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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Plaintiff Samantha Gerson was allegedly sexually abused when she was 15 years old by an employee (the Perpetrator) at Logan River Academy, a residential treatment facility in Logan, Utah. She filed suit against Logan River a decade later in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, from which the case was transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Utah. Logan River moved to dismiss on the ground that the suit was barred by Utah’s applicable statute of limitations. Gerson responded that the suit was timely under California law. The district court applied California’s choice-of-law doctrine, determined that Utah’s statute of limitations governed, and granted the motion to dismiss. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal. View "Gerson v. Logan River Academy, et al." on Justia Law

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Kendall Morgan, a former deputy sheriff for LeFlore County, conducted a traffic stop of plaintiff-appellee Chad Osterhout. During the traffic stop, Morgan struck Osterhout in the face and kicked him twice in the ribs. According to Morgan, Osterhout was trying to flee; Osterhout maintained he remained still with his hands raised. Osterhout sued Morgan and the Board of County Commissioners of LeFlore County, Oklahoma. The jury attributed liability to Morgan and the Board, awarding Osterhout $3 million in compensatory damages against both defendants, and $1 million in punitive damages against Morgan. Morgan moved for a new trial or remittitur of damages. The district court remitted the compensatory damages to $2 million, but denied the motion for a new trial. Both defendants appealed. The Board and Mr. Morgan argue that the district court abused its discretion by using a verdict form with a single total for compensatory damages. And the Board argued: (1) the district court erred in denying summary judgment because the notice had been defective and Morgan’s alleged force would have fallen outside the scope of his employment; (2) the jury acted inconsistently by assessing punitive damages and finding that Morgan had acted within the scope of his employment; (3) the verdict against the Board conflicted with the clear weight of the evidence; and (4) the award of compensatory damages was grossly excessive. Morgan argued: (5) the district court should have granted a new trial based on opposing counsel’s misconduct; (6) the compensatory damages were grossly excessive and unsupported by the evidence; and (7) the punitive damages were grossly excessive. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the trial court judgment. View "Osterhout v. Board of County Commissioners, et al." on Justia Law

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Texas resident Gerald Hamric joined a church group on an outdoor recreation trip to Colorado. The church group hired Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. (“WEI”) to arrange outdoor activities. Before the outdoor adventure commenced, WEI required each participant to complete a “Registration Form” and a “Medical Form.” On the first day, WEI led the church group on a rappelling course. In attempting to complete a section of the course that required participants to rappel down an overhang, Hamric became inverted. Attempts to rescue Hamric proved unsuccessful, and he fell and died. Alicia Hamric sued WEI for negligence. WEI moved for summary judgment, asserting the Registration Form and the Medical Form contained a release of its liability for negligence. A magistrate judge first declined to grant leave to amend the complaint due to Ms. Hamric’s failure to (1) sustain her burden under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) because the deadline for amendments had passed; and (2) make out a prima facie case of willful and wanton conduct as required by Colorado law to plead a claim seeking exemplary damages. Next, the magistrate judge concluded WEI was entitled to summary judgment, holding the liability release was valid under both Colorado law and Texas law. Finally, the magistrate judge denied as moot Ms. Hamric’s motions for additional discovery and to disclose an expert out of time. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the magistrate judge's order. View "Hamric v. Wilderness Expeditions, Inc." on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2016, a large fire, later known as the Dog Head Fire, engulfed Isleta Pueblo and United States Forest Service land in the Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. The fire resulted from forest-thinning work performed by Pueblo crewmembers under an agreement with the Forest Service. Insurance companies and several owners of destroyed property (collectively, “Appellants”) sued the government, alleging negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction and, alternatively, for summary judgment on that same basis. The district court granted the government summary judgment, concluding: (1) the Pueblo crewmembers had acted as independent contractors of the government, and thus, the government wasn’t subject to FTCA liability based on the Pueblo crewmembers’ negligence; and (2) Appellants’ claims premised on the Forest Service employees’ own negligence, under the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception, were barred. On appeal, Appellants contended the district court erred in ruling that the FTCA jurisdictionally barred their claims. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ohlsen v. United States" on Justia Law

