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Kelcey Patton, a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (“DDHS”), was one of those responsible for removing T.D., a minor at the time, from his mother’s home, placing him into DDHS’s custody, and recommending T.D. be placed and remain in the temporary custody of his father, Tiercel Duerson. T.D. eventually was removed from his father’s home after DDHS received reports that T.D. had sexual contact with his half-brother, also Mr. Duerson’s son. DDHS later determined that during T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson, T.D. had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. T.D. sued Patton under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating his right to substantive due process, relying on a “danger-creation theory,” which provided that “state officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials created the danger that caused the harm.” Patton moved for summary judgment on the ground that she is entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "T.D. v. Patton" on Justia Law

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Kelcey Patton, a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (“DDHS”), was one of those responsible for removing T.D., a minor at the time, from his mother’s home, placing him into DDHS’s custody, and recommending T.D. be placed and remain in the temporary custody of his father, Tiercel Duerson. T.D. eventually was removed from his father’s home after DDHS received reports that T.D. had sexual contact with his half-brother, also Mr. Duerson’s son. DDHS later determined that during T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson, T.D. had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. T.D. sued Patton under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating his right to substantive due process, relying on a “danger-creation theory,” which provided that “state officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials created the danger that caused the harm.” Patton moved for summary judgment on the ground that she is entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "T.D. v. Patton" on Justia Law

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The contract at issue in this appeal was an Independent Contractor Agreement (the Contract) between the Ute Indian Tribe and Lynn Becker, a former manager in the Tribe’s Energy and Minerals Department. Becker claimed the Tribe breached the Contract by failing to pay him 2% of net revenue distributed to Ute Energy Holdings, LLC from Ute Energy, LLC. After Becker filed suit in Utah state court, the Tribe filed this suit against him and Judge Barry Lawrence, the state judge presiding over Becker’s suit, seeking declarations that: (1) the state court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute; (2) the Contract was void under federal and tribal law; and (3) there was no valid waiver of the Tribe’s sovereign immunity for the claims asserted in state court. The Tribe also sought a preliminary injunction ordering defendants to refrain from further action in the state court proceedings. The federal district court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the Tribe’s challenge to the jurisdiction of the state court. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The Court held that the Tribe’s claim that federal law precluded state-court jurisdiction over a claim against Indians arising on the reservation presented a federal question that sustained federal jurisdiction. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. Lawrence" on Justia Law

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The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation appealed a preliminary injunction ordering it not to proceed with litigation in tribal court against a nonmember former contractor, Lynn Becker. The district court ruled that although the parties’ dispute would ordinarily come within the tribal court’s jurisdiction, their Independent Contractor Agreement (the Contract) waived the Tribe’s right to litigate in that forum. The Tribe argued: (1) the tribal-exhaustion rule, which ordinarily requires a federal court to abstain from determining the jurisdiction of a tribal court until the tribal court has ruled on its own jurisdiction, deprived the district court of jurisdiction to determine the tribal court’s jurisdiction; and (2) even if exhaustion was not required, the preliminary injunction was improper because the Contract did not waive the Tribe’s right to litigate this dispute in tribal court. In addition, the Tribe challenged the district court’s dismissal of its claims under the federal civil-rights act, 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking to halt state-court litigation between it and Becker. The Tenth Circuit did not agree the tribal-exhaustion rule was jurisdictional, but agreed the district court should have abstained on the issue. Although the Contract contained a waiver of the tribal-exhaustion rule, Becker could not show a likelihood of success based on the validity of the waiver; he failed to adequately counter the Tribe’s contention that the entire Contract, including the waiver, was void because it did not receive federal-government approval, as was required for contracts transferring property held in trust for the Tribe by the federal government. With respect to the Tribe’s claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Tenth Circuit found the Tribe has not stated a claim because it is not a “person” entitled to relief under that statute when it is seeking, as here, to vindicate only a sovereign interest. To resolve the remaining issues raised in this case, the Court adopted its decision in the companion case of Ute Indian Tribe v. Lawrence, No. 16-4154 (August 25, 2017). View "Becker v. Ute Indian Tribe" on Justia Law

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Rodney Miller was sentenced as a career offender under the 1998 version of the Sentencing Guidelines, based in part on his prior conviction for a crime of violence. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), Miller filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his career-offender sentence, arguing his sentence violates due process. The court agreed the residual clause in the mandatory Guidelines did not survive “Johnson,” but it concluded that the rule was not substantive and therefore did not have retroactive effect on collateral review. Instead, the court reasoned, a rule invalidating the residual clause in the Guidelines alters only the methods used to determine whether a defendant should be sentenced as a career offender and therefore has a procedural function. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Miller’s motion, though for different reasons: even assuming Johnson extended to the mandatory Guidelines, and that the rule has substantive, retroactive effect, the residual clause was not unconstitutionally vague as applied to Miller’s conduct. When Miller was sentenced, the commentary to the career-offender guideline designated robbery (Miller’s prior offense of conviction) as a crime of violence. Because Miller’s conduct was clearly proscribed, his vagueness challenge must fail on the merits. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

