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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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

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Julie Reed sued her former employer, KeyPoint Government Solutions, LLC (“KeyPoint”), for violating the federal False Claims Act. Her qui tam claims alleged KeyPoint violated the Act by knowingly and fraudulently billing the government for work that was inadequately or improperly completed. Reed also claimed that KeyPoint fired her in retaliation for her efforts to stop KeyPoint’s fraud. The issues this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether: (1) the district court erred in granting summary judgment in KeyPoint's favor on Reed's qui tam claims; and (2) whether the district court erred in dismissing Reed's retaliation claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). According to Reed, KeyPoint’s management not only knew of systemic violations but also encouraged them by pressuring investigators to rush investigations to maximize revenue. Alarmed by the abuses, Reed voiced her concerns within the company. Reed’s efforts to curb the violations failed. Eventually, KeyPoint fired Reed. About a month later, Reed and her counsel contacted the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and discussed the abuses she claimed to have witnessed while at KeyPoint. At the government’s urging, Reed sued KeyPoint in January 2014. Her operative complaint raised three qui tam claims and a retaliation claim. The qui tam claims alleged that KeyPoint violated the False Claims Act by: (1) falsely certifying that it performed complete and accurate investigations, (2) falsely certifying that it did proper case reviews and quality-control checks, and (3) falsifying corrective action reports. Reed’s retaliation claim alleged that KeyPoint fired her for trying to stop it from violating the False Claims Act. The Tenth Circuit determined Reed pled sufficient facts to survive a motion for summary judgment with respect to the False Claims Act, but not enough to survive dismissal of her retaliation claim. The Tenth Circuit concluded Reed failed to show KeyPoint knew of her protected activities such that the company was on notice of her efforts to stop its alleged violations. View "United States ex rel. Reed v. Keypoint Government Solutions" on Justia Law

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John and Deanne Roth appealed a Tax Court decision that imposed a 40% penalty for the Roths’ “gross misstatement” of the value of a conservation easement they donated to a land trust in Colorado. On appeal, the Roths largely argued that, before imposing the penalty, the IRS failed to obtain written, supervisory approval for its “initial determination” of a penalty assessment as required by I.R.C. 6751(b). The Roths also sought a deduction in 2007 for repayments they made on the proceeds from their sale of tax credits generated by their donation of a separate conservation easement in 2006. The Tenth Circuit disagreed as to both counts and therefore affirmed the Tax Court. View "Roth v. CIR" on Justia Law

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WildEarth Guardians appealed after the United States Forest Service published a 2014 environmental assessment (“EA”) to the Tennessee Creek Project, and subsequently issued a Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact. The Service undertook the project for a stated purpose of protecting from insects, disease, fire, improvement of wildlife habitat and to maintain watershed conditions. One of the conclusions in the EA determined none of these actions would adversely impact the Canadian lynx. WildEarth Guardians alleged the EA failed to adequately assess the Project’s effects on lynx and by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). The district court upheld the agency action. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the Agency’s actions, finding the Service satisfied its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) obligations when it reasonably concluded in its EA that under a worst-case scenario the lynx would not be adversely affected by the Project and reasonably concluded that an EIS was not necessary. View "WildEarth Guardians v. Conner" on Justia Law

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With issues common to three appeals consolidated for review, the Government filed suit to collect unpaid taxes. In Appeal No. 17-4083, the Government appealed a district court’s determination that its state-law contract claim was time-barred because it was subject to a Utah state six-year state statute of limitations. The Tenth Circuit concluded the state-law claim was governed by the ten-year statute of limitations set out in 26 U.S.C. 6502(a) because the Government was proceeding in its sovereign capacity. Appeal No. 17-4093 was a cross-appeal of the district court’s ruling that the Government’s transferee-liability claim, brought pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 6324(a)(2), was timely. Here, the Tenth Circuit concluded the transferee-liability claim was timely filed because the limitations period applicable to the 6324(a)(2) transferees was the same as the limitations period applicable to the estate. In Appeal No. 18-4036, the Government appealed the district court’s order awarding attorney’s fees to Appellees. The Tenth Circuit concluded Appellees were not entitled to attorney’s fees because the Government’s position in this litigation was substantially justified. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Blue Valley Hospital, Inc., (“BVH”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of its action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) terminated BVH’s Medicare certification. The next day, BVH sought an administrative appeal before the HHS Departmental Appeals Board and brought this action. In this action, BVH sought an injunction to stay the termination of its Medicare certification and provider contracts pending its administrative appeal. The district court dismissed, holding the Medicare Act required BVH exhaust its administrative appeals before subject matter jurisdiction vested in the district court. BVH acknowledged that it did not exhaust administrative appeals with the Secretary of HHS prior to bringing this action, but argued: (1) the district court had federal question jurisdiction arising from BVH’s constitutional due process claim; (2) BVH’s due process claim presents a colorable and collateral constitutional claim for which jurisdictional exhaustion requirements are waived under Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976); and (3) the exhaustion requirements foreclosed the possibility of any judicial review and thus cannot deny jurisdiction under Bowen v. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, 476 U.S. 667 (1986). The Tenth Circuit disagreed and affirmed dismissal. View "Blue Valley Hospital v. Azar" on Justia Law

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Kyle Lindsey and Zayne Mann were seriously injured when Lindsey lost control of his utility vehicle on a gravel road after a brief police pursuit. They claimed the accident was caused by an overzealous officer who should not have initiated a chase over a minor traffic infraction, alleging violations of both their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by Officer Brandon Hyler, the City of Webbers Falls, and several other municipal officials, based on Officer Hyler’s conduct during the pursuit as well as his previous training. Lindsey and Mann also sought relief under Oklahoma law. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on all federal claims and concluded that Officer Hyler was entitled to qualified immunity. Because the record could not credibly sustain plaintiffs’ allegations, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court appropriately dismissed their claims. View "Lindsey v. Hyler" on Justia Law