors are somehow consistent with, and have a reasonable connection to, the statutory and regulatory definitions of the term “refinery.” View "Suncor Energy v. EPA" on Justia Law

by
This case arises from a regulatory dispute involving a hydroelectric project. The project aimed to boost a municipality’s water supply. To obtain more water, the municipality proposed to raise a local dam and expand a nearby reservoir. But implementation of the proposal would require amendment of the municipality’s license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a discharge permit to the municipality. A group of conservation organizations challenged the Corps’ decision by petitioning in federal district court. While the petition was pending, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowed amendment of the municipality’s license to raise the dam and expand the reservoir. The Commission’s amendment of the municipality’s license triggered a jurisdictional question: if federal courts of appeals had exclusive jurisdiction over petitions challenging decisions made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, did this jurisdiction extend to challenges against the Corps’ issuance of a permit to allow discharges required for the modification of a hydroelectric project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? The district court answered yes, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The conservation organizations were challenging the Corps’ issuance of a permit, not the Commission’s amendment of a license. So the statute didn’t limit jurisdiction to the court of appeals. View "Save The Colorado, et al. v. Spellmon, et al." on Justia Law

by
Cecil Bristow suffered from a chronic lung disease, COPD, and attributed it to coal-mine dust from years of working in coal mines. An administrative law judge and the Benefits Review Board agreed with Bristow and awarded him benefits. Bristow's most recent employer, Energy West Mining Company, petitioned the Tenth Circuit for judicial review of the Board's decision, and the Tenth Circuit denied the petition, finding the Board did not err in upholding the administrative law judge's award of benefits. View "Energy West v. Bristow" on Justia Law

by
Integrity Advance, LLC operated as a nationwide payday lender offering short-term consumer loans at high interest rates. In 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“Bureau”) brought an administrative enforcement action against Integrity and its CEO, James Carnes (collectively, “Petitioners”). The Notice of Charges alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (“CFPA”), the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (“EFTA”). Between 2018 and 2021, the Supreme Court issued four decisions that bore on the Bureau’s enforcement activity in this case. The series of decisions led to intermittent delays and restarts in the Bureau’s case against Petitioners. Ultimately, the Director mostly affirmed the recommendations of the ALJ. Petitioners appealed the Director’s final order to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals under 12 U.S.C. § 5563(b)(4), asking that the Court vacate the order, or at least remand for a new hearing. Petitioners argued the Director’s order didn’t give them the full benefit of the Supreme Court’s rulings. The Tenth Circuit rejected Petitioners’ various challenges and affirmed the Director’s order. View "Integrity Advance, et al. v. CFPB" on Justia Law

by
In 2002, Petitioner Mayra Estrada-Cardona entered the United States on a tourist visa which she subsequently overstayed. She resided in the United States with her two United States citizen children: A.E. and L.E. A.E. suffers from mental and physical disabilities, some of which are likely to be lifelong. While in the United States, Petitioner played a key role in ensuring A.E. received physical therapy and special education support—both vital to A.E.’s wellbeing and continued progress. In 2009, Petitioner was arrested for driving without a license. She pled guilty and paid the associated fines, but because of the traffic violation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Petitioner and began removal proceedings. At the hearing, Petitioner appeared unrepresented and conceded the charge contained in the notice to appear—rendering her removable. At the time, Petitioner was in the country for at most seven years, making her statutorily ineligible for any discretionary relief from removal. The immigration judge therefore ordered Petitioner to voluntarily depart the United States. Every year—from 2013 to 2017—Petitioner requested a stay of removal, and every year ICE approved her request. ICE denied her most recent request on December 28, 2017. ICE did not take any immediate action to remove Petitioner from the United States, only requiring her to attend regular check-ins at the local ICE office. ICE finally detained Petitioner and initiated removal on September 30, 2020. Petitioner asked the BIA to reopen removal proceedings pursuant to Pereira v. Sessions, 138 S. Ct. 2105 (2018). Petitioner's notice to appear failed to specify the “time and place at which the proceedings will be held.” Because the notice to appear did not stop the clock, Petitioner insisted that she had the requisite presence to be eligible for cancellation of removal because she had been in the country for 16 years. BIA held Petitioner was not eligible for cancellation of removal because the immigration judge issued the order to voluntarily depart, which qualified as a final order of removal, when Petitioner had accrued, at most, eight years of physical presence. The Tenth Circuit rejected the BIA's final-order argument, holding that a final order of removal did not stop the accrual of continuous physical presence. View "Estrada-Cardona v. Garland" on Justia Law

by
In 2018, Garfield County, Utah sought to chip-seal a 7.5-mile portion of the Burr Trail known as the Stratton Segment. Before the County could begin its chip-sealing project, it was legally required to consult with the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) about the project’s scope and impact and obtain BLM’s approval. After doing so, Garfield County completed the project. Soon after Garfield County chip-sealed the Stratton Segment, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other conservation groups sued BLM and the United States Department of the Interior (“DOI”). Under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), SUWA alleged that BLM had acted arbitrarily and capriciously when approving the chip-sealing project. The district court disagreed and dismissed SUWA’s claims. SUWA raised the same issue on appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit held that BLM didn’t act arbitrarily and capriciously in informally determining that Garfield County had an R.S. 2477 right-of-way over the Stratton Segment. After reviewing the record, the Court disagreed with SUWA that BLM “purported to” rely on IM 2008-175 in its R.S. 2477 determination. "Instead, BLM properly relied on its authority under our caselaw to informally determine, for BLM’s own purposes, that Garfield County holds its asserted R.S. 2477 right-of-way. Thus, BLM’s decision was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law." View "Southern Utah Wilderness, et al. v. DOI, et al." on Justia Law

by
When Plaintiff-appellant Linda Smith purchased a prescribed continuous blood glucose monitor (CGM) and its necessary supplies between 2016 and 2018, she sought reimbursement through Medicare Part B. Medicare administrators denied her claims. Relying on a 2017 ruling issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare concluded Smith’s CGM was not “primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose” and therefore was not covered by Part B. Smith appealed the denial of her reimbursement claims through the multistage Medicare claims review process. At each stage, her claims were denied. Smith then sued the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in federal court, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. Contending that her CGM and supplies satisfied the requirements for Medicare coverage. Instead of asking the court to uphold the denial of Smith’s claims, the Secretary admitted that Smith’s claims should have been covered and that the agency erred by denying her claims. Rather than accept the Secretary’s admission, Smith argued that the Secretary only admitted error to avoid judicial review of the legality of the 2017 ruling. During Smith’s litigation, CMS changed its Medicare coverage policy for CGMs. Prompted by several adverse district court rulings, CMS promulgated a formal rule in December 2021 classifying CGMs as durable medical equipment covered by Part B. But the rule applied only to claims for equipment received after February 28, 2022, so pending claims for equipment received prior to that date were not covered by the new rule. Considering the new rule and the Secretary’s confession of error, the district court in January 2022 remanded the case to the Secretary with instructions to pay Smith’s claims. The district court did not rule on Smith’s pending motions regarding her equitable relief claims; instead, the court denied them as moot. Smith appealed, arguing her equitable claims were justiciable because the 2017 ruling had not been fully rescinded. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Secretary that Smith’s claims were moot: taken together, the December 2021 final rule and the 2022 CMS ruling that pending and future claims for CGMs would be covered by Medicare deprived the Tenth Circuit jurisdiction for further review. View "Smith v. Becerra" on Justia Law