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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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James Lyle worked as a coal miner for roughly 28 years. After retiring, he sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. An administrative law judge concluded that Lyle was entitled to benefits, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board affirmed. Energy West Mining Company, Lyle's former employer, filed a petition for review of the Board’s decision, arguing primarily the administrative law judge lacked authority to award benefits, and the Review Board couldn’t have remedied the problem by appointing an administrative law judge. The Tenth Circuit rejected most of Energy West’s arguments but agreed with its challenge to the administrative law judge’s analysis of an opinion by Dr. Joseph Tomashefski, Jr. Because Energy West did not invoke the Appointments Clause in proceedings before the Benefits Review Board, the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider the validity of the administrative law judge’s appointment. However, in its analysis, the administrative law judge discounted Dr. Tomashefski’s medical opinion for a reason unsupported by the record. The Court thus vacated the award of benefits and remanded to the Board for reconsideration of Dr. Tomashefski’s opinion. View "Energy West Mining Company v. Lyle" on Justia Law

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After Sandy City, Utah’s city council adopted an ordinance making it illegal for any person “to sit or stand, in or on any unpaved median, or any median of less than 36 inches for any period of time,” appellant Steve Ray Evans received four citations for violating the Ordinance when he stood on narrow or unpaved medians. Evans filed suit against the City and many of its officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the Ordinance was facially invalid because it violated the First Amendment right to free speech. Evans also asked the district court to grant his request for a preliminary injunction. The City filed a motion for summary judgment, and after a hearing, the district court denied Evans’ preliminary injunction and granted summary judgment in favor of the City because the Ordinance was a valid time, place, or manner restriction on speech. Evans appealed, arguing the district court incorrectly applied the time, place, or manner standard and wrongly granted summary judgment because the City did not satisfy its evidentiary burden. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment. View "Evans v. Sandy City" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Kane County, Utah sued the United States under the Quiet Title Act, which was “the exclusive means by which adverse claimants c[an] challenge the United States’ title to real property.” Kane County alleged that it held title to fifteen rights-of-way under Section 8 of the Mining Act of 1866, more commonly known as “Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477.” In this case’s third trip before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the issue this time was Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s (SUWA) challenge to the district court’s denial of its second motion to intervene. SUWA filed this second motion after the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s determinations on the width of rights-of-way on three roadways. Responding to the issues raised, the Tenth Circuit concluded: SUWA had standing to intervene as a party defendant; SUWA’s second motion to intervene was reviewable de novo and not for an abuse of discretion; and SUWA met all requirements to intervene as of right under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court therefore reversed the district court’s denial of SUWA’s second motion to intervene. View "Kane County, Utah v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Jose Luis Eliseo Arias-Quijada entered a conditional guilty plea to illegal reentry into the United States. He reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his Motion to Assert a Defense of Duress. In this appeal, Arias-Quijada challenged the denial of his motion, arguing he presented sufficient evidence to create a triable issue on the affirmative defense of duress. He specifically challenged the district court’s conclusion that he failed to make a bona fide effort to surrender to immigration authorities once the alleged duress lost its coercive force. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying Arias-Quijada's motion. View "United States v. Arias-Quijada" on Justia Law

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Big Horn Coal Company petitioned the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for review of a Department of Labor Benefits Review Board (“Board”) decision awarding benefits to Edgar Sadler, a then-living miner, under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA or “the Act”). The BLBA’s statute of limitations required miners to file claims for benefits within three years of receiving a medical determination of total disability due to pneumoconiosis. In interpreting this statute of limitations, the Secretary of the Department of Labor issued 20 C.F.R. 725.308(c) (2010), which provided that the time limits in section 932(f) “are mandatory and may not be waived or tolled except upon a showing of extraordinary circumstances.” The issue this appeal presented turned on the validity of the Secretary’s regulation in section 725.308(c) and the interpretation and application of the “extraordinary circumstances” test contained therein. Sadler received a total disability diagnosis in 2005, but he did not file the claim at issue here until 2010. Despite that delay, an administrative law judge (ALJ) awarded benefits to Sadler upon finding that “extraordinary circumstances” existed to warrant tolling the statute of limitations. Big Horn Coal argued there were no "extraordinary circumstances" sufficient here to justify tolling the statute of limitations. The Tenth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction because Big Horn Coal failed to exhaust that issue before the Board. View "Big Horn Coal Company v. Sadler" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Harrison School District No. 2 asks us to reverse the district court’s ruling that it violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by failing to provide Plaintiff-Appellee Steven R.F. with a free appropriate public education. The Tenth Circuit concluded this case was moot “[b]ecause the status quo remained in effect from the time [the parents] challenged the school district’s attempt to modify the IEP, they de facto received the relief they originally sought . . . ; the modified IEP never took effect.” And there was no evidence that the asserted IDEA violation was likely to occur again. View "R.F. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerns the propriety of the timing of deductions by a Subchapter S corporation for expenses paid to employees who participate in the corporation’s employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Taxpayers Stephen and Pauline Petersen and John and Larue Johnstun were majority shareholders in Petersen Inc. (the Corporation), a Subchapter S corporation. The disputed liabilities arose from Taxpayers’ income-tax returns for 2009 (offset in small part by corrections in their favor for their 2010 returns). Because the Corporation was a Subchapter S corporation, it was a pass-through entity for income-tax purposes; taxable income, deductions, and losses were passed through to its shareholders. Taxpayers appealed the United States Tax Court’s decision holding them liable for past-due taxes arising out of errors in their income-tax returns caused by premature deductions for expenses paid to their Corporation’s ESOP. Taxpayers contended the Tax Court misinterpreted the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and, even if its interpretation was correct, miscalculated the amounts of alleged deficiencies. The Commissioner agreed a recalculation was necessary. The Tenth Circuit affirmed Taxpayers’ liability but remanded for recalculation of the deficiencies. View "Petersen v. CIR" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Stephen Hamer resided in Trinidad, Colorado, confined to a motorized wheelchair, and a qualified individual with a disability under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“RA”). He did not own a car or otherwise use public transportation. Instead, he primarily used the City’s public sidewalks to move about town. Plaintiff contended many of the City’s sidewalks and the curb cuts allowing access onto those sidewalks did not comply with Title II of the ADA and section 504 of the RA. Plaintiff filed an ADA complaint with the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) informing the government about the state of the City’s sidewalks, and continued to lodge informal ADA and RA complaints at City Council meetings over several months. Apparently in response to Plaintiff’s multiple complaints and the results of a DOJ audit, City officials actively began repairing and amassing funding to further repair non-compliant sidewalks and curb cuts. Even so, Plaintiff nonetheless filed suit against the City for violations of Title II of the ADA and section 504 of the RA, seeking a declaratory judgment that the City’s sidewalks and curb cuts violated the ADA and RA, injunctive relief requiring City officials to remedy the City’s non-compliant sidewalks and curb cuts, monetary damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. The district court granted summary judgment to the City on statute-of-limitations grounds, finding the applicable “statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the existence and cause of the injury which is the basis of his action.” The Tenth Circuit held a public entity violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act each day that it fails to remedy a noncompliant service, program, or activity. As a result, the applicable statute of limitations did not operate in its usual capacity as a firm bar to an untimely lawsuit. “Instead, it constrains a plaintiff’s right to relief to injuries sustained during the limitations period counting backwards from the day he or she files the lawsuit and injuries sustained while the lawsuit is pending.” Because the district court applied a different and incorrect standard, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hamer v. City of Trinidad" on Justia Law

