Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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A Settlement Agreement sought to end a longstanding, complex dispute dating from 2008. In 2008, environmental groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (collectively, “SUWA”) challenged six resource management plans (“RMPs”) and associated travel management plans (“TMPs”) adopted by the United States Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”). Six other parties intervened as respondents, including the State of Utah and several counties in Utah (collectively, “Utah”). When BLM, SUWA, and multiple intervenors entered into a settlement and sought to dismiss the case in January 2017, Utah challenged the settlement. Utah contended, among other arguments, that the Settlement Agreement illegally codified interpretative BLM guidance into substantive rules, impermissibly binds the BLM to a past Administration’s policies, infringes valid federal land rights (known as “R.S. 2477 rights”), and violated a prior BLM settlement. The district court disagreed and approved the Settlement Agreement. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit, Utah sought to reverse the district court for primarily the same issues raised at trial. The Tenth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction over the claims and dismissed. View "Southern Utah Wilderness v. Burke" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Audubon Society of Greater Denver sought review of the Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of a project to store more water in the Chatfield Reservoir in Colorado. Audubon argued the Corps’ review and approval of the project failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. The district court denied the petition for review after concluding that the Corps’ decision was not arbitrary or capricious. Audubon also moved to supplement the administrative record. The district court denied the motion because it found that the administrative record sufficiently informed the Corps’ analysis. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Audubon Society v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Omega Forex Group LC (Omega), appearing by and through partner Robert Flath (Flath), appealed a district court decision affirming two Notices of Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment (FPAA) issued by the Internal Revenue Service to Omega. The two FPAAs, on the basis of fraud at the partnership level, eliminated large losses reported by Omega on its tax returns for years 1998 and 1999, and imposed penalties on Omega. Flath was an endodontist in private practice in Utah. At some point in 1997 or 1998, one of the endodontists in Flath’s practice suggested that Flath meet with Dennis Evanson, an “expert in options trading and general business organization and planning, tax planning and asset protection.” Evanston was Omega’s managing partner. Through their business arrangement, Flath would make contributions or investments in Omega or other entities controlled by Evanston. Evanson, in exchange for Flath’s agreed payments, “manufactured fictitious transactions to conceal income [for Flath] and create apparent [tax] deductions [for Flath].” For the years at issue here, Flath or his endodontist practice would claim pass-through losses from Omega. Flath was not completely forthcoming with his tax accountant. In 2005, a grand jury indicted Evanson and other individuals related to Omega. In February 2008, Evanson was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, tax evasion, and assisting in the filing of false tax returns. Omega’s FPAAs were upheld. Flath, on behalf of Omega, raised three issues on appeal: (1) whether the district court erred in holding that the FPAAs issued by the IRS to Omega were not barred by the applicable statute of limitations; (2) even assuming the district court applied the proper statute of limitations, whether it incorrectly applied the legal standards for determining whether Flath had fraudulent intent as to his personal tax returns; and (3) whether the district court erred in determining the asserted fraud penalty at the partnership level. The Tenth Circuit rejected all of these arguments and affirmed the district court’s decision. View "Omega Forex Group v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Laurie Exby-Stolley sued her former employer, the Board of County Commissioners of Weld County, Colorado (the County), under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She alleged the County had failed to accommodate her disability, resulting in the loss of her job. The jury returned a verdict for the County. Exby-Stolley appealed, arguing: (1) the district court improperly instructed the jury that she needed to prove she had suffered an adverse employment action; (2) the district court refused to instruct the jury on a claim of constructive discharge or allow her to argue constructive discharge in closing argument; and (3) the district court misallocated the burden of proof in its undue-hardship jury instruction. The Tenth Circuit found no errors and affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Exby-Stolley v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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Charles Payan appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of United Parcel Service (“UPS”) in relation to his claims for racial discrimination and retaliation arising under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981, as well as his state law claims for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Payan identified himself as Hispanic and worked for UPS since 1991. UPS uses the “Ready Now” list to determine candidates for promotions, so Payan’s removal from the list meant that he could no longer be considered for promotions. Charles Martinez, Payan's direct supervisor, continued thereafter to rate Payan’s promotion status as “Retain at Current Level,” meaning he believed Payan needed more time to develop before being promoted. After Payan’s downgrade, two UPS employees with similar credentials were promoted to Security Division Managers, positions that Payan wanted but was not eligible for in light of his promotion status downgrade. In November 2012, and in response to the recommendations of Martinez, UPS put Payan through a Management Performance Improvement Process (“MPIP”), designed to “help employees who are not performing well go through a formalized training with their manager to help them improve their skill sets so they could perform effectively and eliminate whatever those deficiencies are.” At some point, UPS determined Payan was not meeting the plan’s requirements. Shortly thereafter, Payan filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Payan alleged that he had been subjected to harassing and degrading behavior from Martinez and that his non-Hispanic coworkers were not treated in such a way. He also alleged that UPS retaliated against him by placing him on an MPIP. The EEOC ultimately dismissed Payan’s charge of discrimination and issued him a right-to-sue letter. Finding no reversible error in the district court's grant of summary judgment to UPS, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Payan