Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Becerra, et al.
The Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Indian Health Service (IHS) entered into a contract under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act for the Tribe to operate a federal healthcare program. Under the contract, the Tribe provided healthcare services to Indians and other eligible beneficiaries. In exchange, the Tribe was entitled to receive reimbursements from IHS for certain categories of expenditures, including “contract support costs.” The contract anticipates that the Tribe will bill third-party insurers such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers. The Tribe contended that overhead costs associated with setting up and administering this third-party billing infrastructure, as well as the administrative costs associated with recirculating the third-party revenue it received, qualified as reimbursable contract support costs under the Self-Determination Act and the Tribe’s agreement with the IHS. But when the Tribe attempted to collect those reimbursements, IHS disagreed and refused to pay. Contending it had been shortchanged, the Tribe sued the government. The district court, agreeing with the government’s reading of the Self-Determination Act and the contract, granted the government’s motion to dismiss. A divided panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reverse (for different reasons). Under either of the jurists' interpretations, the administrative expenditures associated with collecting and expending revenue obtained from third-party insurers qualified as reimbursable contract support costs. View "Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Becerra, et al." on Justia Law
Firestorm Pyrotechnics v. Dettelbach, et al.
Petitioner Firestorm Pyrotechnics, Inc. (“Firestorm”) sought review of a decision by the Acting Director (“Director”) of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF” or “Bureau”) revoking Firestorm’s license to import and sell fireworks. Firestorm challenged the revocation decision, maintaining the Director misapplied the willfulness standard in 27 C.F.R. § 771.42 and 27 C.F.R. § 771.5 and contending further the Director’s decision was unsupported by substantial evidence. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals discerned no error in the Director’s understanding and application of the willfulness standard. The Court found Firestorm made several contrary arguments, but none was persuasive. Furthermore, the Court found the Director's decision was supported by substantial evidence. View "Firestorm Pyrotechnics v. Dettelbach, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Government & Administrative Law
Balderas, et al. v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, et al.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a license to Interim Storage Partners to store spent nuclear fuel near the New Mexico border. New Mexico challenged the grant of this license, invoking the Administrative Procedure Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The Commission moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Objecting to the motion, New Mexico invoked jurisdiction under the combination of the Hobbs Act, and the Atomic Energy Act. The Tenth Circuit determined these statutes could combine to trigger jurisdiction only when the petitioner was an aggrieved party in the licensing proceeding. This limitation applied here because New Mexico didn’t participate in the licensing proceeding or qualify as an aggrieved party. "New Mexico just commented to the Commission about its draft environmental impact statement. Commenting on the environmental impact statement didn’t create status as an aggrieved party, so jurisdiction isn’t triggered under the combination of the Hobbs Act and Atomic Energy Act." The Court found the Nuclear Waste Policy Act governed the establishment of a federal repository for permanent, not temporary storage by private parties like Interim Storage. And even when an agency acts ultra vires, the Court lacked jurisdiction when the petitioner had other available remedies: New Mexico had other available remedies by seeking intervention in the Commission’s proceedings. So the Commission’s motion to dismiss the petition was granted for lack of jurisdiction. View "Balderas, et al. v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, et al." on Justia Law
Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al.
