Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
F & H Coatings, LLC (“F&H”), a commercial and industrial painting contractor, contracted with Boardman L.L.C. (“Boardman”), a manufacturer of steel pressure vessels and tanks, to sandblast and paint a number of vessels at Boardman’s manufacturing facility in Wichita, Kansas. During the performance of this contract, a fatal accident at the Boardman facility took the life of Toney Losey, an employee of F & H: Losey and his F & H supervisor, Robert Patrick, were preparing a 12,000 pound vessel for sandblasting when the vessel slipped from its support racks and crushed Losey. F & H characterized this event as a “freakish, unforeseeable, and still-unexplained accident.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) learned of the accident the same day, and sent a Compliance Safety and Health Officer to inspect the scene. The OSHA officer also interviewed witnesses and employees of F & H and Boardman. Upon the officer’s recommendation, OSHA issued a citation to F & H for a violation of the General Duty Clause, 29 U.S.C. 654(a)(l), because F & H’s employee was “exposed to struck-by hazards in that the pressure vessel was not placed on a work rack which prevented unintentional movement.” F&H contested the citation. Approximately eight months after the hearing, the ALJ issued a written order, finding that the accident that killed Losey resulted from an obviously hazardous condition of which F & H was aware. F&H appealed OSHA’s final order, asking the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside a $7,000 penalty imposed. Finding that the ALJ’s findings were supported by substantial evidence, the Tenth Circuit affirmed OSHA’s final order and the penalty issued. View "F & H Coatings v. Acosta" on Justia Law

by
Several years after a tank car spill accident, appellants Larry Lincoln and Brad Mosbrucker told their employer BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”) that medical conditions attributable to the accident rendered them partially, permanently disabled and prevented them from working outdoors. BNSF removed appellants from service as Maintenance of Way (“MOW”) workers purportedly due to safety concerns and because MOW work entailed outdoor work. With some assistance from BNSF’s Medical and Environmental Health Department (“MEH”), Appellants each applied for more than twenty jobs within BNSF during the four years following their removal from service. After not being selected for several positions, Appellants filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), accommodation request letters with BNSF, and complaints with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (“OSHA”). Following BNSF’s rejection of their applications for additional positions, Appellants filed a complaint raising claims for: (1) discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (2) failure to accommodate under the ADA; (3) retaliation under the ADA; and (4) retaliation under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”). Relying on nearly forty years of Tenth Circuit precedent, the district court concluded that filing an EEOC charge was a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit and it dismissed several parts of Appellants’ ADA claims for lack of jurisdiction. Appellants also challenged the vast majority of the district court’s summary judgment determinations on the merits of their claims that survived the court’s exhaustion rulings. After polling the full court, the Tenth Circuit overturn its precedent that filing an EEOC charge was a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit, thus reversing the district court’s jurisdictional rulings. Appellants’ ADA discrimination and ADA failure to accommodate claims relative to some of the positions over which the district court determined it lacked jurisdiction were remanded for further proceedings. With respect to the district court’s summary judgment determinations on the merits of appellants’ claims that survived the exhaustion rulings, the Tenth Circuit was unable to reach a firm conclusion on the position-based ADA discrimination and failure to accommodate claims. The Court concluded the district court’s dismissal of the FRSA claims were appropriate. Therefore, the Court reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Lincoln v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law

by
The issue at the center of this decades-long water rights case involved the Pojoaque Basin of New Mexico. A settlement was reached among many of the parties involved. The district court overruled the objectors and entered a final judgment. The objecting parties appealed, arguing the settlement was contrary to law because it altered the state-law priority system, and the New Mexico Attorney General could not agree to enforce the settlement without the state legislature's approval. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined, as provided in the agreement, the State Engineer promulgated rules for the administration of water rights in the Basin. Those rules explicitly provided that non-settling parties “have the same rights and benefits that would be available without the settlement agreement” and that those rights “shall only be curtailed . . . to the extent such curtailment would occur without the settlement agreement.” However, though the settlement preserved their rights, it did not confer the objector-appellants standing to challenge it. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the case for dismissal of the objections for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "New Mexico v. Aamodt" on Justia Law

