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

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Appellants Rio Grande Foundation (“RGF”) and Illinois Opportunity Project (“IOP”) were nonprofit advocacy groups challenging an amendment to New Mexico’s Campaign Reporting Act (“CRA”), which required groups spending over designated amounts on electioneering communications to state their identities on the materials and to disclose the identities of their donors to New Mexico’s Secretary of State (the “Secretary”). Appellants claimed these requirements burdened their First Amendment rights and chilled their planned speech in the 2020 election cycle. The district court dismissed the case at summary judgment for lack of standing, reasoning Appellants showed no injury-in-fact under the framework the Tenth Circuit laid out in Initiative and Referendum Institute v. Walker, 450 F.3d 1082 (10th Cir. 2006). After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the dismissal here in part, holding that RGF had standing to pursue its First Amendment challenge to the amended CRA’s disclosure requirement. The Court affirmed the dismissal of IOP’s claims, but on grounds different than those relied on by the district court. View "Rio Grande Foundation, et al. v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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A Chapter 13 debtor makes payments to a trustee who then disburses those payments to creditors according to a confirmed reorganization plan. A Chapter 13 standing trustee is compensated through fees he collects by taking a percentage of these payments the trustee receives from the debtor. The question presented in this appeal was: If a plan is not confirmed, can the standing trustee deduct and keep his fee before returning the rest of the pre-confirmation payments to the debtor or must the trustee instead return the entire amount of pre-confirmation payments to the debtor without deducting his fee? The Tenth Circuit concluded that, read together, 28 U.S.C. § 586(e)(2) and 11 U.S.C. § 1326(a)(2) unambiguously require the trustee to return the pre-confirmation payments to the debtor without deducting the trustee’s fee when a plan is not confirmed. View "Doll, et al. v. Goodman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Defendant United Parcel Service, Inc., engaged in an extensive back-and-forth to attempt to accommodate Plaintiff Susan Norwood. Yet Plaintiff still sued, alleging Defendant failed to immediately tell her that it approved a possible accommodation and formally offer it to her. The Tenth Circuit found the law imposed no burden on employers to immediately tell employees of approved possible accommodations or to formally offer them those accommodations, rather than informally asking if they would satisfy an employee. Besides challenging Defendant’s good faith during the interactive process, Plaintiff appealed the district court’s decision to exclude expert testimony and draw certain inferences in granting Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Finding no error in the district court judgment entered in UPS' favor, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Norwood v. United Parcel Service" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jabari Johnson, who proceeded pro se at district court but had counsel on appeal, alleged in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint against three prison officers that the officers slammed him on his untreated fractured jaw, stepped on his untreated injured foot, caused him excruciating pain, and inflicted further injury on his jaw and foot to the point that he needed physical therapy and surgery. He also alleged that the incident caused him depression and anxiety. The district court ruled that Johnson failed to allege a sufficient physical injury under § 1997e(e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to claim mental or emotional damages and dismissed his individual-capacity claims against the officers with prejudice. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded Johnson's allegations satisfied § 1997e(e)’s physical-injury requirement. The Court affirmed the dismissal of Johnson's § 1983 complaint against one officer, but reversed dismissal against the two others. The case was thus remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Reyna, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Citizens for Constitutional Integrity and Southwest Advocates, Inc. appealed the rejection of their challenges to the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), and Senate Rule XXII, the so-called Cloture Rule, which required the votes of three-fifths of the Senate to halt debate. The Stream Protection Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 93,066 (Dec. 20, 2016), heightened the requirements for regulatory approval of mining-permit applications. The Rule was promulgated by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (the Office) in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Within a month of the Stream Protection Rule taking effect on January 19, 2017, both Houses of Congress had passed a joint resolution disapproving the Rule pursuant to the CRA, and President Trump had signed the joint resolution into law. According to Plaintiffs, the repeal of the Rule enabled the approval of a 950.55-acre expansion of the King II Coal Mine (the Mine), located in La Plata County, Colorado, and owned by GCC Energy. Plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against the federal government and several high-ranking Department of the Interior officials in their official capacities (collectively, Defendants) seeking: (1) a declaration that the CRA and the Cloture Rule were unconstitutional and that the Stream Protection Rule was therefore valid and enforceable; (2) vacation of the approval of the King II Mine permit modification and an injunction against expanded mining activities authorized by the modification; and (3) attorney fees. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected plaintiffs' challenges to the CRA and held that they lacked standing to challenge the Cloture Rule. View "Citizens for Constitutional, et al. v. United States, et al." on Justia Law