Citizen groups challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) environmental assessments (“EAs”) and environmental assessment addendum analyzing the environmental impact of 370 applications for permits to drill (“APDs”) for oil and gas in the Mancos Shale and Gallup Sandstone formations in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico. These challenges came after a separate but related case in which the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate five EAs analyzing the impacts of APDs in the area because BLM had failed to consider the cumulative environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). BLM prepared an EA Addendum to remedy the defects in those five EAs, as well as potential defects in eighty-one other EAs that also supported approvals of APDs in the area. Citizen Groups argued these eighty-one EAs and the EA Addendum violated NEPA because BLM: (1) improperly predetermined the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (2) failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals related to greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, water resources, and air quality. BLM disagreed, contending the challenges to some of the APDs were not justiciable because the APDs had not yet been approved. The district court affirmed the agency action, determining: (1) Citizen Groups’ claims based on APD’s that had not been approved were not ripe for judicial review; (2) BLM did not unlawfully predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (3) BLM took a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals. The Tenth Circuit agreed with BLM and the district court that the unapproved APDs were not ripe and accordingly, limited its review to the APDs that had been approved. Turning to Citizen Groups’ two primary arguments on the merits, the appellate court held: (1) BLM did not improperly predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum, but, even considering that addendum; (2) BLM’s analysis was arbitrary and capricious because it failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts from GHG emissions and hazardous air pollutant emissions. However, the Court concluded BLM’s analysis of the cumulative impacts to water resources was sufficient under NEPA. View "Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Rio Grande Foundation, et al. v. Oliver
Appellants Rio Grande Foundation (“RGF”) and Illinois Opportunity Project (“IOP”) were nonprofit advocacy groups challenging an amendment to New Mexico’s Campaign Reporting Act (“CRA”), which required groups spending over designated amounts on electioneering communications to state their identities on the materials and to disclose the identities of their donors to New Mexico’s Secretary of State (the “Secretary”). Appellants claimed these requirements burdened their First Amendment rights and chilled their planned speech in the 2020 election cycle. The district court dismissed the case at summary judgment for lack of standing, reasoning Appellants showed no injury-in-fact under the framework the Tenth Circuit laid out in Initiative and Referendum Institute v. Walker, 450 F.3d 1082 (10th Cir. 2006). After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the dismissal here in part, holding that RGF had standing to pursue its First Amendment challenge to the amended CRA’s disclosure requirement. The Court affirmed the dismissal of IOP’s claims, but on grounds different than those relied on by the district court. View "Rio Grande Foundation, et al. v. Oliver" on Justia Law
Citizens for Constitutional, et al. v. United States, et al.
Plaintiffs Citizens for Constitutional Integrity and Southwest Advocates, Inc. appealed the rejection of their challenges to the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), and Senate Rule XXII, the so-called Cloture Rule, which required the votes of three-fifths of the Senate to halt debate. The Stream Protection Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 93,066 (Dec. 20, 2016), heightened the requirements for regulatory approval of mining-permit applications. The Rule was promulgated by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (the Office) in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Within a month of the Stream Protection Rule taking effect on January 19, 2017, both Houses of Congress had passed a joint resolution disapproving the Rule pursuant to the CRA, and President Trump had signed the joint resolution into law. According to Plaintiffs, the repeal of the Rule enabled the approval of a 950.55-acre expansion of the King II Coal Mine (the Mine), located in La Plata County, Colorado, and owned by GCC Energy. Plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against the federal government and several high-ranking Department of the Interior officials in their official capacities (collectively, Defendants) seeking: (1) a declaration that the CRA and the Cloture Rule were unconstitutional and that the Stream Protection Rule was therefore valid and enforceable; (2) vacation of the approval of the King II Mine permit modification and an injunction against expanded mining activities authorized by the modification; and (3) attorney fees. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected plaintiffs' challenges to the CRA and held that they lacked standing to challenge the Cloture Rule. View "Citizens for Constitutional, et al. v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
Rocky Mountain Wild v. United States Forest Service, et al.