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In 2009, law-enforcement officials investigated a Mexican cocaine-trafficking operation extending into the Kansas City area. This led them to several suspects, including defendant-appellant Marvin Ellis, a low-level powder-cocaine buyer. In 2012, Kansas police arrested Ellis after he fled from a traffic stop. A federal grand jury charged Ellis with several drug and firearm felonies. The most serious charge against Ellis was for his conspiring with 49 other persons to manufacture, distribute, or possess with the intent to distribute at least 5 kilograms of powder cocaine and 280 grams of crack cocaine. After the jury convicted Ellis on all charges, the district court imposed consecutive sentences for the cocaine-conspiracy count and a firearm count and concurrent sentences for the remaining counts. Ellis received a sentence of life without release on the cocaine-conspiracy count (after applying a sentencing enhancement), a mandatory-minimum five-year term for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, and statutory maximum sentences on all remaining counts. Later, the district court revoked Ellis’s supervised release from a 2007 federal conviction and sentenced him to an additional consecutive 24 months’ imprisonment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed Ellis’s cocaine-conspiracy conviction, but reversed the accompanying life-without-release sentence because; (1) the jury never found that Ellis was individually responsible for the charged amounts of powder or crack cocaine, either from his own acts or the reasonably foreseeable acts of his coconspirators; and (2) the government’s evidence did not show that omitting this element was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "United States v. Ellis" on Justia Law

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Defendant John Cone pleaded guilty to possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute, but he reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress the evidence seized from his car by a police officer during a traffic stop. His sole argument on appeal was that the officer exceeded the Fourth Amendment bounds of the stop by asking him about his criminal history and travel plans. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Cone" on Justia Law

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Several individuals in multiple states (collectively, plaintiffs) brought class action lawsuits against various fuel retailers (collectively, defendants) based on defendants’ failure to control for, or at least disclose, the effects of temperature on gasoline. In 2007, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated these cases and designated the District of Kansas as the transferee district. After years of legal wrangling, several of the parties entered into settlement agreements, which the district court ultimately approved. These appeals arose from: (1) the district court’s approval of those settlement agreements; and (2) its interpretation of one of them. The Tenth Circuit consolidated the appeals for procedural purposes. “The settlement agreements at issue here are unusual. But the decision to approve them rests with the sound discretion of the district court. Under the unique facts of this case, we can’t say the district court abused that discretion. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s approval of the 10 settlement agreements.” View "In re: Motor Fuel Temperature" on Justia Law

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Defendants, various officials at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, appealed the district court’s entry of a permanent injunction related to the Department’s payment for air-ambulance services rendered to ill or injured individuals covered by the Wyoming Worker’s Compensation Act. Plaintiffs were several companies which provide air-ambulance services in Wyoming. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendants, arguing that the federal Airline Deregulation Act impermissibly regulated the price of air-ambulance services. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court agreed “that the Airline Deregulation Act preempt[ed] Wyoming Statute section 27-14-401(e) and Chapter 9, Section 8 of the Rules, Regulations and Fee Schedules of the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Division to the extent the statute and regulation set compensation that air ambulances may receive for their services.” The court accordingly entered an injunction against Defendants. On appeal, Defendants challenge both the district court’s legal holding on the preemption question and the scope of the injunctive relief ordered in the amended judgment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s legal ruling that Wyoming Statute Section 27-14-401(e) and its associated rate schedule were precluded to the extent that they set forth a mandatory maximum reimbursement rate for air-ambulance claims. The Court also affirmed the initial order of injunctive relief entered in the district court’s initial judgment, permanently enjoining Defendants from enforcing the rate schedule against air-ambulance services. The Court reversed the amended judgment and the overbroad injunctive relief entered therein, leaving it for the state officials to determine, as a matter of state law, how Wyoming could and should administer its workers’ compensation program within the limitations set by federal law. View "EagleMed v. Cox" on Justia Law

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After Stephen Nelson was arrested in a private residence, one officer continued searching the residence and found two firearms. The government attributed the firearms to Nelson, and he was indicted for possession of a firearm by a felon. Nelson moved to suppress the firearms, arguing that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by continuing to search the residence after arresting him. The district court denied Nelson’s motion, concluding that the post-arrest search was a valid protective sweep because the officers “could have reasonably believed that someone other than [Nelson] was hiding in the house.” Nelson entered a conditional guilty plea, and appealed the district court’s order denying his suppression motion. After its review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit vacated the denial based on its conclusion that the searching officer had no basis to reasonably believe that an unknown, dangerous person was hiding in the residence. Nevertheless, the Court remanded for the district court to determine, in the first instance, whether the owner of the residence consented to the search. View "United States v. Nelson" on Justia Law