Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Plaintiff-Appellant Bryan “Shane” Jones appealed the dismissal of his Title VII sex discrimination claim against Defendant-Appellee Needham Trucking, LLC and his state law tort claim for wrongful interference with a contractual relationship against Defendant-Appellee Julie Needham. Jones completed an intake questionnaire with the EEOC. In response to questions seeking more detailed explanations, Jones wrote “[s]ee attached.” The attachment never made it to the EEOC, nor did the EEOC alert Jones that it was missing. Nevertheless, the EEOC prepared a charge form on his behalf, and issued a right-to-sue letter. Jones then filed his lawsuit, alleging sexual harassment, negligence, negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful interference with a contractual or business relationship, and violation of the Oklahoma Employment Security Act of 1980 (“OESA”). The district court held that Jones failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for his quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, that his state law tort claim was precluded by the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (“OADA”), and that his OESA claim failed for want of a private right of action. Needham Trucking argued that the facts alleged were insufficient to put it on notice of the quid pro quo harassment claim made in Jones’s amended complaint because the facts from the attachment were not reflected in the EEOC charge form or right-to-sue letter. The Tenth Circuit concluded that though the complaint Jones filed was more detailed than his charge form, the form only needed to “describe generally” the alleged discrimination. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court with respect to the discrimination claim, but affirmed on the state law tort claims. View "Jones v. Needham" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute over the ownership of mineral rights appurtenant to several tracts of land located in Haskell County, Kansas. Michael Leathers and his brother Ronald Leathers each inherited half of these mineral rights from their mother. But an error in a quit claim deed subsequently executed between the brothers left it unclear whether Ronald’s one-half interest in the mineral estate had been conveyed to Michael. In a series of orders spanning several years, the district court (1) reformed the quit claim deed to reflect that Ronald had reserved his one-half interest in the mineral estate; (2) awarded half of Ronald’s one-half interest to Ronald’s wife Theresa (pursuant to Ronald and Theresa’s divorce decree); and (3) held that Ronald owed approximately $1.5 million to the IRS and that the IRS’s tax liens had first priority to any present and future royalties due to Ronald from his remaining one-quarter mineral interest. Ronald appealed, but finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment with respect to the reformation and the interests, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court on all grounds. View "Leathers v. Leathers" on Justia Law

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“Lowrie v. United States,” (824 F.2d 827 (10th Cir. 1987)), is still the controlling case law in matters challenging “activities leading up to and culminating in” an assessment. The Green Solution was a Colorado-based marijuana dispensary being audited by the Internal Revenue Service for tax deductions and credits taken for trafficking in a “controlled substance.” Green Solution sued the IRS seeking to enjoin the IRS from investigating whether it trafficked in a controlled substance in violation of federal law, and seeking a declaratory judgment that the IRS was acting outside its statutory authority when it made findings that a taxpayer trafficked in a controlled substance. Green Solution claimed it would suffer irreparable harm if the IRS were allowed to continue its investigation because a denial of deductions would: (1) deprive it of income, (2) constitute a penalty that would effect a forfeiture of all of its income and capital, and (3) violate its Fifth Amendment rights. The IRS moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. According to the IRS, Green Solution’s claim for injunctive relief was foreclosed by the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA), which barred suits “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” Similarly, the IRS asserted that the claim for declaratory relief violated the Declaratory Judgment Act (DJA), which prohibited declaratory judgments in certain federal tax matters. The district court dismissed the action with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, relying on “Lowrie.” Green Solution timely appealed, contending the district court had jurisdiction to hear its claims because the Supreme Court implicitly overruled Lowrie in “Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl,” (135 S. Ct. 1124 (2015)). The Tenth Circuit concluded it was still bound by Lowrie and affirmed. View "Green Solution Retail v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Cervenys sued the manufacturer of Clomid (Aventis, Inc.), asserting various tort claims under Utah law: failure to warn under theories of strict liability and negligence, breach of implied warranty, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud. They presented two theories, pointing to two types of warning labels that Aventis had allegedly failed to provide: (1) a label that warned of risks to the fetus when a woman takes Clomid before becoming pregnant; and (2) a label that unmistakably warned about harm to the fetus when Clomid is taken during pregnancy. The district court rejected the Cervenys’ claims based on preemption. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court ruling was correct on the Cervenys’ first theory, because the undisputed evidence showed that the FDA would not have approved a warning about taking Clomid before pregnancy. But on the second theory, the Tenth Circuit found the district court did not explain why a state claim based on the FDA’s own proposed language would be preempted by federal law. The district court also erred in failing to distinguish the remaining claims (breach of implied warranty, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud) from the failure-to-warn claims. These claims are based at least partly on affirmative misrepresentations rather than on a failure to provide a warning. The district court failed to explain why claims involving affirmative misrepresentations would have been preempted. View "Cerveny v. Aventis, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit found that Terry Margheim failed to show an essential element of his malicious prosecution claim against deputy district attorney Emela Buljko to establish