Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Rocky Mountain Wild appealed a district court’s determination of law that Defendant-Appellee U.S. Forest Service had no duty under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to disclose unseen documents in possession of third-party contractors. The question on appeal was whether the documents are “agency records” within the meaning of FOIA. The Tenth Circuit determined the documents were not created, obtained, or controlled by the Forest Service and thus were not “agency records” subject to FOIA. View "Rocky Mountain Wild v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Donald Gutteridge, Jr. appealed a district court order granting summary judgment to defendants Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, and several individuals on two claims arising from injuries suffered by D.C., a child who was then in Oklahoma’s foster-care system. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on Gutteridge’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim. Likewise, the Court agreed Gutteridge’s state-law tort claim was barred to the extent it arose from D.C.’s placement in two different foster homes. But to the extent Gutteridge’s state-law claim instead arose from the alleged failure to timely remove D.C. from one of those homes and the alleged failure to provide D.C. with timely medical care for injuries she suffered there, the placement exemption did not apply. View "Gutteridge v. Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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A jury rejected an employment-discrimination claim against JetStream Ground Services, Inc. filed by several Muslim women and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who alleged that JetStream discriminated against the women on religious grounds by refusing to hire them because they wore hijabs. Plaintiffs’ sole argument on appeal was that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to impose a sanction on JetStream (either excluding evidence or instructing the jury that it must draw an adverse inference) because it disposed of records contrary to a federal regulation purportedly requiring their preservation. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion: plaintiffs’ argument that the exclusion sanction should have been applied was waived in their opening statement at trial. And the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give an adverse-inference instruction after Plaintiffs conceded that destruction of the records was not in bad faith. View "EEOC v. JetStream Ground Services" on Justia Law

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Brandon Barrick brought an action under the False Claims Act on behalf of the United States, alleging his former employer Parker-Migliorini International (PMI) illegally smuggled beef into Japan and China. At the time of the scheme, China banned all imports of U.S. beef, and Japan imposed heightened standards, under which certain types of U.S. beef would have been banned. Barrick alleged PMI cheated the government out of the inspection fees that would have been paid if PMI had complied with federal law. In Barrick’s view, an “obligation” to pay the government arose when the USDA was informed that meat was being exported to a country with inspection standards higher than those in the United States. Thus, the government should have been paid for the inspections that would have occurred if PMI had accurately reported the destination countries. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with Barrick's reasoning: "[a]n established duty is one owed at the time the improper conduct occurred, not a duty dependent on a future discretionary act." Here, the obligation would not have arisen absent a third-party meat supplier’s independent wrongful conduct. This was because the meat supplier supplied the destination country to the USDA, thus controlling the type of inspection performed. But PMI did not use meat suppliers who were eligible to export beef to Japan. So, for an obligation to arise, the supplier would have had to report an accurate - and illegal - destination country to the USDA, even though the supplier was not eligible to export to that country. This conduct does not create an established duty under the Act. Because the Court did not find Barrick could adequately plead the existence of such an “obligation” by PMI as the Act required, it affirmed the district court’s denial of Barrick’s motion for leave to amend. View "United States ex rel. Barrick v. Parker-Migliorini Int'l" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Ray Carney appeals from the district court’s dismissal of his claims under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Carney, an Oklahoma state inmate appearing pro se, was convicted of sexually abusing a child in 2010. Upon his release in January 2018, Carney will be required to register as an aggravated sex offender. Under Oklahoma law, this means he will have to acquire a driver’s license that indicates he is a sex offender (“license requirement”). Failing to obtain such a license results in cancellation, and continued use of a cancelled license is a misdemeanor. Carney argued on appeal: (1) the license requirement violated the First Amendment because it was compelled speech; (2) that the license requirement constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and (3) the license requirement was a harsher punishment than those similarly situated to him, namely, non-aggravated sex offenders and others who must register after committing various violent crimes and methamphetamine-related crimes, all of which was a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s dismissal of Carney’s claims, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Carney v. Oklahoma Dep't of Pub. Safety" on Justia Law

