Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Friends of Animals v. Bernhardt, et al.
Animal rights organization Friends of Animals served a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) seeking disclosure of form 3-177s submitted by wildlife hunters and traders seeking to import elephant and giraffe parts. FWS disclosed the forms with redactions. Most relevant here, it withheld the names of the individual submitters under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C), which prevent disclosure of information when a privacy interest in withholding outweighs the public interest in disclosure, as well as information on one Form 3-177 under Exemption 4, which prevents the disclosure of material that is commercial and confidential. Friends of Animals challenged these redactions in the district court, which granted summary judgment in favor of FWS, upholding the redactions. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of FWS as to the withholdings in the Elephant Request under Exemptions 6 and 7(C) and as to the withholdings under Exemption 4. The Court affirmed summary judgment as to the withholdings in the Giraffe Request. View "Friends of Animals v. Bernhardt, et al." on Justia Law
Baker, et al. v. Brown, et al.
This case arose from the cancellation of long-term-care Medicaid benefits for two claimants when an Oklahoma agency concluded that the claimants’ resources exceeded the regulatory cap for eligibility. One claimant, Idabelle Schnoebelen died, mooting her claim. The eligibility of the other claimant, Nelta Rose, turned on whether her resources included a 2018 promissory note. In 2017 and 2018, Rose loaned money to her daughter-in-law in exchange for three promissory notes. The daughter-in-law provided the first two promissory notes in 2017 (before Rose applied for Medicaid benefits). The Oklahoma Department of Human Services initially approved Rose for Medicaid, declining to regard the 2017 promissory notes as resources. In 2018, the daughter-in-law provided the third promissory note. But the Department of Human Services concluded that the 2018 promissory note: (1) was a resource because the payment to the daughter-in-law did not constitute a bona fide loan; and (2) was a deferral that turned the 2017 promissory notes into resources. The extra resources put Rose over the eligibility limit for Medicaid, so the Department of Human Services cancelled Rose’s benefits. A district court concluded that the agency’s conclusion did not conflict with federal law. In the Tenth Circuit's view, however, a reasonable factfinder could disagree. Summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Baker, et al. v. Brown, et al." on Justia Law
Berdiev v. Garland
Petitioner Tojiddin Berdiev faced immigration removal proceedings since 2007. After more than a decade of petitions, motions, and appeals, the Board of Immigration Appeals denied Berdiev’s untimely motion to reopen removal proceedings (Berdiev’s second motion), then denied Berdiev’s motion to reconsider. In each of its two orders, the Board held that: (1) Berdiev was not entitled to equitable tolling of his untimely motion to reopen; and (2) exercise of the Board’s sua sponte reopening authority was unwarranted. Berdiev argued to the Tenth Circuit that the Board abused its discretion in making the first determination and relied on an erroneous legal premise in making the second. On equitable tolling, the Court concluded the Board did not abuse its discretion. On the exercise of the Board’s sua sponte reopening authority, however, the Court concluded the Board at least partly relied on a legally erroneous rationale; the Court could not determine whether the Board would have reached the same outcome independently based solely on valid reasons. Accordingly, the Court granted Berdiev’s petitions for review, vacated the Board’s two orders solely as to the sua sponte reopening decision, and remanded to the Board to reconsider that decision. View "Berdiev v. Garland" on Justia Law
Brown v. Austin, et al.
