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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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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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Plaintiff Brenda Patterson and her husband, Plaintiff Timothy Welker, appealed a district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant PowderMonarch, LLC, on their claims of negligence and loss of consortium based on injuries Ms. Patterson allegedly sustained at Defendant’s ski resort. Because the district court correctly held that these claims are barred by an exculpatory agreement included on Ms. Patterson’s ski lift ticket, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Patterson v. PowderMonarch" 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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In 2013, Sports Illustrated magazine (“SI”) published a five-article series on the Oklahoma State University (“OSU”) football program. The series explored “illicit payments” and other “extreme measures” OSU used to recruit and retain top players. The series briefly profiled John Talley, a booster who “had been close to the football program since at least 2002” and who allegedly “grossly overpaid [OSU players] for jobs they did or compensated them for jobs they didn’t do.” Talley sued Time, Inc., which publishes SI, and SI reporters Thayer Evans and George Dohrmann (collectively, “the Defendants”) in state court, claiming that the article placed him in a false light and invaded his privacy. The case was removed to the federal district court, and after discovery, defendants were granted summary judgment. Finding that Talley did not demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendants acted with actual malice (an element of Oklahoma's false light tort), the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal on summary judgment grounds. View "Talley v. Time, Inc." on Justia Law

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Benjamin Grice suffered severe burns after an oil pump exploded at the refinery where he worked. He and his wife brought suit against the refinery’s two parent corporations, CVR Energy and CVR Refining, alleging the parent companies assumed responsibility for workplace safety at the oil refinery by entering into a services agreement for the benefit of Grice’s employer, Coffeyville Resources. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the parent companies, concluding that the agreement did not obligate them to provide safety services to the oil refinery. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) CVR Refining should have been dismissed as a party under 28 U.S.C. 1332, to preserve complete diversity of citizenship; and (2) the company did not have a duty to Grice to maintain the oil pump since the services agreement was for administrative and legal services and not for safety services that would subject CVR Energy to liability under Kansas law. View "Grice v. CVR Energy" on Justia Law

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Keshia Porter appeals the district court’s dismissal of her complaint as time barred. Porter’s husband, Delandis Richardson, was killed in an auto accident in Campbell County, Wyoming, on November 25, 2014. Within two years, on November 21, 2016, Vance Countryman filed a “Petition/Action for the Appointment of Wrongful Death Representative” in the District Court of Campbell County, Wyoming. Countryman requested appointment as Richardson’s WDR under Wyo. Stat. Secs. 1-38-101 to 105. The state court judge expressed concern that appointing Countryman, who would be acting as an attorney in the wrongful death suit, could pose ethical problems. On April 27, 2017, Porter filed an “Amended Petition/Action for the Appointment of Wrongful Death Representative” asking the court to appoint her as Richardson’s WDR. It stated that “[t]his petition is ‘made in a separate action brought solely for appointing the wrongful death representative’ pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. 1-38-103(b).” The document was filed in the existing state court action. On July 10, 2017, the court appointed Porter the WDR for Richardson. Porter then filed this action against Ford Motor Company on August 7, 2017, as Richardson’s WDR. Ford moved to dismiss, arguing that Porter’s claims were barred by Wyoming’s two-year limitations period for wrongful death actions. The district court agreed and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Porter timely appealed. The Tenth Circuit determined that a WDR petition was filed by another putative representative within two years and Porter was appointed WDR in that state court action. She then filed the present suit within thirty days of her appointment. On these facts, the Court concluded Porter’s complaint was timely under Wyo. Stat. 1-38-103(b)(ii). Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Porter v. Ford Motor Company" on Justia Law

