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

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Defendant-Appellant Dalton “Dash” Brown pled guilty to a single count of being a felon in possession of ammunition, and was sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment and three years’ supervised release. On appeal, he challenged the sentence, arguing the district court improperly calculated his offense level under the Sentencing Guidelines. According to Brown, the district court erred in applying: (1) a multiple-firearms enhancement; (2) a stolen-firearm enhancement; (3) a higher base offense for possession of a high-capacity magazine; (4) a reckless-endangerment upward-adjustment; and (5) an “in-connection-with” enhancement. He urges the court to reverse and remand for resentencing with a lower offense level. Findnign no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. appealed a district court’s grant of Affiliated FM Insurance Company’s (“AFM”) motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, which denied Monarch coverage under AFM’s all-risk policy provision, business-interruption provision, and eight other additional-coverage provisions. Monarch also moved the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to certify a question of state law or issue a stay. Monarch presented AFM with claims incurred through business interruption losses from COVID-19 and government orders directing Monarch to close its casinos. AFM denied certain coverage on the ground that COVID-19 did not cause physical loss of or damage to property. Monarch sued for breach of contract, bad faith breach of insurance contract, and violations of state law. The Tenth Circuit denied Monarch’s motions to certify a question of state law and issue a stay. And it affirmed the district court’s judgment: (1) AFM’s policy had a Contamination Exclusion provision that excludes all-risk coverage and business-interruption coverage from the COVID-19 virus; and (2) Monarch could not obtain coverage for physical loss or damage caused by COVID-19 under AFM’s all-risk provision, business-interruption provision, or eight additional-coverage provisions because the virus could not cause physical loss or damage and no other policy provisions distinguished this case. Accordingly, Monarch could not obtain the coverage that the district court denied. View "Monarch Casino & Resort v. Affiliated FM Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Two law firms that represented Plaintiffs in this litigation, Schlichter Bogard & Denton LLP (“SBD”) and Schneider Wallace Cottrell Konecky LLP (“SWCK”), appealed the district court’s order imposing sanctions against them under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. Plaintiffs’ counsel represented individual shareholders and an employee retirement plan in a lawsuit claiming that the investment company, investment adviser, and recordkeeper (collectively “Empower”) servicing their mutual funds charged excessive fees in violation of its fiduciary duties under § 36(b) of the Investment Company Act. Following denial of Empower’s summary judgment and Daubert motions, the case proceeded to a bench trial where the district court ruled in favor of Empower. Thereafter, the court sanctioned Plaintiffs’ counsel for “recklessly pursu[ing] their claims through trial despite the fact that they were lacking in merit” and held SWCK and SBD jointly and severally liable for $1.5 million in Empower’s trial costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion and therefore reversed the order imposing sanctions. Accordingly, the Court did not reach the issues of SWCK and SBD’s joint and several liability or the court’s denial of SWCK’s motion to amend the judgment. View "Obeslo, et al. v. Empower Capital, et al." on Justia Law

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Explosives manufacturer Dyno Nobel tendered an action to its commercial general liability insurance policyholder, Steadfast Insurance Company (“Steadfast”), after being sued in Missouri for damages caused by the release of a nitric oxide plume from one of its Missouri plants. Steadfast denied the claim based on the insurance policy’s clauses precluding indemnification and defense of pollution-related bodily injury actions. Dyno Nobel thereafter filed an action in Utah state court seeking a declaratory judgment that Steadfast had a duty to indemnify and defend against this action under an endorsement titled “Vermont Changes – Pollution” (“Vermont Endorsement”). Contrary to Coverages A, B, and C in the insurance policy, the Vermont Endorsement would have required Steadfast to defend and indemnify against pollution-related bodily injury claims up to an aggregate amount of $3 million. Steadfast removed the action to federal court, and the federal district court entered judgment for Steadfast, concluding the Vermont Endorsement applied only to claims with a nexus to Vermont. Dyno Nobel appealed. After its review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding the plain language of the insurance contract did not cover Dyno Nobel’s claim in the underlying action. View "Dyno Nobel v. Steadfast Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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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

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In 2008 Plaintiff Bill Grubb signed an employment agreement with Defendant DXP Enterprises to lead the development and production of horizontal pumps. The agreement recited that the parties intended to create a new company to produce the pumps, and Grubb would own 10%. If the project became a success, Grubb had the right under the employment agreement to require DXP to buy his ownership stake at a price based on the new company’s gross revenue. The project was successful; in March 2019, Grubb gave notice to DXP that he wanted to sell his ownership stake in accordance with the agreement. But DXP informed Grubb it had never formed the new company, so there was nothing for it to purchase under the agreement. Grubb brought this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma against DXP, asserting claims for breach of contract, actual and constructive fraud, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment; and sought a declaratory judgment. After the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of DXP on all claims. Grubb appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit found sufficient evidence of bad faith by DXP (in failing to form the new company) to support Grubb’s breach-of-contract claim but otherwise found no error in the rulings by the district court. Accordingly, the Court reversed in part the judgment below and remanded for further proceedings. View "Grubb v. DXP Enterprises" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Kenneth Walker appealed his conviction and sentence for assault resulting in serious bodily injury within Indian country. Walker lived "off and on" with his adult niece, Victoria Dirickson. Walker asked Dirickson for a set of house keys. She declined because “[i]t was [her] only day off, and [she] really didn’t feel like getting out and making a copy” of the keys. Walker became “[r]eally aggravated,” and an argument ensued in the living room, which lead to the assault charges at issue in this case. A grand jury indicted Walker on one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury within Indian country. The indictment alleged Walker was a non-Indian and Dirickson was Indian. A jury found Walker guilty as charged. On appeal, Walker: (1) challenged the district court's jurisdiction because it erred in admitting Dirickson's Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (“CDIB”) and tribal registration cards; (2) the district court abused its discretion in admitting the testimony of a medical expert; (3) the district court abused its discretion in failing to give a unanimity-of-means jury instruction; (4) abused its discretion in failing to consider sentencing disparities arising from a possible sentence in a state case; and (5) Plainly erred in imposing an anger management condition of supervised release due to insufficient notice, and improper delegation of authority to the Probation Office. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Walker's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Edward Parson was convicted by jury of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. Parson argued: (1) the district court erred in admitting expert testimony about the process of child-sexual-abuse disclosures and the characteristics and behaviors of children who make such disclosures; and (2) the district court erred in admitting specific testimony of the expert that children are four times more likely to omit facts than to make up facts in the process of disclosing abuse. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the expert testimony, and his second claim of error was unpreserved and Parson failed to demonstrate an entitlement to relief under the difficult-to-satisfy plain error standard. Thus, the district court’s judgment of conviction was affirmed. View "United States v. Parson" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Anthony Mason was convicted by a jury of assault of an intimate or dating partner by strangulation and Oklahoma first-degree burglary. The Presentence Report (PSR) initially calculated an offense level of 22 and a criminal history category of III, resulting in an advisory guideline range of 51 to 63 months’ imprisonment. But when a statutorily required minimum sentence is greater than the maximum of the guideline range, as was the case here, the statutorily required minimum was the guideline sentence. For convictions of first-degree burglary, Oklahoma state law imposed a sentence “not less than seven (7) years.” Accordingly, the PSR recommended a sentence of 84 months’ imprisonment, 21 months more than the initial advisory guideline range. Mason objected to the PSR sentence, arguing that his eligibility for a suspended or deferred sentence under the Oklahoma sentencing scheme meant that it did not impose a “true mandatory minimum.” Finding no reversible error in the calculation of Mason's sentence, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Mason" 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