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

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An Immigration Judge with the Board of Immigration Appeals moved sua sponte to reopen Juvenal Reyes-Vargas' removal proceedings. The Board ruled that under 8 C.F.R. 1003.23(b)(1) the Board ruled that this regulation removed the IJ’s jurisdiction to reopen an alien’s removal proceedings after the alien has departed the United States (the regulation’s “post-departure bar”). The Tenth Circuit reviewed the Board's interpretation of its regulation using the framework announced in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which clarified when and how courts defer to an agency interpreting its own regulations. Under that case, the Tenth Circuit determined it could defer to the Board’s interpretation only if the Court concluded, after rigorously applying all interpretative tools, that the regulation presented a genuine ambiguity and that the agency’s reading was reasonable and entitled to controlling weight. Applying this framework here, the Tenth Circuit concluded the regulation was not genuinely ambiguous on the issue in dispute: whether the post-departure bar eliminated the IJ’s jurisdiction to move sua sponte to reopen removal proceedings. In fact, the regulation’s plain language conclusively answered the question: the post-departure bar applies to a party’s “motion to reopen,” not to the IJ’s own sua sponte authority to reopen removal proceedings. So the Court did not defer, and granted Reyes-Vargas’s petition for review, vacated the Board’s decision, and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the Board had to review the IJ’s conclusory decision that Reyes-Vargas had not shown “exceptional circumstances” as required before an IJ can move sua sponte to reopen removal proceedings. View "Reyes-Vargas v. Barr" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston rejected the claim for long-term disability benefits by plaintiff-appellee Michael Ellis. As part of its employee-benefit plan, Comcast Corporation, for whom Ellis worked in Colorado from 1994 until 2012, had obtained from Liberty in 2005 a Group Disability Income Policy (the Policy). Ellis sought review of Liberty’s denial of benefits in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The district court, reviewing the denial de novo, ruled that Liberty’s denial was not supported by a preponderance of the evidence. Liberty appealed, contending the court should have reviewed its decision under an abuse-of-discretion standard but that it should prevail even under a de novo standard. Ellis defended the district court’s choice of a de novo standard but argued he should prevail under either standard of review. The Tenth Circuit determined a plan administrator’s denial of benefits was ordinarily reviewed by the court de novo; but if the policy gave the administrator discretion to interpret the plan and award benefits, judicial review was for abuse of discretion. The Policy at issue provided that it was governed by the law of Pennsylvania, which was where Comcast was incorporated and has its principal place of business. Among its terms was one that gave Liberty discretion in resolving claims for benefits. A Colorado statute enacted in 2008, however, forbade such grants of discretion in insurance policies. The parties disputed whether the statute applied to the Policy under Colorado law, and whether Colorado law governed. The Tenth Circuit held that in this dispute the law of Pennsylvania was controlling. Liberty’s denial of benefits was therefore properly reviewed for abuse of discretion. Under that standard the denial had to be upheld. View "Ellis v. Liberty Life Assurance Co" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Dana Zzyym did not identify as either male or female, rather intersex. The United States State Department refused Zzyym's application for a passport. Zzyym sued, alleging that the State Department's reliance on a binary sex policy: (1) exceeded its statutory authority; (2) was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act; and (3) violated the federal Constitution. The district court concluded that as a matter of law, the State Department violated the APA on Zzyym's first two grounds; the court did not reach the constitutional claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the State Department acted within its authority. but exercised this authority in an arbitrary and capricious manner. The State Department gave five reasons for denying Zzyym’s request for a passport. Two of the reasons were supported by the administrative record, but three others weren’t. "Given the State Department’s partial reliance on three unsupported reasons, we don’t know whether the State Department would have denied Zzyym’s request if limited to the two supported reasons. The district court thus should have remanded to the State Department to reconsider the policy based only on the two reasons supported by the record." View "Zzyym v. Pompeo" on Justia Law

