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

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In this case, the defendant, Patrick Murphy, was convicted of murder, murder in perpetration of kidnapping, and kidnapping resulting in death. The crimes occurred in 1999, but Murphy was not indicted until 2020, following a Supreme Court decision that clarified jurisdictional issues related to crimes committed in Indian Country. Murphy appealed his convictions, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the kidnapping charges, that the prosecution was barred by the statute of limitations, and that the nearly two-decade delay between the murder and the federal prosecution violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with Murphy's argument regarding the kidnapping charges. The court held that, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, it did not show that Murphy held the victim for an appreciable period of time, which is a requirement under the federal kidnapping statute. However, the court rejected Murphy's other two arguments. The court found that the statute of limitations did not bar the prosecution because the crimes with which Murphy was charged are, as a general matter, punishable by death and thus not subject to the general five-year statute of limitations for non-capital federal crimes. The court also found that Murphy failed to demonstrate that the twenty-year delay in bringing the federal prosecution against him violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights.As a result, the court reversed Murphy's kidnapping-related convictions but affirmed his conviction for murder. The case was remanded to the district court for resentencing. View "United States v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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A prisoner, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, alleged that officials from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) beat him while others watched. He brought claims under the Eighth Amendment for excessive force and failure to intervene, arguing that the BOP officials' actions gave him a cause of action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The BOP officials moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that Bivens did not extend to Mohamed's claims. The district court denied their motion.The BOP officials appealed the district court's decision, seeking interlocutory review. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court found that the BOP officials had not shown that the district court's order extending Bivens to Mohamed's Eighth Amendment excessive force and failure to intervene claims qualified for interlocutory review under the collateral order doctrine. The court noted that the BOP officials bore the burden of establishing the court's appellate jurisdiction and had failed to convince the court to create an exception to the final judgment rule for all district court orders extending a Bivens remedy. The court also noted that the BOP officials had not shown that Bivens extension orders were effectively unreviewable after final judgment and therefore had not satisfied the third Cohen factor. View "Mohamed v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The case originated as a class action dispute about the underpayment of oil and gas royalties due on wells in Oklahoma. The plaintiff, Chieftain Royalty Company, sued SM Energy Company, the operator of the wells, under various tort theories, including fraud, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. In 2015, the claims were settled for approximately $52 million. Following the settlement, Chieftain's counsel moved for attorneys’ fees, and Chieftain sought an incentive award for its CEO, Robert Abernathy. Two class members objected to the awards and appealed. The court affirmed the settlement but reversed the attorneys’ fees and incentive awards, remanding to the district court for further proceedings.On remand, the district court re-awarded the fees and incentive award. The class did not receive notice of the 2018 attorneys’ fees motion as required under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(h)(1), so the court vacated the district court order awarding attorneys’ fees and remanded with instructions to direct class-wide notice of the 2018 attorneys’ fees motion and to re-open the period for objections. The court did not reach the merits of the appellate challenge to the re-awarded attorneys’ fees. The court affirmed the district court’s incentive award to Mr. Abernathy. View "Chieftain Royalty Company v. SM Energy Company" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around an incident where Colorado Springs Police Officers Robert McCafferty and Christopher Pryor responded to a 911-call placed by Sasha Cronick reporting a drug overdose. During the incident, Officer Pryor questioned Cronick, which escalated into an argument, leading to her arrest for failure to desist and disperse in violation of Colorado Springs Code § 9.2.103. Cronick filed a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the officers violated her constitutional rights. The officers asserted qualified immunity, but the district court denied their claim.The district court found several disputes of fact, including whether Officer Pryor issued an order for Cronick to leave the scene, whether Cronick was obstructing the scene, and whether Officer Pryor grabbed Cronick's arm to escort her away or after she had already turned to walk away. The court concluded that these disputes prevented it from finding that the officers had probable cause to arrest Cronick.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court concluded that a reasonable officer under these circumstances would not have arguable probable cause to arrest Cronick for failure to desist or disperse. The court also found that the officers did not have probable cause to conduct a search incident to arrest. The officers failed to articulate specific facts that led them to believe Cronick posed a threat and offered nothing beyond conclusory references to safety. Therefore, the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because they violated Cronick's clearly established constitutional rights. View "Cronick v. Pryor" on Justia Law

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The case involves Brandon Pryor, an advocate for quality educational opportunities in Far Northeast Denver, who was stripped of his volunteer position and restricted from accessing Denver School District No. 1 facilities after he criticized the district and its officials. The district claimed that Pryor's conduct was abusive, bullying, threatening, and intimidating. Pryor sued the district, Superintendent Alex Marrero, and Deputy Superintendent Anthony Smith, alleging First Amendment retaliation.The United States District Court for the District of Colorado granted a preliminary injunction in part, enjoining the defendants from enforcing the restrictions and from taking any other retaliatory action against Pryor, his family, or the school he co-founded, the Robert W. Smith STEAM Academy. The defendants appealed the preliminary injunction.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Pryor was substantially likely to succeed on the merits of his First Amendment retaliation claim. The court also found that Pryor would suffer irreparable injury if the injunction was denied, that the harm to Pryor without the injunction outweighed the harm to the defendants with the injunction, and that the injunction was not adverse to the public interest. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the preliminary injunction. View "Pryor v. School District No. 1" on Justia Law

