Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Team Industrial Services v. Zurich American Insurance Company, et al.
Plaintiff Team Industrial Services, Inc. (Team) suffered a $222 million judgment against it in a wrongful-death lawsuit arising out of a steam-turbine failure in June 2018 at a Westar Energy, Inc. (Westar) power plant. Team sought liability coverage from Westar, Zurich American Insurance Company (Zurich), and two other insurance companies, arguing that it was, or should have been, provided protection by Westar’s Owner-Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP) through insurance policies issued by Zurich and the two other insurers. Team’s claims derived from the fact that its liability for the failure at the Westar power plant arose from work that had previously been performed by Furmanite America, Inc. (Furmanite), which had coverage under Westar’s OCIP. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, and Team appealed. Not persuaded by Team's arguments for reversal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Team Industrial Services v. Zurich American Insurance Company, et al." on Justia Law
Stenson v. Edmonds, et al.
On August 1, 2016, Plaintiff Sean Stetson and Defendant Edmonds were part of a low-speed, sideswipe vehicle accident. Although no one reported injuries on the scene, two weeks after the accident, Plaintiff sought medical treatment for injuries he claimed he sustained in the accident. With this visit, Plaintiff filed his now "plainly evident" campaign to fabricate a claim for damages. When a party to litigation seeks to intentionally deceive the court and its adversary, a district court may issue reasonable sanctions and require the deceitful party to pay attorney fees. Finding plaintiff did just that, and the district court sanctioned him with reasonable attorney fees and dismissal of his non-economic claims, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the sanctions. View "Stenson v. Edmonds, et al." on Justia Law
Duran, et al. v. Budaj, et al.
Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal, challenging the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to Officer David McNamee, Officer Cory Budaj, and Sergeant Patricio Serrant. Between May 28 and June 2, 2020, several large protests occurred on Denver streets in reaction to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. On May 30, then-Denver Mayor Michael Hancock declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew; he also requested assistance from mutual aid police departments, including the Aurora Police Department. At about 9 p.m. on May 31, Plaintiff Zachary Packard was protesting near downtown Denver when a police officer threw a tear gas canister near Packard. Packard kicked the cannister“away from himself and other protesters, in the direction of a line of officers.” Packard kicked the canister about five to ten feet away from himself and other protesters. Critically, this action “did not pose an immediate threat,” the district court concluded, “because officers were equipped with gas masks that protected them from any gas from that container.” Immediately after kicking the canister, Packard was hit in the head with a beanbag round fired from a shotgun; the round knocked him unconscious and caused major injuries. One of the officers on Sergeant Serrant’s line was Defendant Officer McNamee. He fired several beanbag rounds at the time Packard was shot, but the parties disputed whether Officer McNamee was the officer who shot Packard. The district court concluded Plaintiffs raised genuine disputes of material fact as to whether Sergeant Serrant and Officer McNamee were “personally involved in the alleged violation of Mr. Packard’s rights.” The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no reversible error in the district court's judgment and affirmed. View "Duran, et al. v. Budaj, et al." on Justia Law
Estate of Allan George, et al. v. Ryan, et al.
The plaintiffs in this case, which included the estate and surviving family members of Allan Thomas George, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the City of Rifle, Colorado (the City), Tommy Klein, the chief of the Rifle Police Department (RPD), and Dewey Ryan, a corporal with RPD, alleging that the defendants violated George’s Fourth Amendment rights by employing excessive and deadly force against him in the course of attempting to arrest him on a felony warrant. Plaintiffs also raised a Colorado state law claim of battery causing wrongful death against Ryan. Defendants moved for summary judgment with respect to all of the claims asserted against them. Defendants Ryan and Klein asserted, in particular, that they were entitled to qualified immunity from the § 1983 excessive force claim. The district court denied defendants’ motion in its entirety. Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court’s ruling. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that where, as here, a police officer’s employment of deadly force against a fleeing felony suspect was objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the officer’s use of force cannot, as a matter of law, be deemed to be in “conscious disregard of the danger.” The Court therefore concluded the district court erred in denying summary judgment to the defendant officers, and reversed with respect to all defendants. View "Estate of Allan George, et al. v. Ryan, et al." on Justia Law
Sherman, et al. v. Trinity Teen Solutions, et al.