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Defendant Rural Water District No. 4, Douglas County, Kansas (“Douglas-4”) appealed a district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff City of Eudora, Kansas (“Eudora”) in this declaratory judgment action. Douglas-4 and Eudora disputed which entity could provide water service to certain areas near Eudora (the “Service Area”). In 2002, Douglas-4 was the water service provider for the Service Area, but was running low on water. Douglas-4 decided to purchase water from an adjacent rural water district, “Johnson-6.” The project required laying new pipes and building additional pumping stations at an estimated cost of $1.25 million. To finance the project, Douglas-4 received initial approval for a $1.25 million loan from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) with a fixed rate and twenty-year term. That same year, Eudora annexed the Service Area. The annexation positioned Eudora to potentially assume Douglas-4’s water customers. Understanding that it was facing a potential loss of customers, Douglas-4’s governing board reduced its KDHE loan to $1 million and sought the remaining $250,000 from a private, USDA-guaranteed loan. Douglas-4 believed that such a loan would come with federal protection under 7 U.S.C. 1926(b), which prevented municipalities from assuming water customers while a USDA-guaranteed loan was in repayment. Douglas-4 eventually secured a USDA-guaranteed loan for $250,000 from First State Bank & Trust and proceeded with the Johnson-6 project. Both the KDHE loan and the USDA-guaranteed loan had twenty-year repayment terms, beginning in 2004 and ending in 2024. Between 2004 and 2007, Douglas-4 and Eudora entered into negotiations in an attempt to resolve the disputed Service Area, but the discussions were not successful. Douglas-4 filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas to prevent Eudora from taking its water customers. The jury returned a special verdict in favor of Douglas-4, concluding the loan guaranteed by the federal government was necessary, and Eudora appealed. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "City of Eudora v. Rural Water District No. 4" on Justia Law

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The question presented in this appeal for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether Petitioner Juan Lucio-Rayos’s municipal theft conviction qualified as a crime involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”), which would have made him ineligible for cancellation of removal. Lucio-Rayos was convicted under a divisible municipal code provision that set forth several different theft offenses, some of which qualified as CIMTs and some of which did not. Applying a modified categorical approach, the Tenth Circuit determined it was not possible to tell which theft offense was the basis of Lucio-Rayos’s conviction. The Court held it was Lucio-Rayos’s burden to establish his eligibility for cancellation of removal, and because the record was inconclusive to this end, the Court upheld the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”)’s determination that Lucio-Rayos did not show that he was eligible for cancellation of removal. Furthermore, the immigration judge (“IJ”) did not deprive Lucio-Rayos of due process by refusing to recuse from hearing his case. View "Lucio-Rayos v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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The question presented in this appeal for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether Petitioner Juan Lucio-Rayos’s municipal theft conviction qualified as a crime involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”), which would have made him ineligible for cancellation of removal. Lucio-Rayos was convicted under a divisible municipal code provision that set forth several different theft offenses, some of which qualified as CIMTs and some of which did not. Applying a modified categorical approach, the Tenth Circuit determined it was not possible to tell which theft offense was the basis of Lucio-Rayos’s conviction. The Court held it was Lucio-Rayos’s burden to establish his eligibility for cancellation of removal, and because the record was inconclusive to this end, the Court upheld the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”)’s determination that Lucio-Rayos did not show that he was eligible for cancellation of removal. Furthermore, the immigration judge (“IJ”) did not deprive Lucio-Rayos of due process by refusing to recuse from hearing his case. View "Lucio-Rayos v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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Defendant James Woods, a detective in the Cottonwood Heights Police Department, was informed by Utah’s Unified Fire Authority (“UFA”) that medications, including opioids and sedatives, were missing from several UFA ambulances. Detective Woods accessed a state database and searched the prescription drug records of 480 UFA employees in an effort to “develop suspect leads of those who have the appearance of Opioid dependencies.” Consistent with Utah law at the time, Woods did not obtain a search warrant before accessing the Database. Based on the information Woods obtained from the Database search, he developed suspicions about Plaintiffs Ryan Pyle and Marlon Jones. Neither Plaintiff, however, was ever prosecuted for the thefts from the ambulances. Plaintiffs brought separate lawsuits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, each challenging Defendants’ conduct as violative of the Fourth Amendment and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). In both suits, the district court dismissed the claims against Defendant Woods, concluding Woods was entitled to qualified immunity because the law governing warrantless access to prescription drug information by law enforcement was not clearly established. The district court also dismissed the FCRA claims because Defendants’ actions fit within an exemption set out in the Act. In Jones’s suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against the city of Cottonwood Heights with prejudice because Jones’s complaint failed to state a claim for municipal liability plausible on its face. In Pyle’s suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against Cottonwood Heights without prejudice, concluding Pyle failed to notify the Utah Attorney General of those claims as required by Rule 5.1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Pyle and Jones each appealed. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1291, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgments. View "Pyle v. Woods" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Greggory Owings sustained an on-the-job injury, for which he received long-term disability benefits by defendant United of Omaha Life Insurance Company (United), under the terms of a group insurance policy issued by United to Owings’ employer. Owings disagreed with, and attempted without success to administratively challenge, the amount of his disability benefits. He then filed suit against United in Kansas state court, but United removed the action to federal district court, asserting that the federal courts had original jurisdiction over the action because the policy was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The district court ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of United. Owings appealed. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review of this matter that United was arbitrary and capricious in determining the date that Owings became disabled and, in turn, in calculating the amount of his disability benefits. Consequently, the Court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of United and remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in favor of Owings. View "Owings v. United of Omaha Life" on Justia Law