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A jury found Defendant Jose Rios-Morales guilty of possessing with intent to distribute more than fifty grams of methamphetamine and conspiring to do the same. He received a sentence of 292 months’ imprisonment, at the bottom of the advisory Guidelines range. On appeal, he challenged the admission of 404(b) evidence and raises claims of prosecutorial misconduct, witness perjury, jury taint, and cumulative error. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Rios-Morales" on Justia Law

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Defendant Walter Saulsberry pleaded guilty to possession of 15 or more unauthorized credit cards with intent to defraud. He reserved the right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to suppress cards seized from his car. On appeal he argued he was unlawfully detained after an anonymous informant reported that he was smoking marijuana in his car and that the search of his car was unlawfully expanded beyond a search for marijuana to include inspection of credit cards found in a bag within the car. Although the Tenth Circuit found there was reasonable suspicion to detain Defendant, the arguments presented by the government were not persuasive that there was probable cause to expand the search. Accordingly, the Court reversed the denial of defendant's motion to suppress, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "United States v. Saulsberry" on Justia Law

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A jury rejected an employment-discrimination claim against JetStream Ground Services, Inc. filed by several Muslim women and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who alleged that JetStream discriminated against the women on religious grounds by refusing to hire them because they wore hijabs. Plaintiffs’ sole argument on appeal was that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to impose a sanction on JetStream (either excluding evidence or instructing the jury that it must draw an adverse inference) because it disposed of records contrary to a federal regulation purportedly requiring their preservation. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion: plaintiffs’ argument that the exclusion sanction should have been applied was waived in their opening statement at trial. And the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give an adverse-inference instruction after Plaintiffs conceded that destruction of the records was not in bad faith. View "EEOC v. JetStream Ground Services" on Justia Law

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Brandon Barrick brought an action under the False Claims Act on behalf of the United States, alleging his former employer Parker-Migliorini International (PMI) illegally smuggled beef into Japan and China. At the time of the scheme, China banned all imports of U.S. beef, and Japan imposed heightened standards, under which certain types of U.S. beef would have been banned. Barrick alleged PMI cheated the government out of the inspection fees that would have been paid if PMI had complied with federal law. In Barrick’s view, an “obligation” to pay the government arose when the USDA was informed that meat was being exported to a country with inspection standards higher than those in the United States. Thus, the government should have been paid for the inspections that would have occurred if PMI had accurately reported the destination countries. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with Barrick's reasoning: "[a]n established duty is one owed at the time the improper conduct occurred, not a duty dependent on a future discretionary act." Here, the obligation would not have arisen absent a third-party meat supplier’s independent wrongful conduct. This was because the meat supplier supplied the destination country to the USDA, thus controlling the type of inspection performed. But PMI did not use meat suppliers who were eligible to export beef to Japan. So, for an obligation to arise, the supplier would have had to report an accurate - and illegal - destination country to the USDA, even though the supplier was not eligible to export to that country. This conduct does not create an established duty under the Act. Because the Court did not find Barrick could adequately plead the existence of such an “obligation” by PMI as the Act required, it affirmed the district court’s denial of Barrick’s motion for leave to amend. View "United States ex rel. Barrick v. Parker-Migliorini Int'l" on Justia Law

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Defendant Gary McKibbon pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. In calculating his sentence for that offense under the 2016 sentencing guidelines, the district court consulted U.S.S.G. 2K2.1, which provided for a base offense level of twenty if McKibbon had a prior “controlled substance offense” as defined by U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(b) and its application note 1. The court, without objection, deemed McKibbon’s 2014 Colorado conviction under Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-18-405(1)(a) for distribution of a Schedule I or II controlled substance to be such a “controlled substance offense.” Using a base offense level of twenty, then, the sentencing court calculated McKibbon’s total offense level to be twenty-one which, combined with his criminal history category IV, resulted in an advisory guideline range of fifty-seven to seventy-one months in prison. The district court imposed a within-range sentence of sixty-six months. On appeal, McKibbon argued for the first time that his prior 2014 Colorado conviction did not qualify as a “controlled substance offense.” After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded both that the district court plainly erred in treating defendant's prior Colorado drug distribution conviction as a “controlled substance offense” under U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(b), and that that error warranted resentencing. View "United States v. McKibbon" on Justia Law

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Richard Turley appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States, acting on behalf of the United States Postal Service, awarding specific performance of an option to purchase real estate from Turley. The purchase option was contained in a lease of the premises that the Postal Service had renewed on several occasions. Turley argued on appeal: (1) the lease had expired when the Postal Service attempted to exercise the purchase option because he had not received notice that the government was exercising its final option to renew the lease; (2) even if the lease was renewed, the Postal Service did not properly exercise the purchase option because it continued to negotiate for a new lease after it purported to exercise the option; and (3) equity precluded enforcement of the purchase option because the Postal Service attempted to use the purchase option as leverage to negotiate a better lease agreement. The Tenth Circuit was not persuaded. The Court found the lease-renewal option was properly exercised when the notice was delivered to the proper address, even though Turley refused to retrieve it. And Turley has presented no legal or equitable doctrine that would forbid a party who exercises (and is bound by) an option to purchase from pursuing an alternative arrangement. View "United States v. Turley" on Justia Law