by
Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town (“AQTT”) appeals several orders entered in favor of the United States, the Secretary and Associate Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (“DOI”), the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (the “Creek Nation”). AQTT was a federally recognized Indian Tribe organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (“OIWA”). AQTT filed a complaint against the United States and several federal officials (collectively, the “Federal Defendants”) alleging property known as the Wetumka Project lands were purchased under OIWA for the benefit of AQTT. It requested a declaratory judgment and an order compelling the government to assign the Wetumka Project lands to AQTT and provide AQTT with a full and complete accounting of related trust funds and assets. On the Federal Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT’s claim for land assignment and denied the motion as to an accounting of trust assets. The parties then promptly filed cross-motions for summary judgment. All were denied. The case was remanded to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (“IBIA”) for further development of the trust accounting issue. After the IBIA decided that the government did not hold any funds in trust for AQTT, the case returned to district court. AQTT filed an amended complaint, adding the Creek Nation as a defendant and arguing that the IBIA’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. The Creek Nation moved to dismiss, and that motion was granted on sovereign immunity grounds. In the amended complaint, AQTT also attempted to revive its land assignment claim based on newly discovered evidence. The district court again dismissed the claim. AQTT and the Federal Defendants then renewed their crossmotions for summary judgment. The district court upheld the IBIA’s decision. In granting the government’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT’s claims for assignment of the Wetumka Project lands for failure to join the Creek Nation, an indispensable party because the IBIA determined the Creek Nation, not AQTT, was the legal beneficiary of the funds related to the Wetumka Project lands. In affirming the district court, the Tenth Circuit concluded the IBIA’s determination was supported by substantial evidence and was not arbitrary or capricious: the deeds of conveyance for the Wetumka Project lands plainly placed the land in trust for the Creek Nation, and did not create a vested beneficial interest in any other entity. View "Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Marcia Eisenhour worked for 24 years as a court administrator for the Weber County Justice Court. In 2008, she complained to the county attorney about sexual harassment by Judge Craig Storey, the only judge of that court. The matter was referred to Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, which found no misconduct. Eisenhour then went public in 2009, and the press reported her allegations. Several months later, three Weber County Commissioners, defendants Craig Deardon, Kenneth Bischoff, and Jan Zogmaister, voted to close the Justice Court and merge it with a similar court in another county. This eventually left Eisenhour without a job. Eisenhour sued Storey, Weber County, and the three commissioners who voted to close the Justice Court, raising a variety of claims. The district court granted summary judgment against Eisenhour on all claims, and she appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part. At the trial on the remanded claims, the jury rendered verdicts for Eisenhour on the equal-protection harassment claim against Storey and the whistleblower claim against the County but found against her on the First Amendment retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. The district court then granted a motion by the County for a new trial on the whistleblower claim, and it sua sponte ordered a new trial on the retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. At the retrial on those claims the court granted the commissioners’ motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) on the retaliation claim against them, and the jury found for the County on the whistleblower and retaliation claims against it. Storey raised two issues on appeal: (1) the denial of his motion for judgment as a matter of law because the evidence against him was insufficient; and (2) the admission into evidence of a poem he had written concerning Eisenhour. Eisenhour raised three issues: (1) the judge who presided at the first trial should have recused himself after the jury rendered its verdict in that trial; (2) her second trial was unfair because of the district court’s evidentiary rulings; and (3) at the second trial the district court should not have granted the commissioners a judgment as a matter of law but should have let the claim go to the jury. The Tenth Circuit rejected all challenges by both parties except dismissal of a punitive-damages claim. View "Eisenhour v. Weber County" on Justia Law