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Petitioner James Coddington sought collateral review of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals’ (OCCA) resolution of his constitutional challenges to his conviction and sentence. Coddington argued: (1) the trial court deprived him of his constitutional right to present a defense when it refused to allow his expert to testify that he was unable to form the requisite intent for malice murder; and (2) his confession to the murder should have been suppressed because he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights. The OCCA denied relief, and, applying AEDPA deference, the district court below did the same. After its review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of Coddington’s petition because Coddington failed to show that the OCCA’s rejection of his challenges involved an unreasonable application of federal law. View "Coddington v. Sharp" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Nancy Marks was serving a prison term in Colorado when she obtained entry into a community corrections program operated by Intervention Community Corrections Services (Intervention). To stay in the program, plaintiff needed to remain employed. But while participating in the program, she aggravated a previous disability and Intervention deemed her unable to work. So Intervention terminated plaintiff from the program and returned her to prison. Plaintiff sued, blaming her regression on two Colorado agencies,: the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) and the Colorado Department of Criminal Justice (CDCJ). In the suit, plaintiff sought damages and prospective relief based on: (1) a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act; and (2) a denial of equal protection. The district court dismissed the claims for prospective relief and granted summary judgment to the CDOC and CDCJ on the remaining claims, holding: (1) the Rehabilitation Act did not apply because Intervention had not received federal funding; (2) neither the CDOC nor the CDCJ could incur liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Rehabilitation Act for Intervention’s decision to regress plaintiff; and (3) plaintiff did not show the regression decision lacked a rational basis. After review, the Tenth Circuit agreed that (1) claims for prospective relief were moot and (2) neither the CDOC nor CDCJ violated plaintiff's right to equal protection. However, the Court reversed on the award of summary judgment on claims involving the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, finding the trial court mistakenly concluded the Rehabilitation Act did not apply because Intervention had not received federal funding, and mistakenly focused on whether the CDOC and CDCJ could incur liability under the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act for a regression decision unilaterally made by Intervention, "This focus reflects a misunderstanding of Ms. Marks’s claim and the statutes." The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Marks v. Colorado Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant W. Clark Aposhian filed an interlocutory appeal of a district court’s denial of his motion for a preliminary injunction. The court concluded plaintiff did not show a likelihood of success on the merits of his challenge to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) rule classifying bump stocks as machine guns under the National Firearms Act (NFA). Aposhian purchased a Slide Fire bump stock before the Final Rule was promulgated. He filed suit against various governmental officers and agencies challenging the Final Rule as unconstitutional and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), arguing that the Final Rule contradicted an unambiguous statute, 26 U.S.C. 5845(b), and mistakenly extended its statutory definition of “machinegun” to cover bump stocks. The government argued the statute was unambiguous but that the Final Rule was merely interpretive and, as so, reflected the best interpretation of the statutory text. For its part, the district court did not specifically opine on whether the statute was ambiguous or not. The Tenth Circuit concurred plaintiff failed to demonstrate the threatened injury to him outweighed the harm that the preliminary injunction might cause to the government, or that the injunction would not adversely affect the public interest. Accordingly, denial of the injunction was affirmed. View "Aposhian v. Barr" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) obtained a search warrant to review the contents of Defendant–Appellant Joshua Richards' Tumblr account. During the search and subsequent investigation, DCI agents discovered Defendant had re-blogged videos and images of child pornography to his private Tumblr so he could later access and view the materials. Defendant ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of accessing with intent to view child pornography. He was sentenced to twenty-four months’ imprisonment followed by five years of supervised release. The district court imposed several special conditions of supervised release, which, as relevant here, related to drugs and alcohol and required Defendant to submit to polygraph testing. On appeal, Defendant argued the district court erred in imposing these special conditions. He also challenged the length of his prison sentence as substantively unreasonable. The Tenth Circuit determined the alcohol and drug conditions did not directly conflict with the relevant policy statement in the sentencing guidelines, so the district court's decision to impose the conditions was not manifestly unreasonable. And given the circumstances of the case, the Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing Defendant's twenty-four month sentence. View "United States v. Richards" on Justia Law

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Debtor Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas (ABBK), an American subsidiary of the Spanish engineering conglomerate, Abengoa, S.A., financed construction of an ethanol conversion facility in Hugoton, Kansas. Financing was accomplished through inter-company loans from other American subsidiaries of Abengoa, S.A. ABBK experienced financial difficulties and eventually filed for bankruptcy protection in Kansas. Four other Abengoa subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy protection in Missouri. The ABBK trustee pursued a plan of liquidation, which classified the inter-company loans ABBK had received beneath claims of general unsecured creditors, effectively ensuring no recovery for inter-company creditors. Acting as liquidating trustee in the Missouri bankruptcy, Drivetrain, LLC objected to this plan of liquidation. The bankruptcy court nevertheless confirmed the plan. Drivetrain sought a stay of enforcement and implementation of the plan of liquidation, pending appeal to the district court. But both the bankruptcy court and the district court, on appeal, denied Drivetrain’s motion for a stay. At this point, the ABBK trustee began to implement the plan, paying priority claims and distributing settled unsecured claims. After substantially consummating the plan, the ABBK trustee moved to dismiss Drivetrain’s appeal of the confirmed plan as equitably moot. The district court granted that motion, citing the potential harm that innocent third-party creditors would face from unwinding the plan at this juncture. Drivetrain appealed, but the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding the potential harm to innocent third-party creditors justified this dismissal. View "Drivetrain v. Kozel" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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A federal district court used a Colorado statute governing costs to award more than $230,000 in costs that would not have been allowable under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d). Disappointed with the outcome of a merger, minority-shareholder Plaintiffs brought a class action against Defendants for breach of contract and fiduciary duties. The parties litigated their dispute for over ten years across proceedings in arbitration and federal court. In the end the district court granted summary judgment in Defendants’ favor, which was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit. Moving for costs under Rule 54(d), the district court awarded the costs under review in this appeal. Because Rule 54(d) fell well within the statutory authorization of the Rules Enabling Act and its displacement of Colorado state law would not impair any state substantive right, the Tenth Circuit held that a federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction has no power to award costs. View "Stender v. Archstone-Smith" on Justia Law

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Defendants-Appellants Paragon Contractors Corporation and Brian Jessop (Paragon) appealed a district court’s order, findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the calculation of back wages. Plaintiff-Appellee United States Secretary of Labor (Secretary) sought to compel Paragon to replenish a fund established to compensate children employed without pay in violation of both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and an injunction. Paragon had previously been held in contempt for violating the injunction. On appeal, Paragon contended the district court failed to adhere to the elements of a back wage reconstruction case under Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680 (1946). Specifically, Paragon argued the district court erred in: (1) concluding that the Secretary established a prima facie case; (2) imposing an improperly high burden for rebutting the inferences arising from that case and holding that Paragon failed to rebut certain inferences; and (3) declining to apply a statutory exemption. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Scalia v. Paragon Contractors" on Justia Law