Plaintiffs Carlie Sherman, Anna Gozun, and Amanda Nash appealed a district court’s denial of class certification in a forced labor action against Trinity Teen Solutions (“Trinity”), a residential treatment center for adolescent girls, and its owners and operators (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs, now adults, were all sent to Trinity as minors by their parents. Trinity advertised itself as offering a wide range of therapies for troubled adolescent girls in a ranch environment and as taking a "tough love" approach, with its residents living in primitive conditions and working on the ranch as part of their treatment experience. Plaintiffs alleged that, during their residence at Trinity, they were forced to work long hours without pay under threat of serious harm. Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendants, on behalf of themselves and a proposed class of former Trinity residents, bringing three forced labor claims under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, and sought class certification pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, proposing a putative class of “Plaintiffs, and all similarly situated persons who received treatment from [Trinity] and were subjected to the provision of ‘agricultural labor.’" The district court denied class certification, concluding Plaintiffs had failed to satisfy Rule 23’s commonality, typicality, and predominance requirements. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred by applying the incorrect legal standard to its analysis of Rule 23(a)’s commonality and typicality requirements and Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement. Therefore, it vacated the district court’s order denying class certification and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Sherman, et al. v. Trinity Teen Solutions, et al." on Justia Law
Knezovich, et al. v. United States
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
Butler, et al. v. Daimler Trucks North America
Five people were killed when a commercial truck rear-ended a line of traffic on an interstate highway. The truck driver was prosecuted and sentenced to prison for his misconduct. The issue on this appeal was the liability, if any, of the manufacturer of the truck. Plaintiffs, suing on behalf of the heirs and estates of the decedents, contended the manufacturer, Daimler Trucks North America, should have been held liable in tort under design-defect and warning-defect theories of products liability because it failed to equip the truck with two collision-mitigation systems—forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking—and did not warn of the dangers caused by that failure. The district court granted summary judgment to Daimler. After its review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding many of the arguments made by Plaintiffs on appeal were inadequately preserved for appellate review, and the remaining arguments lacked merit. View "Butler, et al. v. Daimler Trucks North America" on Justia Law
Wise v. Caffey, et al.
While plaintiff-appellee Jesse Wise was a pretrial detainee at Creek County Jail in Oklahoma, Officer Don Caffey performed a knee strike on Wise when he was seated on the ground and handcuffed. Officer Caffey subsequently resigned his employment at Creek County Jail as a result of an investigation into the incident. Wise sued Officer Caffey and Creek County Sheriff Bret Bowling under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging excessive-force and supervisory-liability claims against Officer Caffey and Sheriff Bowling, respectively. At the summary-judgment stage, the court held Officer Caffey’s knee strike was excessive as a matter of law and that he and Sheriff Bowling were not entitled to qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment as to Officer Caffey’s qualified-immunity defense because the “facts that the district court ruled a reasonable jury could find would suffice to show a legal violation.” View "Wise v. Caffey, et al." on Justia Law
Doe v. Wang
Plaintiff-appellant Xingfei Luo appealed pro se a district court's order granting Paul Wang’s motion to reconsider the court’s order allowing Luo to proceed in this case using a pseudonym. Luo filed a federal action pro se against Wang in 2020, using the pseudonym "Jane Doe." Before serving Wang with the complaint, Luo asked to proceed under that pseudonym. Luo stated she had been the victim of a sexual assault, and she sought “to protect her privacy and prevent further harm from the stigma that can attach to victims of sexual assault.” The magistrate judge entered a protective order (PO); the order did not advise Wang of a 14-day deadline to object under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a). Luo did not serve Wang with the complaint until January 25, 2021. After initially proceeding pro se, Wang retained counsel in March. The magistrate judge appointed pro bono counsel for Luo, who entered an appearance in April. In late August 2021, Wang moved to reconsider the PO, contending he had not been served with the complaint when Luo moved to proceed under a pseudonym or when the magistrate judge entered the PO. The magistrate judge recognized he must consider the specific circumstances of this case and weigh Luo’s asserted privacy interest against the public’s right of access to these proceedings. In doing so, the magistrate judge took judicial notice of Luo’s other lawsuits, “several of which involve circumstances similar to this case.” He found that Wang’s claim Luo was a vexatious litigant “goes directly to [her] credibility.” In sum, the magistrate judge “considered the totality of the circumstances” in this “unusual case,” and concluded that “the balance of all facts before the Court weighs in favor of disallowing [Ms. Luo] from continuing to proceed under ‘Jane Doe.’” Finding no reversible error in the magistrate judge's order, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Doe v. Wang" on Justia Law
Palacios v. Fortuna, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellant Elsa Palacios, personal representative of the estate of the deceased, Bernardo Palacios Carbajal, filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants-Appellees Salt Lake City Police Officers Neil Iversen and Kevin Fortuna in their individual capacities, as well as Salt Lake City Corporation. Plaintiff alleged the officers violated Palacios’ Fourth Amendment rights when he was fatally shot during a police pursuit. The district court granted summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity in favor of Defendants, finding a lack of a constitutional violation and that Plaintiff failed to show a violation of clearly established law. On appeal, Plaintiff contended that disputes about material and historical facts precluded summary judgment. According to Plaintiff, the district court erred by not making reasonable factual inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, primarily that: (1) Palacios may have been unaware he was being pursued by police because officers did not verbally identify themselves, because he was severely intoxicated, and he did not match the full description of the robbery suspect; (2) once Palacios fell onto his side during the shooting and did not point his gun at officers, he was effectively subdued; and (3) Palacios’ conduct showed he was attempting to avoid confrontation, not evade arrest. Plaintiff also contended that officers exaggerated the seriousness of the offenses that precipitated the pursuit and that officers should have used less intrusive means of apprehension because Palacios did not pose an imminent threat. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's case. View "Palacios v. Fortuna, et al." on Justia Law