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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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In the case involving BP America Production Company and Debra Anne Haaland, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling upholding the agency order requiring BP to pay nearly $700,000 in correctly assessed royalty underpayments. BP argued that the Federal Oil and Gas Royalty Simplification and Fairness Act shielded it from these payments. However, the court rejected BP's interpretation of the Act. The court found that BP's obligation was a single monetary obligation of $905,348.24, not each of the 443 constituent royalty obligations. Therefore, BP did not meet the statutory condition of less than $10,000 for relief from liability for payments. The court also rejected BP's argument that the Secretary's "deemed" final decision lacked a reasoned basis and thus violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The court found that the Secretary's deemed final decision adopted the ONRR Director's decision on the issues raised. View "BP America Production Company v. Davis, et al." on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the plaintiff, Robert Hampton, sued his former employer, the Utah Department of Corrections (UDC), alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act. Hampton, who was born without the second and fifth digits on both hands, claimed that UDC refused to accommodate his disability, treated him disparately based on that disability, and retaliated against him for requesting accommodation.Hampton, who had previously worked as a corrections officer in Arizona, was hired by UDC in 2016. He was required to qualify on UDC-approved firearms, including a Glock 17 handgun. Hampton requested an accommodation to use a different handgun, a Springfield 1911, due to difficulties he encountered in handling the Glock due to his disability. This request was denied, and Hampton was later terminated from his position.The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Hampton's failure-to-accommodate claim and remanded for further proceedings. The court found that Hampton’s request for a different handgun could be considered a reasonable accommodation under the Rehabilitation Act, and that the district court erred in determining that using a Glock handgun was an essential function of Hampton’s job based solely on the UDC’s firearms policy.However, the court affirmed the district court’s grants of summary judgment on Hampton’s claims of disparate treatment and retaliation. It found that Hampton had not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that his disability was a determining factor in his termination or that his reassignment to a different position constituted an adverse employment action. View "Hampton v. Utah Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff John Frank sued Wyoming state and local officials in federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending Wyoming's electioneering statute violated the First Amendment, facially and as applied. Frank, a Wyoming citizen, and alleging the statute unconstitutionally prevented him from handing out campaign literature and displaying bumper stickers on his car within the 300-foot buffer zone. Frank also claimed the statute was overbroad because it violated the First Amendment rights of third parties who could not display campaign signs on private property falling within the statutory buffer zones. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The court granted each in part, striking down some parts of the electioneering statute and upholding the rest. Specifically, the district court held the ban on electioneering within 300 feet of polling places on election day was unconstitutional, as was the ban on bumper stickers within the election day and absentee period buffer zones. But the district court upheld the statute’s prohibition on electioneering within 100 feet of absentee polling places. It also concluded there was an insufficient factual basis to consider Plaintiff’s overbreadth claim. After its review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The Court upheld the electioneering statute against Frank’s First Amendment challenge to the size of, and conduct proscribed within, the 300-foot election-day buffer zone. The Court reversed and remanded on Frank’s constitutional challenge to the absentee buffer zone, including the electioneering conduct proscribed within that zone. Finally, the Court remanded for the district court to adjudicate in the first instance Frank’s facial overbreadth challenge. View "Frank, et al. v. Wyoming Secretary of State, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Van Sant & Co. (Van Sant) owned and operated a mobile home park in Calhan, Colorado, for a number of years. In 2018, Van Sant began to publicly explore the possibility of converting its mobile home park to an RV park. In October 2018, Calhan adopted an ordinance that imposed regulations on the development of new RV parks, but also included a grandfather clause that effectively exempted the two existing RV parks in Calhan, one of which was connected to the grandparents of two members of Calhan’s Board of Trustees (Board) who voted in favor of the new RV park regulations. Van Sant subsequently filed suit against Calhan, several members of its Board, the owners of one of the existing RV parks, and other related individuals. asserting antitrust claims under the Sherman Act, as well as substantive due process and equal protection claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants successfully moved for summary judgment. Van Sant appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Van Sant & Co. v. Town of Calhan, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Melonie Staheli appealed the denial of her application for Social Security disability benefits. She applied for benefits in 2018, alleging disability beginning March 28, 2018. In 2005, an automobile accident caused Staheli to suffer facial damage and other injuries. In March 2015, she suffered a stroke. After the stroke, she reported frequent headaches, memory loss, and vision problems. Medical professionals also diagnosed her with mental health issues including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Psychologists determined her IQ scores fell within the lowest ten percent of the population. Staheli was eventually terminated from her medical records job because she was unable to perform her work duties. She later obtained part-time work, and by the time of her benefits hearing, she was working 20 hours per week. An ALJ determined Staheli was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s acceptance of the ALJ’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Staheli v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