This appeal stemmed from Alfred Brown’s lawsuit under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. secs. 701–796l, against his former employer, the Defense Health Agency. In April 2010, the Agency hired Brown as a healthcare fraud specialist (HCFS) assigned to the Program Integrity Office (PIO) in Aurora, Colorado. Shortly after joining the Agency, Brown told his supervisors that he had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder and other panic and anxiety disorders related to his military service. When Brown’s symptoms worsened in September 2011, he was hospitalized and received in-patient treatment for one week. The Agency approved Brown’s request for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment for the Agency, determining that there were no triable issues on Brown’s claims that the Agency failed to accommodate his mental-health disabilities and discriminated against him based on those disabilities. Brown appealed, challenging the district court’s rulings that: (1) his requests for telework, weekend work, and a supervisor reassignment were not reasonable accommodations; and (2) he failed to establish material elements of his various discrimination claims. The Tenth Circuit found no reversible error: (1) granting Brown’s telework and weekend-work requests would have eliminated essential functions of his job, making those requests unreasonable as a matter of law; (2) Brown did not allege the limited circumstances in which the Agency would need to consider reassigning him despite the fact that he performed the essential functions of his position with other accommodations; (3) the Court declined Brown’s invitation to expand those limited circumstances to include reassignments that allow an employee to live a “normal life;” and (4) Brown did not allege a prima facie case of retaliation, disparate treatment, or constructive discharge. Summary judgment for the Agency was affirmed. View "Brown v. Austin, et al." on Justia Law
Seminole Nursing Home v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue
When Seminole Nursing Home, Inc. failed to pay $61,916.19 in federal employment taxes due for 2013, the IRS provided notice to Seminole of its intent to issue a levy to collect these unpaid taxes plus penalties and interest. Seminole challenged the validity of a Tax Code regulation that restricts economic hardship to individual taxpayers who fail to pay delinquent taxes after notice and demand. Seminole contended the economic-hardship exception should be applied to all taxpayers, including corporations. The United States Tax Court rejected the contention on the ground that the regulation was a reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. The Home appealed, but agreeing with the Tax Court, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Seminole Nursing Home v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law
Animal Legal Defense Fund, et al. v. Kelly, et al.
The Kansas Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act (the “Act”) criminalized certain actions directed at an animal facility without effective consent of the owner of the facility and with intent to damage the enterprise of such facility. The Act provided that consent was not effective if induced through deception. Animal Legal Defense Fund (“ALDF”) wished to perform investigations by planting ALDF investigators as employees of animal facilities to document abuse of animals that ALDF would then publicize. Because investigators would be willing to lie about their association with ALDF, ALDF feared its investigations would run afoul of the Act. ALDF therefore took preemptive action and sued the Governor of Kansas, Laura Kelly, and the Attorney General of Kansas, Derek Schmidt, in their official capacities, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the ground that the Act violated the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted both motions in part, determining ALDF had standing to challenge only three subsections of the Act, Title 47, sections 1827(b), (c), and (d) of the Kansas Statutes Annotated. The district court held these provisions were unconstitutional. Thereafter, ALDF moved for a permanent injunction against enforcement of the relevant subsections of the Act. The district court granted its request. Kansas appealed both the order on the cross-motions for summary judgment and the order granting a permanent injunction, arguing the district court erred in holding the relevant subsections of the Act unconstitutional. After its review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: "Subsections (b), (c), and (d) of the Act concern speech because they include deception as a possible element and are viewpoint discriminatory because they apply only to persons who intend to damage the enterprise of an animal facility. Because the 'intent to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility' requirement, is a broad element that does not delineate protected from unprotected speech, Kansas must satisfy strict scrutiny. It has not attempted to do so." View "Animal Legal Defense Fund, et al. v. Kelly, et al." on Justia Law
Janny v. Gamez, et al.
Mark Janny was released from jail on parole in early 2015. His parole officer, John Gamez, directed Janny to establish his residence of record at the Rescue Mission in Fort Collins, Colorado, and to abide by its “house rules.” After arriving at the Mission, Janny learned he had been enrolled in “Steps to Success,” a Christian transitional program involving mandatory prayer, bible study, and church attendance. When Janny objected, citing his atheist beliefs, he alleged both Officer Gamez and Jim Carmack, the Mission’s director, repeatedly told him he could choose between participating in the Christian programming or returning to jail. Less than a week later, Carmack expelled Janny from the Mission for skipping worship services, leading to Janny’s arrest on a parole violation and the revocation of his parole. Janny brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit against Gamez, Carmack, and the Mission’s assistant director, Tom Konstanty, alleging violations of his First Amendment religious freedom rights under both the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. The district court granted summary judgment to all three defendants, finding Janny had failed to: (1) adduce evidence of an Establishment Clause violation by Gamez; (2) show Gamez violated any clearly established right under the Free Exercise Clause; or (3) raise a triable issue regarding whether Carmack and Konstanty were state actors, as required to establish their liability under either clause. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s order as to Gamez and Carmack, and affirmed as to Konstanty. The Court found the evidence created a genuine dispute of material fact regarding his claims under both the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. "And because the basic right to be free from state-sponsored religious coercion was clearly established under both clauses at the time of the events, Officer Gamez is not entitled to qualified immunity on either claim." Furthermore, the Court held the evidence was sufficient for a jury to find Carmack was a state actor, as required to impose section 1983 liability on private parties. However, because no facts linked Konstanty to Gamez, the evidence was legally insufficient for a jury finding that Konstanty acted under color of state law. View "Janny v. Gamez, et al." on Justia Law
Rio Grande Foundation v. City of Santa Fe, New Mexico, et al.