v. United Parcel Service" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (“ODRS”) appealed a district court’s affirmance of an arbitration decision rendered under the Randolph-Sheppard Act (the “RSA”). The statute authorized designated state agencies such as ODRS to license and assign blind vendors to operate vending facilities on federal property; it also established an arbitration scheme to resolve disputes arising from this program. In accordance with the statute, the Department of Education (“DOE”) convened an arbitration panel (the “Panel”) to hear the grievances of David Altstatt, a blind vendor, challenging ODRS’s selection of another blind vendor, Robert Brown, for a particular vending assignment. Both Mr. Altstatt and Mr. Brown had applied for the assignment. The Panel found for Altstatt and ordered ODRS to remove Brown from the disputed assignment, appoint Altstatt in Brown’s place, and pay damages and attorney fees to Altstatt. ODRS brought suit to vacate the Panel’s decision, which the Randolph-Sheppard Act subjectd to judicial review as a final agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”). Altstatt intervened as a defendant and counterclaimant, requesting that the court affirm the arbitration decision. DOE participated in the litigation only to the extent of filing the administrative record of the Panel proceedings. The district court entered judgment in favor of Altstatt and ordered ODRS to comply with the Panel’s decision. ODRS then appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision with respect to the Panel’s award of injunctive relief in the form of Brown’s removal and Altstatt’s appointment to the disputed assignment, but reversed as to the Panel’s award of damages and attorney fees. View "Tyler v. United States Dept. of Educ." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Diane Smith, a former employee of the Pointe Frontier assisted living facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming, filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was unlawfully terminated by Pointe Frontier in 2014 in retaliation for filing a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in 2012. Finding that Smith had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, the district court dismissed her claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and, in the alternative, found that there was no genuine issue of material fact and granted summary judgment for Defendant. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, and remanded this case with instructions to vacate the order and dismiss the suit without prejudice. View "Smith v. Cheyenne Retirement Investors" on Justia Law

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Jason Williams and Foreclosure Connection, Inc. (“FCI”) appealed the district court’s judgment in favor of the Secretary of Labor. FCI was a Utah company that bought real estate, renovated homes, and rented or resold properties. Williams was the manager and part owner of FCI, responsible for hiring and firing decisions. Jack Erickson was FCI’s foreman. Mychal Barber Sr. and his teenaged son, Mychal Scott Barber Jr., began doing construction work for FCI in the summer of 2015. The Barbers became dissatisfied with working conditions at FCI, and in particular, with the company’s failure to pay overtime wages. On July 7, 2015, they submitted a complaint to the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor (“DOL”), alleging that FCI’s failure to pay overtime wages violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The following morning, Erickson told the Barbers not to report to work because there was not enough work for them to do. Later that day, DOL investigator Sheffield Keith met with Williams at FCI’s offices, requesting certain records, including information on FCI’s employees. Williams responded that FCI did not have any employees, and that all of its workers were independent contractors. Later that night, the Barbers called Erickson, who told them they were terminated. Erickson explained that Williams blamed the Barbers for reporting the company to DOL. On July 15, an employee surreptitiously recorded a meeting Williams held with his workers. Williams instructed the group to refuse to cooperate in DOL’s investigation. He also circulated independent contractor agreements to the workers, requested that they sign the agreements but leave them undated, and told them to claim they could not remember when they signed. FCI submitted contractor agreements to DOL, including an agreement for Barber Sr. with what appeared to be a forged signature. In September 2015, DOL filed a complaint alleging that FCI had obstructed its investigation and retaliated against its employees, including the Barbers. Following a bench trial, the district court ruled in favor of DOL. It imposed a permanent injunction, awarded $3,530.23 in back pay to Barber Jr. plus an equal amount of liquidated damages, and awarded $80,992.55 in back pay to Barber Sr. plus an equal amount of liquidated damages. Defendants timely appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the DOL. View "Acosta v. Foreclosure Connection" 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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Appellant Michael Bacon appeals the district court’s denial of his post-conviction motion under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g) for the return of seized property that allegedly went missing from the physical custody of state officials while federal charges were pending. State officials seized property in Appellant’s possession at the time of his arrest, including a fake mustache; a black wig; numerous items of clothing; a bank robbery demand note; multiple wallets, knives, lighters, bags, and keys; the title to a vehicle; and a small container with a crystalline substance within it that tested positive for meth. While Appellant’s state charges were still pending, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on five counts of bank robbery. Federal officials asked the state officials to hold Appellant’s seized property for use as evidence in the federal case. Thereafter, Appellant entered a guilty plea in the state prosecution that resolved all of the state charges against him. State officials allegedly released some of the property seized from Appellant, specifically, a wallet and the keys and title to a van, to his ex-wife. Following the expiration of Appellant’s time for appeal, defense counsel went to the Salt Lake City Police Department to retrieve Appellant’s property for him. Several items were returned to him. However, Appellant alleged there was a major discrepancy between what had been seized and what was turned over to counsel by state officials. Following a hearing, the court denied the Rule 41(g) motion for two reasons: (1) Appellant had other adequate remedies at law, including state causes of action and a pending federal section 1983 civil action Appellant had already filed regarding the disposition of his seized property; and (2) the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to grant monetary relief for any missing property. Finding no reversible error in the district court decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Bacon" on Justia Law