For years the parties in this case litigated the propriety of a proposed development in the Wolf Creek Ski Area—which the US Forest Service managed. The proposed development was a plan for highway access known as “the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project.” Plaintiff challenged this plan because of alleged environmental risks to the surrounding national forest. The highway-access litigation continued, but relevant here was a 2018 FOIA request Plaintiff submitted asking Defendant for “all agency records regarding the proposed Village at Wolf Creek Access Project.” Plaintiff’s request caused an enormous undertaking by Defendant. The statute instructed government agencies to use reasonable efforts to produce responsive records upon request. Beyond that, FOIA also exempted nine categories of records from public disclosure. Plaintiff requested and received voluminous records under FOIA, but claimed Defendants United States Forest Service (“USFS”) and United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) abused these statutory limitations to hide information about projects that harmed the environment. The district court rejected Plaintiff’s speculative theory and found USFS’s efforts to comply with Plaintiff’s FOIA request reasonable. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Rocky Mountain Wild v. United States Forest Service, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law
D.T. v. Cherry Creek School
In the fall of 2015, D.T. enrolled as a freshman at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, Colorado. During his time at Cherokee Trail, he suffered from depression and a general decline in academic performance. His mother regularly communicated with school officials regarding his well-being and coordinated in-school support. During the first semester of his junior year, D.T. was reported for making a school shooting threat. As a result, he was expelled from Cherokee Trail and the Cherry Creek School District (“the District”) initiated a special education assessment. In December 2017, the District concluded D.T. suffered from a Serious Emotional Disability and approved an individualized education program (“IEP”) to assist his learning. D.T. appealed a district court's judgment finding the District did not deny him access to a free and appropriate public education as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). D.T. asked the Tenth Circuit to conclude the District violated its obligation to identify, or “child find,” students with disabilities who required supplementary academic supports. The Tenth Circuit declined D.T.'s request, finding the District acted reasonably to preserve his access to the benefit of general education. "The District’s duty to assess and provide D.T. with special education services did not begin until his emotional dysfunction manifested in the school environment by way of his shooting threat." View "D.T. v. Cherry Creek School" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Criminal Law, Education Law, Government & Administrative Law
Courthouse News Service v. New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts, et al.
The defendants (collectively, the “New Mexico Courts”) appealed a district court’s entry of a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiff, Courthouse News Service (“Courthouse News”). Courthouse News was a news service that reports on civil litigation in state and federal courts across the country. The focus of the litigation here was on timely access to newly filed, non-confidential civil complaints in the state district courts of New Mexico. On July 30, 2021, Courthouse News filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the New Mexico Courts, seeking to “prohibit them preliminarily . . . from refusing to make newly-filed nonconfidential civil petitions available to the public and press until after such petitions are processed or accepted, and further directing them to make such petitions accessible to the press and public in a contemporaneous manner upon receipt.” The district court concluded that Courthouse News was entitled to a preliminary injunction enjoining the New Mexico Courts from withholding press or public access to newly filed, non-confidential civil complaints for longer than five business hours, but not to a preliminary injunction that provides pre-processing, on-receipt, or immediate access to such complaints. On appeal, the New Mexico Courts argued the district court erred in granting in part Courthouse News’ motion for preliminary injunction. After its review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Specifically, the Court affirmed the district court’s memorandum opinion and order to the extent that the district court: (1) declined to abstain from hearing this case; and (2) concluded that the First Amendment right of access attaches when a complaint is submitted to the court. However, the Court concluded the district court erred in imposing a bright-line, five-business-hour rule that failed to accommodate the state’s interests in the administration of its courts. Accordingly, the district court’s entry of a preliminary injunction was reversed, the preliminary injunction vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Courthouse News Service v. New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts, et al." on Justia Law
Olsen, et al. v. CIR
The issue this appeal presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on the denial of tax benefits relating to petitioner Preston Olsen's purchase of solar lenses. The benefits were only available if the taxpayer had a profit motive for the purchases. Olsen bought the lenses in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, through a program created by Neldon Johnson. Under the program, Johnson would use the lenses in a new system to generate electricity by heating a liquid to generate steam and drive a turbine. Johnson never finished the system; he had completed the lenses on only one tower and hadn’t decided whether those lenses would heat water, oil, or molten salt. Johnson funded the program through investors like Olsen who bought lenses from Johnson’s companies and leased the lenses to another of Johnson’s companies. Once the system began producing revenue, Johnson's company would pay Olsen’s company $150 per lens per year. But the system never generated any revenue. From 2009 to 2014, Olsen annually claimed depreciation deductions and solar energy credits on the lenses. These claims allowed the Olsens to pay little or no federal income taxes. "So the Olsens came out ahead even though they had never obtained any money from the leases." The tax court disallowed the benefits in part because it found Petitioner lacked a profit motive. Finding no reversible error in the tax court's decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Olsen, et al. v. CIR" on Justia Law
Posted in: Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Government & Administrative Law, Tax Law