a constitutional violation. For that reason, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to grant qualified immunity to Buljko. Margheim sued Buljko under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for malicious prosecution in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. This case arose from Margheim’s involvement in three state criminal matters - two domestic violence cases and a later drug case. His malicious prosecution claim was based on his prosecution in the drug case, but the three cases were tied together. When Buljko raised the qualified immunity defense in district court, Margheim had the burden to show a violation of clearly established federal law. (CA-D) Save Our Heritage Organization (McConnell) View "Margheim v. Buljko" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose out of the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The injunction followed the release, without a state permit, of two Mexican gray wolf pups on federal land located in New Mexico by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”). The district court’s order enjoined the Department of the Interior, FWS, and certain individuals in their official capacities from importing or releasing: (1) any Mexican gray wolves into the State without first obtaining the requisite state permits; and (2) any Mexican gray wolf offspring into the State in violation of prior state permits. Interior, FWS, Ryan Zinke, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Interior, Jim Kurth, in his capacity as Acting Director of FWS, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, in his capacity as Southwest Regional Director for FWS, and intervening defendants Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, separately filed timely appeals contending the district court abused its discretion in granting the Department a preliminary injunction. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the Department failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that it was likely to suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction. As a result, the district court abused its discretion in granting the Department’s request for injunctive relief. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed and vacated the district court’s order enjoining Federal Appellants from importing and releasing: (1) any Mexican gray wolves into the State without first obtaining the requisite state permits; and (2) any Mexican gray wolf offspring into the State in violation of prior state permits. The case was remanded back to the district court for further proceedings. View "NM Dept. of Game & Fish v. Dept. of Interior" on Justia Law

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Kent Duty filed suit against BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”), after he applied to work there as a locomotive electrician. Duty had an impairment that limits his grip strength in his right hand. Fearing that Duty would fall from ladders, BNSF revoked his offer for employment. Duty and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “Commission”) sued BNSF for employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). The ADA limits its protection by recognizing that not all impairments are disabilities. Applying the ADA’s definition of “disability,” the district court found that Kent Duty was not disabled and granted summary judgment to BNSF. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "EEOC v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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A New Mexico county board filed a lawsuit in state court against its securities broker and registered agent. The board refrained, however, from serving process while it determined whether arbitration was available. The securities broker and agent nonetheless removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss the suit. Four days after briefing was complete and about three months after the board had filed suit, the board voluntarily dismissed the case and filed for arbitration. The securities broker and agent then filed this action to enjoin arbitration, arguing the board waived its right to demand arbitration when it filed the state court action. The district court disagreed and instead granted the board’s counterclaim to compel arbitration. The broker and registered agent appealed the waiver issue. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "BOSC v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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VR Acquisitions, LLC (VRA) owned a roughly 6,700-acre property in Utah’s Jordanelle Basin. VRA brought this action in 2015, asserting three federal constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and five state-law claims. All claims rested, to some degree, on VRA’s assertion that an invalid assessment lien was recorded against the property three years before VRA bought the property. The district court dismissed all eight claims with prejudice under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), and VRA appealed. Because the district court properly dismissed VRA’s section 1983 claims for lack of prudential standing, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims with prejudice. But because the district court should have declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over VRA’s state-law claims, the Tenth Circuit reversed its dismissal with prejudice of those claims and remanded with directions for the district court to dismiss those claims without prejudice. View "VR Acquisitions v. Wasatch County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants David and Lee Ann Lankford unwittingly invested in a Ponzi scheme operated by Vaughan Company Realtors (VCR), wherein investors paid money to VCR in return for interest-bearing promissory notes. After the Ponzi scheme collapsed, VCR filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Unlike many others, the Lankfords actually profited from their investment. So the court-appointed trustee of VCR’s bankruptcy estate, Judith Wagner, brought an adversary proceeding against them in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Mexico. Through this and related “clawback” proceedings, the trustee sought to avoid, or undo, pre-bankruptcy fraudulent transfers and thus recoup fictitious profits from investors with net gains for the benefit of all of VCR’s creditors. The Lankfords filed this lawsuit against the bankruptcy trustee and her counsel without first applying for and receiving permission under "Barton v. Barbour," (104 U.S. 126 (1881)), and its progeny (the “Barton doctrine”). The district court concluded that "Barton" barred the suit and dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Lankford v. Wagner" on Justia Law