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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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

by
Patrick G. was a seventeen-year-old boy with autism who qualified for special educational services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and who, since 2013, has been attending the Alpine Autism Center for school. In 2016, Harrison School District No. 2 (the “School District” or the “District”) proposed transferring Patrick from Alpine to a special program at Mountain Vista Community School allegedly tailored to Patrick’s needs. Plaintiffs-Appellants Patrick’s parents challenged this decision on Patrick’s behalf, first in administrative proceedings and then in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, alleging that the School District committed a host of violations in crafting an “individualized educational plan” (“IEP”) for Patrick in 2015 and 2016. After several years of litigation, the district court determined that the expiration of Patrick’s 2016 IEP rendered the Parents’ lawsuit moot. Significantly, the district court held several related issues - including the Parents’ request for attorney’s fees from the administrative proceedings, their argument that the School District had incorrectly reimbursed the Parents’ insurance provider instead of the Parents themselves, and their motion for a “stay put” injunction to keep Patrick in his current educational placement during the proceedings - were also moot. The Parents contended on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that the district court erred by failing to find their substantive IDEA claims fell into the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception to mootness. And, even if their substantive IDEA claims did not fall within this exception, they argued their requests for attorney’s fees, reimbursement, and a “stay put” injunction continued to present live claims. To the latter, the Tenth Circuit agreed and remanded to the district court to rule on the merits of these claims in the first instance. To all other issues, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Patrick G., et al. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

by
Cattle rancher Zane Odell was a cattle rancher who had a permit to graze his cattle in parts of San Juan County, Utah on land held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration. On the morning of April 1, 2017, Odell left his corral gate open so his cattle could graze on state and federal public land and then return home to get water on his property. That same evening, Odell noticed that his corral gate had been shut and latched. Odell called the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department and reported the situation, explaining that but for a 10-foot gap in his fence, the closure of the corral gate risked depriving his cattle of water. Odell and Sergeant Wilcox reviewed video footage from Odell’s trail camera which showed part of a SUV’s license plate number. The SUV belonged to plaintiff Rosalie Chilcoat and her husband. A few days after Odell reported the gate closure, Chilcoat and her husband were driving on the county road near Odell’s property. Odell and two other ranchers caught up to the couple and detained them by blocking the public roadway. Odell called the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department and was told Chilcoat and her husband should not be allowed to leave until the deputy arrived. While waiting for the deputy, Odell accused Chilcoat and her husband of criminal activity and threatened them with jail time. Chilcoat was ultimately held on criminal charges relating to the initial gate closure. The State of Utah elected not to defend the state court’s ruling. The Utah Court of Appeals reversed the state court’s probable cause determination, ultimately resulting in the dismissal with prejudice of all remaining criminal charges pending against Chilcoat. Chilcoat then sued Odell, Prosecutor Laws, and San Juan County in federal district court in Utah, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants, and a state-law assault claim against Odell. Considering the allegations in Chilcoat's proposed amended complaint, and viewing all non-conclusory allegations in the light most favorable to Chilcoat, the Tenth Circuit concluded she stated a plausible municipal liability claim against San Juan County. The district court erred by denying her proposed amended complaint as futile under Rule 15(a)(2). The district court's denial of her request for leave to amend was reversed. View "Chilcoat v. San Juan County, et al." on Justia Law

by
Appellants Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Candelas Glows/Rocky Flats Glows, Rocky Flats Right to Know, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association, and Environmental Information Network (EIN) Inc. (collectively, “the Center”) were organizations that challenged the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (the “Service”) 2018 decision to modify trails in the Refuge that were designated for public use. They sued the Service and others, claiming they failed to comply with various federal statutes and regulations, including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (“NEPA”) and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (“ESA”). The Center also moved for a preliminary injunction and for the district court to supplement the administrative record and consider evidence from outside the record. The district court denied the Center’s NEPA claims, dismissed its ESA claim for lack of standing, and denied its motions. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, et al. v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, et al." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-appellee James Nelson was seriously injured while riding his bicycle on a trail on Air Force Academy property in Colorado. He and his wife, Elizabeth Varney, sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Nelson sought damages for his personal injuries; Varney sought damages for loss of consortium. After several years of litigation, the district court ruled the government was liable for Nelson’s accident and injuries. The court based its decision on the Colorado Recreational Use Statute (“CRUS”). The court awarded Nelson more than $6.9 million, and awarded Varney more than $400,000. In addition to the damages awards, the district court also ordered the government to pay plaintiffs' attorney’s fees. CRUS contained an attorney’s-fees-shifting provision, allowing prevailing plaintiffs to recover their fees against defendant landowners. Providing an exception to the United States’s sovereign immunity, the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) provided that “[t]he United States shall be liable for such fees and expenses to the same extent that any other party would be liable under the common law or under the terms of any statute which specifically provides for such an award.” The district court concluded that the government had to pay for plaintiffs' fees. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the district court erred in ordering the government to pay the attorney's fees after holding the CRUS qualified under the EAJA as “any statute which specifically provides for” an attorney’s fees award. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Nelson, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law