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A student, John Doe, through his mother, Jane Doe, filed a lawsuit against Rocky Mountain Classical Academy (RMCA), Nicole Blanc, and Cullen McDowell, alleging that the school's dress code, which prohibited boys from wearing earrings, violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and Title IX. The plaintiff also claimed that the school retaliated against him for complaining about sex discrimination.The United States District Court for the District of Colorado dismissed the plaintiff's claims, applying the "comparable burdens" test from the Seventh Circuit's decision in Hayden ex rel. A.H. v. Greensburg Cmty. Sch. Corp. The district court found that the dress code imposed comparable burdens on both boys and girls, and therefore did not constitute sex discrimination.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court's application of the "comparable burdens" test. The appellate court held that the district court should have applied the intermediate scrutiny standard, which requires a sex-based classification to serve important governmental objectives and be substantially related to achieving those objectives. The court found that the plaintiff had stated a claim upon which relief could be granted under both the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX, as the school had not provided an "exceedingly persuasive justification" for its sex-based classification. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the plaintiff's sex discrimination claims.However, the appellate court agreed with the district court's dismissal of the plaintiff's Title IX retaliation claim. The court found that the plaintiff had not stated a plausible claim for retaliation, as the complaint only permitted the inference that the school took disciplinary actions because of the plaintiff's dress code violations. View "Doe v. Rocky Mountain Classical Academy" on Justia Law

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The case involves Duke Bradford, Arkansas Valley Adventure (AVA), and the Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) who appealed against the District of Colorado’s order denying their motion to preliminarily enjoin a Department of Labor (DOL) rule. The rule required federal contractors to pay their employees a $15.00 minimum hourly wage. The DOL promulgated the rule pursuant to a directive in Executive Order (EO) 14,026, issued by President Biden. The EO imposed the minimum wage requirement on most federal contractors and rescinded an exemption for recreational services outfitters operating on federal lands.The appellants argued that the district court erred in concluding that the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (FPASA) authorizes the minimum wage rule as applied to recreational services permittees because the government does not procure any services from them or supply anything to them. They also argued that the DOL acted arbitrarily and capriciously in promulgating the minimum wage rule without exempting recreational service permittees.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the appellants have not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits that the DOL’s rule was issued without statutory authority. The court held that FPASA likely authorizes the minimum wage rule because the DOL’s rule permissibly regulates the supply of nonpersonal services and advances the statutory objectives of economy and efficiency. The court also held that the appellants have not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits that the DOL’s rule is arbitrary and capricious. View "Bradford v. U.S. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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In 2021, the Colorado state legislature passed The Ballot Measure Fiscal Transparency Act, which required certain language to be included in state-imposed titles of citizen-initiated ballot measures. If the proposal contained a tax change affecting state or local revenues, the measure’s title had to incorporate a phrase stating the change’s impact on state and district funding priorities. In 2023, Advance Colorado proposed two tax reduction measures subject to the provisions of the Act. After Colorado’s Ballot Title Setting Board included the mandated transparency language in each initiative’s title, Advance Colorado filed suit challenging the Act as unconstitutionally compelling its political speech.The United States District Court for the District of Colorado denied Advance Colorado's request for a preliminary injunction, concluding that the titling process qualified as government speech and, therefore, Advance Colorado was not likely to succeed on the merits of its claims. The court considered the factors used for determining the boundary between government and private speech as outlined in Shurtleff v. City of Bos., 596 U.S. 243, 252 (2022). It concluded that the history of the expression, the public’s likely perception as to who is speaking, and the extent to which the government has shaped the expression all indicated Colorado’s titling system was government speech not subject to a First Amendment compelled speech claim.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, agreeing that the Act’s requirements did not result in improperly compelled speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The court found that the Colorado initiative titling system squarely qualified as government speech and Advance Colorado had not otherwise shown its own speech was improperly compelled by the government speech. Therefore, it could not demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its claims. View "Advance Colorado v. Griswold" on Justia Law

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In 1989, Andrew Johnson was convicted of aggravated burglary and sexual assault. In 2013, a Wyoming state court declared Johnson innocent based on DNA evidence and vacated his convictions. Johnson then filed a lawsuit against Officer Alan Spencer, the Estate of Detective George Stanford, and the City of Cheyenne, Wyoming, alleging that they fabricated evidence, failed to produce exculpatory evidence, and failed to maintain adequate policing policies. The district court dismissed Johnson's claims, and he appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Johnson failed to plausibly allege a fabrication-of-evidence claim against Officer Spencer. Regarding Johnson's claim based on the alleged failure to produce exculpatory evidence, the court determined that Johnson failed to show that his constitutional rights were violated, and thus, Officer Spencer and Detective Stanford were entitled to qualified immunity. The court also concluded that the district court properly dismissed the claims against the City of Cheyenne because Johnson did not demonstrate that any City of Cheyenne law enforcement officer violated his constitutional rights. View "Johnson v. City of Cheyenne" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dr. Eric Coomer, the former director of product strategy and security at Dominion Voting Systems, who filed a lawsuit against Make Your Life Epic LLC (doing business as ThriveTime Show) and its podcast host, Clayton Clark. The defendants had published and repeated false claims about Dr. Coomer, alleging that he was a member of "Antifa" and had rigged the 2020 presidential election in favor of Joseph R. Biden and against Donald J. Trump. Dr. Coomer's lawsuit asserted claims for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy.The defendants filed a "special motion to dismiss" the lawsuit under Colorado’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. The District Court for the District of Colorado denied this motion, determining that Dr. Coomer would likely prevail on the merits of all three of his claims. The defendants appealed this decision, asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to reverse the district court’s order.The Tenth Circuit dismissed the defendants' appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The court held that the proposed interlocutory appeal fell outside of the collateral-order doctrine, which provides appellate jurisdiction over a small class of collateral rulings that, although they do not end the litigation, are appropriately deemed final. The court found that the district court's order denying the special motion to dismiss under Colorado’s anti-SLAPP statute was not completely separate from the merits of the case and thus did not meet the requirements of the collateral-order doctrine. View "Coomer v. Make Your Life Epic" on Justia Law