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Douglas Bruce sued the City and County of Denver (“Denver”) and others (collectively, “Appellees”) in federal district court for alleged constitutional violations arising from a Colorado state court’s determination that Bruce’s liens on several properties were inferior to Denver’s liens. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Bruce contended that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply because he was not a party to the state court litigation. After review, the Tenth Circuit disagreed and affirmed the dismissal. View "Bruce v. City and County of Denver, et al." on Justia Law

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A Bolivian arbitration tribunal awarded $36 million in damages to Compania de Inversiones Mercantiles S.A. (“CIMSA”) against Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua S.A.B. de C.V. (“GCC”). GCC fought the award in the Bolivian courts, losing before a chamber of Bolivia’s highest constitutional court in 2016. In 2019, CIMSA obtained an order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado confirming the award. In 2020, GCC convinced a different chamber of Bolivia’s highest constitutional court to invalidate its prior decision, and a Bolivian trial judge subsequently annulled the award. GCC then moved the U.S. district court to vacate the confirmation order. The district court: (1) denied GCC’s motion; and (2) ordered GCC to turn over assets located in Mexico to satisfy the award. GCC brought separate appeals from these two rulings. GCC argued that the district court erred by refusing to vacate the Confirmation Judgment, contending the 2020 Bolivian court orders annulling the Damages Award required vacatur. The Tenth Circuit found when a court has been asked to vacate an order confirming an arbitral award that has later been annulled, it may balance against comity considerations (1) whether the annulment is repugnant to U.S. public policy or (2) whether giving effect to the annulment would undermine U.S. public policy. "Although the district court here may have found the 2020 Bolivian orders were not repugnant, it did not legally err by considering whether giving effect to those orders through vacatur of its Confirmation Judgment would offend U.S. public policy." Because the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to vacate its Confirmation Judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Compania De Inversiones v. Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, et al." on Justia Law

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Sagome, Inc.’s restaurant, L’Hostaria, suffered significant financial losses from reduced customer traffic and government lockdowns and restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. It sought to recover under its comprehensive general insurance policy. And like many insurers, The Cincinnati Insurance Company denied coverage because the virus did not impose physical loss or damage as required by the policy. Sagome sued, but the district court concluded its financial losses were not covered. Addressing Sagome’s coverage under Colorado law, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed: COVID-19 did not cause Sagome to suffer a qualifying loss because there was never any direct physical loss or damage to L’Hostaria. View "Sagome v. Cincinnati Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Evanston Insurance Company appealed the judgment following a bench trial on an insurance-coverage dispute. After determining that Evanston failed to timely rescind the policy and that a policy exclusion did not apply, the district court required Evanston to continue defending Desert State Life Management against a class action arising from its former CEO’s embezzlement scheme. Though the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that rescission was untimely, it disagreed about the likely application of New Mexico law on applying policy exclusions. Judgment was thus affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Evanston Insurance Company v. Desert State Life Management, et al." on Justia Law

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For years the parties in this case litigated the propriety of a proposed development in the Wolf Creek Ski Area—which the US Forest Service managed. The proposed development was a plan for highway access known as “the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project.” Plaintiff challenged this plan because of alleged environmental risks to the surrounding national forest. The highway-access litigation continued, but relevant here was a 2018 FOIA request Plaintiff submitted asking Defendant for “all agency records regarding the proposed Village at Wolf Creek Access Project.” Plaintiff’s request caused an enormous undertaking by Defendant. The statute instructed government agencies to use reasonable efforts to produce responsive records upon request. Beyond that, FOIA also exempted nine categories of records from public disclosure. Plaintiff requested and received voluminous records under FOIA, but claimed Defendants United States Forest Service (“USFS”) and United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) abused these statutory limitations to hide information about projects that harmed the environment. The district court rejected Plaintiff’s speculative theory and found USFS’s efforts to comply with Plaintiff’s FOIA request reasonable. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Rocky Mountain Wild v. United States Forest Service, et al." on Justia Law