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Richard Arnold, Sr., his wife Robyn, and his sons Ricky and Robert, devised a scheme to defraud individuals out of rebates paid to them when they purchased new vehicles. The Arnolds persuaded the victims to turn their rebates over to a charitable trust by falsely representing they would manage the trust to pay off the victims’ car loans. Although the Arnolds made some loan payments from the trust, they eventually stopped and used the remaining rebate funds for their own personal expenses. The victims then either took over the loan payments or relinquished the vehicles to the lenders. The indictment notified Richard Arnold, Sr. of the Government’s intent to seek forfeiture of “a money judgment in an amount equal to the proceeds obtained as a result of the offenses.” Arnold, Sr. appealed the district court’s forfeiture order arguing the district court erred by: (1) imposing an order of forfeiture after sentencing; and (2) failing to require the Government to use forfeited proceeds to offset the restitution Arnold owed his victims, which would lower the total amount of restitution and forfeiture he is required to pay. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the forfeiture order. View "United States v. Arnold (Richard Sr.)" on Justia Law

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Oriana Lee Farrell and her five children claimed that Defendant Elias Montoya, while on duty as a New Mexico state police officer, violated their Fourth Amendment rights when he fired three shots at their minivan as it drove away from officers trying to effect a traffic stop. Officer Tony DeTavis pulled Farrell over for speeding. A few minutes after initiating the stop, DeTavis approached the minivan parked on the right shoulder of the highway and explained to Farrell that he was going to give her a citation. He gave her two options: pay the penalty of $126 within 30 days or see a Taos magistrate within 30 days. After an argument with the officer, Farrell refused to make a decision because she did not know where she would be in 30 days. As the officer went back to his car to call for help, Farrell drove off. After the officer pulled Farrell over again, things got chaotic: Farrell got in a scuffle with the officer who tried to arrest her. When the officer tried to pull Farrell out of the car, Farrell’s 14-year old son tried to fight off the officer, who then pulled out his taser. The officer then bashed out the windows on Farrell’s van after her family ran back into the van and locked the doors. The van began to drive away again. As the incident unfolded, Officer Montoya showed up and fired three shots at the van as Farrell sped off. Farrell was later arrested and charged. Three officers returned to their vehicles and pursued the Farrells down Highway 518, reaching speeds of 100 mph during the chase. When Farrell approached a more congested area, she weaved through traffic, driving on the wrong side of the road on several occasions. According to affidavits by Farrell and one of her younger children, 911 was called during the chase, and the family looked for a police station at which to pull over because they were afraid that the three officers would harm or kill them. More than four minutes after the chase began, the Farrells drove into a hotel parking lot and surrendered. On appeal it was undisputed that no bullet hit the minivan or the Farrells inside; Montoya’s affidavit states that he was aiming at the left rear tire. The Tenth Circuit held the district court should have granted Defendant summary judgment because the shots did not halt the Farrells’ departure and, because they were fleeing, they were not seized at the time Montoya fired his weapon, even if they had a subjective intent to submit to authority. View "Farrell v. Montoya" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Karen Johnson of conspiring to distribute cocaine base. She appealed, arguing the district court violated the Sixth Amendment when it imposed on her the 120-month minimum sentence mandated in 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) without submitting the drug-quantity issue to the jury for determination under the beyond-a-reasonable doubt standard. If she prevailed on her Sixth Amendment claim, Johnson argued a separate drug-quantity finding made by the district court (made solely for purposes of calculating a sentencing range under the Sentencing Guidelines) was not supported by sufficient evidence. In the alternative, Johnson argued her conviction had to be set aside because the district court used an improper evidentiary standard in allowing the government to adduce at trial intercepted cell phone communications. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Johnson’s challenges to her conviction and to the drug-quantity determination made by the district court for purposes of the Sentencing Guidelines. The district court did, however, plainly err in applying the mandatory minimum set out in 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) without submitting the quantity issue to the jury for resolution under the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard. Accordingly, the district court was affirmed in part and reversed in part and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), generally exempts from its requirements “church plans”: employee-benefit plans established and maintained by churches for their employees. ERISA also extends that church-plan exemption to "principal-purpose" organizations. Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), a nonprofit organization created to carry out the Roman Catholic Church’s healing ministry, operates 92 hospitals and numerous other healthcare facilities in 18 states. CHI offers a retirement plan for its employees, with more than 90,000 participants and beneficiaries, and nearly $3 billion in plan assets. Janeen Medina, a CHI employee, filed a class action, alleging that CHI’s retirement plan failed to satisfy the statutory criteria for the church-plan exemption. She contended that, since the plan did not qualify for the exemption, CHI should have complied with the reporting and funding requirements of ERISA. Medina also argued the individual defendants who administered the plan breached their fiduciary duties by failing to comply with ERISA. And, Medina argued, even if the CHI plan did qualify as a church plan, the exemption violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. The district court held that CHI’s plan was a church plan that qualified for the ERISA exemption. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit agreed, concluding that CHI’s plan satisfied the statutory requirements for the church-plan exemption as a proper principal-purpose organization. The ERISA exemption, moreover, does not run afoul of the United States Constitution’s Establishment Clause. View "Medina v. Catholic Health Initiatives" on Justia Law