In 2015, the City of Santa Fe, New Mexico amended its Campaign Code to enact disclosure requirements for campaign spending. Plaintiff Rio Grande Foundation was a non-profit organization based in Albuquerque that has engaged in political advocacy since 2000. In 2017, it participated in a Santa Fe election, advocating against a ballot measure concerning a proposed soda tax. Combined spending by advocacy groups on each side of the measure amounted to several million dollars. Plaintiff’s expenditures totaled an estimated $7,700, most of which was attributable to the production of a YouTube video and a website. Those expenditures gave rise to a letter from a City Assistant Attorney informing Plaintiff that it appeared Plaintiff would need to file a campaign finance statement. The day after Plaintiff received that letter, the Santa Fe Ethics and Campaign Review Board (“ECRB”) received a citizen complaint lodged against Plaintiff, triggering an ECRB investigation. Because production of the YouTube video and website was donated in-kind, Plaintiff assumed that it did not need to disclose any information under the Code. The ECRB determined otherwise, citing Plaintiff for failure to comply with the Campaign Code. No penalties or fines were imposed, however. Plaintiff was simply ordered to file the required paperwork. Plaintiff did not think it or advocacy groups like it should have to endure the disclosure requirements in the future. It brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against Defendants, seeking only prospective relief: namely, a declaration that section 9-2.6 of the Campaign Code was unconstitutional, both on its face and as applied to Plaintiff, insofar as it was enforced against speech concerning ballot measures. The Tenth Circuit determined Plaintiff lacked standing to challenge the Campaign Code and its enforcement by the ECRB, and dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Rio Grande Foundation v. City of Santa Fe, New Mexico, et al." on Justia Law
North Mill Street v. City of Aspen, et al.
North Mill Street, LLC (“NMS”) owned commercial property in Aspen, Colorado. It sued the City of Aspen and the Aspen City Council (collectively, the “City”) in federal court, alleging the City’s changes to Aspen’s zoning laws and denial of a rezoning application caused a regulatory taking of NMS’s property without just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The district court concluded NMS’s action was not ripe under Article III of the Constitution because NMS did not obtain a final decision from the City on how the property could be developed. The court thus dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "North Mill Street v. City of Aspen, et al." on Justia Law
Vote Solar v. City of Farmington
In 2017, the City of Farmington (Defendant) adopted an ordinance that imposed additional charges on customers who generate their own electricity. Defendant argued that change reflected the true cost imposed by these customers on the electric grid; Plaintiffs argued the charges amounted to price discrimination in violation of FERC rules. Defendant moved to dismiss Vote Solar and several other plaintiffs for lack of standing. Sua sponte, the district court requested supplemental briefing concerning its statutory subject-matter jurisdiction. The parties, operating under the assumption that the "as-implemented" versus "as-applied" framework governed subject-matter jurisdiction: Plaintiffs argued they were lodging an as-implemented claim and Defendant characterized the claim as as-applied. Due to its interpretation of PURPA’s jurisdictional provisions, the district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), finding that because Plaintiffs did not argue Defendant had made no effort to implement FERC’s price discrimination rules, its claim did not fall within the district court’s jurisdiction. It also deemed Defendant’s motion regarding standing moot. Plaintiffs appealed. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding that this case was one of an “as-implemented” claim. "In this case, the district court rejected that established distinction, introducing a particularized and novel interpretation of PURPA’s jurisdictional scheme under which federal courts have jurisdiction only if a utility fails to make any reasonable effort to implement a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rule." The Tenth Circuit declined to adopt the district court's decision in this case. View "Vote Solar v. City of Farmington" on Justia Law