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In 1988, defendant United States Forest Service designated a 2,380 acre portion of the Manti-La Sal National Forest’s highest elevations, namely the summits and ridges of Mt. Peale, Mt. Mellenthin, and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz, as the Mt. Peale Research Natural Area (RNA). In June 2013, the Utah Wildlife Board approved UDWR’s “Utah Mountain Goat Statewide Management Plan.” Among other things, UDWR’s plan anticipated the release of a target population of 200 mountain goats into the La Sal Mountains adjacent to the Manti-La Sal National Forest for the express purposes of hunting and viewing. The FS, concerned the goats might adversely affect the habitat of the higher alpine regions of the national forest, asked the Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources (UWDR) to delay implementation of its plan while the FS in coordination with UDWR studied the plan’s expected impact on the national forest and the RNA. UDWR rejected the FS’s request for an outright delay, and indicated it would begin implementing its plan by transplanting a small number of goats into the mountains, but would work cooperatively with the FS to assess impacts and develop a strategy to prevent overutilization of the habitat. In September 2013, UDWR released twenty mountain goats on State lands adjacent to the Manti-La Sal National Forest. A year later, UDWR released an additional fifteen mountain goats on the same State lands. The goats moved into the La Sal Mountains’ higher elevations, wallowing and foraging within the national forest and more particularly within the Mt. Peale RNA. Plaintiff Grand Canyon Trust demanded the FS: (1) prohibit UDWR from introducing additional mountain goats onto State lands adjacent to the national forest; (2) regulate UDWR’s occupancy and use of the national forest by requiring it to obtain special use authorization before releasing additional mountain goats on State lands; and (3) immediately remove the mountain goats already in the national forest. Determining UDWR did not release the goats on federal lands, the FS elected to "wait and see" before initiating any action against UDWR, and to "gather and evaluate data sufficient to determine whether action was warranted." GCT thereafter filed for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Tenth Circuit upheld the district court's dismissal of GCT's complaint, concurring with the trial court that GCT "cleverly amalgamated federal law in an attempt to find some pathway to judicial review." The Tenth Circuit concluded GCT failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and affirmed dismissal of the complaint. View "Utah Native Plant Society v. U.S. Forest Service" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in granting more than 300 applications for permits to drill horizontal, multi-stage hydraulically fracked wells in the Mancos Shale area of the San Juan Basin in northeastern New Mexico. Appellants, four environmental advocacy groups) sued the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Secretary of the BLM, alleging that the BLM authorized the drilling without fully considering its indirect and cumulative impacts on the environment or on historic properties. The district court denied Appellants a preliminary injunction, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed that decision in 2016. After merits briefing, the district court concluded that the BLM had not violated either NHPA or NEPA and dismissed Appellants’ claims with prejudice. Appellants appealed, and this time, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The Tenth Circuit determined that, as to five EAs, Appellants have demonstrated that the BLM needed to, but did not, consider the cumulative impacts of water resources associated with 3,960 reasonably foreseeable horizontal Mancos Shale wells. The BLM’s issuance of FONSIs and approval of APDs associated with these EAs was therefore arbitrary and capricious and violated NEPA. The matter was remanded for the district court to vacate the FONSIs and APDs associated with those five environmental analyses; the Tenth Circuit affirmed as to all other issues. View "Dine Citizens v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law