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Before the Tenth Circuit in this matter was a product liability case involving a rifle manufactured by Remington Arms Company, LLC. The rifle allegedly misfired (without anyone pulling the trigger) and injured Joann Harris. Harris and her husband sued Remington, attributing the injury to a defect in the rifle. In support, the Harrises proffered testimony by an expert witness who had explained how the rifle could have fired without anyone pulling the trigger. Remington argued the Harrises’ expert’s testimony was inadmissible because it conflicted with undisputed evidence. To counter this, the Harrises disclosed that their expert had changed his explanation. But by the time of this disclosure, discover had already closed. The district court excluded the expert testimony, and granted summary judgment to Remington. On appeal, the Harrises challenged the exclusion of the expert testimony and the award of summary judgment. The Tenth Circuit rejected both challenges, finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert testimony, and the Harrises didn’t argue in district court that they could survive summary judgment even without expert testimony. So the award of summary judgment to Remington was affirmed. View "Harris v. Remington Arms Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Thomas Standish was injured when his right ski struck a six-and-a-half-foot stump covered with freshly fallen snow skiing in an ungroomed area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. stump covered with freshly fallen snow. Standish and his wife brought a negligence lawsuit against Jackson Hole to recover for his injuries. Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, contending the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA) limited Jackson Hole’s liability because Standish’s injury was a result of an “inherent risk” of alpine skiing. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that a tree stump covered by fresh snow was an inherent risk of skiing for which the WRSA precluded liability. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed and affirmed the district court’s conclusion. View "Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Nathan Petersen Plaintiff injured himself while operating the Raymond Model 4200 stand-up counterbalance lift truck (“Raymond forklift”). The Raymond forklift had an open compartment. So it did not fully enclose the operator’s lower extremities. When Plaintiff lost control of the Raymond forklift, his left leg slid out of the open compartment and he crushed it against warehouse racking. Plaintiff argued the district court impermissibly closed the door on the strict products liability claim he brought against Defendant Raymond Corporation (“Raymond”) alleging it defectively manufactured a forklift. In support of his claim he sought to offer expert testimony that the forklift would be safer if it had a literal door on it. The district court found the expert’s testimony unreliable and excluded it. It then granted a related motion for summary judgment in Raymond’s favor. Plaintiff appealed. "The district court serves as a gatekeeper, shutting the door on unreliable expert testimony." Finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony, the Tenth Circuit affirmed judgment. View "Petersen v. Raymond Corporation" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Keith Sanders, a sergeant with the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office, appealed the denial of his summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity. Plaintiff-appellee Eric Vette filed a verified complaint alleging, among other things, that Sergeant Sanders subjected him to excessive force during the course of his arrest by committing the following acts after Vette had already been apprehended: punching Vette, hitting him in the face with a dog chain, and letting a police dog attack him. Sergeant Sanders moved to dismiss the complaint, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, arguing he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court converted Sergeant Sanders’s motion to one for summary judgment and denied it. Sergeant Sanders appealed, invoking the collateral order doctrine as the purported basis for appellate jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit determined, however, that it lacked jurisdiction over Sergeant Sanders’ appeal to the extent his arguments depended on facts that differed from those the district court assumed in denying his summary judgment motion. Exercising jurisdiction over the abstract issues of law advanced by Sergeant Sanders, the Court held the district court did not err. View "Vette v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Christina Smith was the mother of Joshua England. Her claims arose from the death of England from a ruptured appendix in May 2018, while England was housed at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center (JHCC), an Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) facility in Lexington, Oklahoma. England was a 21-year-old prisoner at JHCC who was a few months away from release when he submitted multiple sick call requests. At the fifth such request, England complained his stomach hurt and he was short of breath. Unable to bear the pain while waiting at the clinic, England died in his cell from a ruptured appendix with acute peritonitis. Defendants-Appellants Joe Allbaugh, the Director of the Department of Corrections at the time this claim arose, and Carl Bear, the Warden of Joseph Harp Correctional Center (collectively, Defendants) appealed the district court’s order denying their motion to dismiss Smith's subsequent lawsuit relating to England's death on grounds of qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding Smith alleged only that JHCC medical staff failed to follow procedure, not that Defendants failed to enforce those policies. Furthermore, the Court determined Smith failed to plead sufficient factual allegations to support deliberate indifference on the part of these defendants. Likewise, Smith failed to sufficiently plead Defendants improperly hired, supervised, and retained certain medical staff employees. View "Smith v. Allbaugh" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Antonio Hooks alleged Officers Chris Harding and James Irby of the Bethany, Oklahoma, Police Department, used excessive force against him in the course of an arrest, and, separately, that Officer Kayode Atoki exhibited deliberate indifference by failing to intervene during a vicious, gang-related jailhouse assault. The district court screened and dismissed Hooks’s excessive force claim prior to discovery. And after limited discovery, the district court granted Officer Atoki’s motion for summary judgment on the deliberate indifference claim. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, in part and reversed, in part. Specifically, the Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Hooks’s excessive force claim because some of his allegations were not barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Officer Atoki on Hooks’s deliberate indifference claim. The Court also took the opportunity to clarify that its recent discussion of the deliberate indifference standard in Strain v. Regalado, 977 F.3d 984 (10th Cir. 2020), applied outside the medical context. View "Hooks v. Atoki" on Justia Law