by
Chester Bailey Jr. was employed by the Independent School District No. 69 of Canadian County Oklahoma (“the School District”) as Director of Athletics from 2009 to 2016. Throughout his career, Bailey received positive evaluations, indicating that he “exhibited strong leadership abilities,” “demonstrat[ed] a high degree of integrity,” and was “an asset to the district.” Bailey's nephew, Dustin Graham, pled guilty in 2014 to various state charges largely stemming from video recordings he made of women in the bathroom of his apartment without their consent. Graham also pled guilty to a single count of manufacturing child pornography based on a video he recorded of a minor. There was considerable media coverage of Graham’s arrest, trial, and sentencing. During Graham’s sentencing proceedings in 2014, Bailey wrote a letter to the sentencing judge on Graham’s behalf. The School District does not issue its employees official letterhead but it was common practice for individuals to produce their own letterhead using the school logo and their titles. Bailey had created such a letterhead and used a sheet to write to Graham’s sentencing judge. The letter’s header contained the logo for the school district, and gave the address of the Department of Athletics and Bailey’s job title. More than thirty individuals wrote letters to the sentencing judge on Graham’s behalf, including his local state representative. In 2017, the Superintendent of Schools for the School District received a letter expressing concern that Bailey used School District letterhead in support of an individual convicted of a child pornography offense. The Superintended decided to recommend Bailey's termination, citing loss of trust in Bailey's judgment, for using the school letterhead to request leniency for Graham. After a due process hearing before the Board of Education, the Board terminated Bailey's employment. Bailey filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the School District and Superintendent, alleging wrongful termination in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment. Concluding that Bailey’s speech did not relate to a matter of public concern, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the School District and the Superintendent. Bailey timely appealed. The issue this case presented on appeal to the Tenth Circuit was whether a letter written by a public employee, seeking a reduced sentence for his relative, speech on a matter of public concern for the purposes of a First Amendment "Garcetti/Pickering" inquiry. The Court determined it was, and reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgement favoring the School District. Nonetheless, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to school superintendent Sean McDaniel because the law was not previously clearly established on this issue. View "Bailey v. Independent School District No. 69" on Justia Law

by
Appellants, the Navajo Nation and its wholly-owned government enterprise the Northern Edge Navajo Casino (together, the “Tribe” or “Nation”), entered into a state-tribal gaming compact with New Mexico under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”). The Tribe agreed not only to waive its sovereign immunity for personal-injury lawsuits brought by visitors to its on-reservation gaming facilities, but also to permit state courts to take jurisdiction over such claims. Harold and Michelle McNeal were plaintiffs in such a state-court action against the Tribe. Mr. McNeal allegedly slipped on a wet floor in the Northern Edge Navajo Casino. This incident constituted the basis for the McNeals’ tort claims against the Nation for negligence, res ipsa loquitur, and loss of consortium. The Tribe moved to dismiss the McNeals’ complaint, arguing that the state court lacked jurisdiction because neither IGRA nor Navajo law permitted the shifting of jurisdiction to a state court over such personal-injury claims. The state court rejected that motion. In response, the Tribe sought declaratory relief in federal court on the basis of the same arguments. The district court granted summary judgment for the McNeals, holding that IGRA permitted tribes and states to agree to shift jurisdiction to the state courts and that Navajo law did not prohibit such an allocation of jurisdiction. Along with the jurisdictional issue, the parties also disputed: (1) whether IGRA permitted an Indian tribe to allocate jurisdiction over a tort claim arising on Indian land to a state court; and (2) assuming that IGRA did allow for such an allocation, whether the Navajo Nation Council (“NNC”) was empowered to shift jurisdiction to the state court under Navajo Law. The Tenth Circuit determined that IGRA, under its plain terms, did not authorize an allocation of jurisdiction over tort claims of the kind at issue here. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded with instructions to grant the declaratory relief sought by the Nation. View "Navajo Nation v. Dalley" on Justia Law