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In a May 2022 final rule, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a revision to Colorado’s State Implementation Plan (SIP) certifying Colorado’s existing, EPA-approved Nonattainment New Source Review (NNSR) permit program regulating new or modified major stationary sources of air pollution in the Denver Metro-North Front Range area met the requirements for attaining the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. The Center for Biological Diversity challenged the final rule on procedural and substantive grounds. Procedurally, the Center argued the EPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by failing to include the state regulations that comprised Colorado’s permit program in the rulemaking docket during the public-comment period. And substantively, the Center argued the EPA acted contrary to law when it approved Colorado’s SIP revision because Colorado’s permit program excluded all “temporary emissions” and “emissions from internal combustion engines on any vehicle” in determining whether a new or modified stationary source was “major” and therefore subject to the permit process. The Tenth Circuit found the EPA’s notice of proposed rulemaking was adequate under the APA, but agreed with the Center that the EPA acted contrary to law in allowing Colorado to exclude all temporary emissions under its permit program. The Court found the federal regulation the EPA relied on in approving this exclusion plainly did not authorize such an exclusion. But the Center identified no similar problem with the EPA allowing Colorado to exclude emissions from internal combustion engines on any vehicle. The Court therefore granted the Center’s petition in part, vacated a portion of the EPA’s final rule, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Deer Creek Water Corporation filed suit against Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust (together, the City) seeking a declaratory judgment that the City could not provide water service to a proposed development on land owned by Thomas and Gina Boling (together, the developers), who later intervened in the action. In support, Deer Creek invoked 7 U.S.C. § 1926(b), a statute that generally prohibited municipalities from encroaching on areas served by federally indebted rural water associations, so long as the rural water association made water service available to the area. The district court granted the developers’ motion for summary judgment after concluding that Deer Creek had not made such service available, and Deer Creek appealed. Although the Tenth Circuit rejected Deer Creek’s arguments related to subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court agreed that the district court erred in finding it dispositive that Deer Creek’s terms of service required the developers to construct the improvements necessary to expand Deer Creek’s existing infrastructure to serve the proposed development, reasoning that because Deer Creek itself would not be doing the construction, it had not made service available. The Court found nothing in the statute or in caselaw to support stripping a federally indebted rural water association of § 1926(b) protection solely because it placed a burden of property development on the landowner seeking to develop property. The district court therefore erred in placing determinative weight on Deer Creek’s requirement that the developers construct the needed improvements. The judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings on whether Deer Creek made service available. View "Deer Creek Water Corporation, et al. v. City of Oklahoma City, et al." on Justia Law

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Victims of the 2018 Roosevelt Fire in Wyoming sued the United States Forest Service, alleging it negligently delayed its suppression response. The Forest Service moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it was not liable for the way it handled the response to the fire. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a government actor could not be sued for conducting a so-called “discretionary function,” where the official must employ an element of judgment or choice in responding to a situation. The government contended that responding to a wildfire required judgment or choice, and its decisions in fighting the fire at issue here met the discretionary function exception to the Act. The district court agreed and dismissed the suit. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals also concluded the Forest Service was entitled to the discretionary function exception to suit, and the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the complaint. View "Knezovich, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Hugo Abisai Monsalvo Velazquez petitioned for review of a Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) denial of his motion for reconsideration of the BIA’s dismissal of his motion to reopen proceedings. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied review because Velazquez failed to voluntarily depart or file an administrative motion within 60 calendar days, the maximum period provided by statute. 8 U.S.C. § 1229c(b)(2). View "Monsalvo Velazquez v. Garland" on Justia Law

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After the Department of the Interior amended regulations in 2016, the American Petroleum Institute (API) challenged several of the regulations that governed the calculation of royalties for oil and natural gas produced on federal lands. The district court rejected these challenges at summary judgment, and API appealed. Because API did not show that the agency acted arbitrarily and capriciously in enacting the challenged provisions of the 2016 regulations, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "American Petroleum, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al." on Justia Law