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Tony Kourianos worked as a coal miner for more than 27 years before filing a claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (“BLBA”). His claim was reviewed through a three-tiered administrative process. Ultimately, the Benefits Review Board (“BRB”) found that he was entitled to benefits. The BRB also found that Kourianos’s last employer, Hidden Splendor Resources, Inc., was the “responsible operator” liable for paying those benefits. Hidden Splendor’s insurer, Rockwood Casualty Insurance Company, petitioned the Tent Circuit Court of Appeal for review of the BRB’s decision: (1) challenging the administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) decision prohibiting Hidden Splendor from withdrawing its responsible operator stipulation; and (2) contending the BRB incorrectly found that Kourianos was totally disabled and entitled to benefits. Finding no abuse of discretion in the BRB decision, the Tenth Circuit denied Rockwood's petition. View "Rockwood Casualty Insurance v. Director, OWCP" on Justia Law

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In 2008, James Nelson was seriously injured while riding his bicycle on United States Air Force Academy land. He and his wife, Elizabeth Varney, sued the Academy under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), seeking damages. The district court ruled in their favor and awarded them approximately $7 million in damages. In a previous appeal, the Tenth Circuit reversed that decision, holding that the Colorado Recreational Use Statute (the “CRUS”) shielded the Academy from liability. But the Court remanded on the issue of whether an exception to the statute’s liability shield applied. On remand, the district court held that an exception did apply, and reinstated its prior judgment. The Academy appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Nelson v. United States" on Justia Law

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Dennis Woolman, former president of The Clemens Coal Company, challenged a district court’s determination that Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company didn’t breach a duty to him by failing to procure for Clemens Coal an insurance policy with a black-lung disease endorsement. Clemens Coal operated a surface coal mine until it filed for bankruptcy in 1997. Woolman served as Clemens Coal’s last president before it went bankrupt. Federal law required Clemens Coal to maintain worker’s compensation insurance with a special endorsement covering miners’ black-lung disease benefits. Woolman didn’t personally procure insurance for Clemens Coal but instead delegated that responsibility to an outside consultant. The policy the consultant ultimately purchased for the company did not contain a black-lung-claim endorsement, and it expressly excluded coverage for federal occupational disease claims, such as those arising under the Black Lung Benefits Act (the Act). In 2012, a former Clemens Coal employee, Clayton Spencer, filed a claim with the United States Department of Labor (DOL) against Clemens Coal for benefits under the Act. After some investigation, the DOL advised Woolman that Clemens Coal was uninsured for black-lung-benefits claims as of July 25, 1997 (the last date of Spencer’s employment) and that, without such coverage, Woolman, as Clemens Coal’s president, could be held personally liable. Woolman promptly tendered the claim to Liberty Mutual for a legal defense. Liberty Mutual responded with a reservation-of-rights letter, stating that it hadn’t yet determined coverage for Spencer’s claim but that it would provide a defense during its investigation. Then in a follow-up letter, Liberty Mutual clarified that it would defend Clemens Coal as a company (not Woolman personally) and advised Woolman to retain his own counsel. Liberty Mutual eventually concluded that the insurance policy didn’t cover the black-lung claim, and sued Clemens Coal and Woolman for a declaration to that effect. In his suit, Woolman also challenged the district court’s rejection of his argument that Liberty Mutual should have been estopped from denying black-lung-disease coverage, insisting that he relied on Liberty Mutual to provide such coverage. Having considered the totality of the circumstances, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court didn’t err in declining Woolman’s extraordinary request to expand the coverages in the Liberty Mutual policy. “Liberty Mutual never represented it would procure the coverage that Woolman now seeks, and the policy itself clearly excludes such coverage. No other compelling consideration justifies rewriting the agreement— twenty years later—to Woolman’s liking.” View "Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance v. Woolman" on Justia Law

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Terry Schulenberg, a train engineer for BNSF Railway Company, was injured when the train he was riding “bottomed out.” Schulenberg filed suit against BNSF, alleging liability for negligence under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). BNSF filed motions to exclude Schulenberg’s expert witness and for summary judgment, both of which the district court granted. Schulenberg appealed, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert witness because there was no discernable methodology offered for his opinions. And the Court concluded the district court was correct in granting summary judgment to BNSF because Schulenberg failed to present a dispute of material fact on his sole theory of liability on appeal, negligence per se. View "Schulenberg v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law