Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Plaintiff Anupama Bekkem filed suit against her employer, the Department of Veterans Affairs, based on numerous instances of discrimination and retaliation she allegedly experienced while working as a primary care physician for the VA in the Oklahoma City area. The district court dismissed some of her claims under Rule 12(b)(6) and granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant on the remaining claims. Plaintiff appealed. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims of discrimination based on unequal pay and retaliation based on her non-selection for the position as North May clinic medical director, and dismissal of her claim of discrimination based on a reprimand she received, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. However, the Court reversed summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claim of retaliation relating to the reprimand, and remanded that claim for further proceedings at the district court. View "Bekkem v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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In 2008, James Nelson was seriously injured while riding his bicycle on United States Air Force Academy land. He and his wife, Elizabeth Varney, sued the Academy under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), seeking damages. The district court ruled in their favor and awarded them approximately $7 million in damages. In a previous appeal, the Tenth Circuit reversed that decision, holding that the Colorado Recreational Use Statute (the “CRUS”) shielded the Academy from liability. But the Court remanded on the issue of whether an exception to the statute’s liability shield applied. On remand, the district court held that an exception did apply, and reinstated its prior judgment. The Academy appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Nelson v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Millard Lance Lemmings (“Lance”) was born at a government-operated hospital in Ada, Oklahoma. During his birth, Lance suffered a brain injury. Lance and his parents, suing as “parents and next friends,” sued Defendants Comphealth, Inc. and Comphealth Medical Staffing, Inc. for medical malpractice under the Federal Tor Claims Act. The parties settled the case on September 28, 2001. Lance’s parents were simultaneously engaged in a state court proceeding regarding guardianship of Lance. On the morning of October 25, 2001, Lance’s parents filed an application for an order approving the agreed settlement, attorneys’ fees, and litigation costs in the state court action. The state district court appointed Lance’s parents as the guardians of Lance’s estate. Following that court order, Lance’s parents withdrew their state court application for an order approving the settlement. Later that day, Lance’s parents appeared before the federal district court for a fairness hearing regarding the settlement and represented him at the fairness hearing. The district court did not appoint a guardian ad litem. Appellants Barbara Lemmings and Oran Hurley, Jr. filed a motion fifteen years later seeking to intervene, in which they contended: (1) the parties presented materially inaccurate information to the district court in 2001 in order to obtain the district court’s approval; (2) the district court did not have jurisdiction to approve the settlement because it did not appoint a guardian ad litem to represent Lance; and (3) a conflict of interest existed between Lance and his parents which required the appointment of a guardian ad litem. Belatedly, Appellants further sought access to the 2001 sealed fairness hearing transcript. In the motion to intervene, Appellants asserted that Lance’s parents spent a large portion of the proceeds and abandoned him in 2011, leaving him in the care of his paternal grandmother, Appellant Barbara Lemmings. The state district court appointed her Lance’s guardian in January 2017. After Ms. Lemmings suffered a health issue, the state court appointed Appellant Oran Hurley, Jr. as co-guardian. Appellants sought to reopen the district court action, vacate the dismissal, intervene, and rewrite the terms of the Irrevocable Governmental Trust in order to access the proceeds contained in that trust. The United States objected. The Tenth Circuit rejected Appellants' contention that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17 required the formal appointment of a guardian ad litem, and rejected the contention that an inherent conflict of interest always existed where a minor was represented by a parent who was a party to the same lawsuit as the minor. View "Kile v. United States" on Justia Law

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This case involved an alleged worldwide Ponzi scheme and the antifraud provisions of the federal Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Defendant Charles Scoville operated an internet traffic exchange business through his Utah company, Defendant Traffic Monsoon, LLC. The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) initiated this civil enforcement action, alleging Defendants were instead operating an unlawful online Ponzi scheme involving the fraudulent sale of securities. In this interlocutory appeal, Scoville challenged several preliminary orders the district court issued at the outset, including orders freezing Defendants’ assets, appointing a receiver, and preliminarily enjoining Defendants from continuing to operate their business. The Tenth Circuit upheld those preliminary rulings, finding the SEC asserted sufficient evidence to make it likely that the SEC would be able to prove that Defendants were operating a Ponzi scheme. View "SEC v. Traffic Monsoon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Maralex Resources, Inc. (Maralex), Alexis O’Hare and Mary C. O’Hare (the O’Hares) filed this action against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (Secretary), the Department of the Interior, and the United States seeking review of a decision of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) the upheld four Notices of Incidents of Noncompliance that were issued by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Tres Rios Field Office to Maralex for failing to allow a BLM representative to access certain oil and gas lease sites operated by Maralex on land owned by the O’Hares. The district court affirmed the IBLA’s decision. The Tenth Circuit determined the BLM, in issuing the Notices of Incidents of Noncompliance, lacked authority to require plaintiffs to provide BLM with a key to a lease site on privately-owned land or to allow the BLM to install its own locks on the gates to such lease site. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded to the district court with instructions to enter judgment in favor of plaintiffs on this “key or lock” issue. View "Maralex Resources v. Barnhardt" on Justia Law

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Dennis Woolman, former president of The Clemens Coal Company, challenged a district court’s determination that Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company didn’t breach a duty to him by failing to procure for Clemens Coal an insurance policy with a black-lung disease endorsement. Clemens Coal operated a surface coal mine until it filed for bankruptcy in 1997. Woolman served as Clemens Coal’s last president before it went bankrupt. Federal law required Clemens Coal to maintain worker’s compensation insurance with a special endorsement covering miners’ black-lung disease benefits. Woolman didn’t personally procure insurance for Clemens Coal but instead delegated that responsibility to an outside consultant. The policy the consultant ultimately purchased for the company did not contain a black-lung-claim endorsement, and it expressly excluded coverage for federal occupational disease claims, such as those arising under the Black Lung Benefits Act (the Act). In 2012, a former Clemens Coal employee, Clayton Spencer, filed a claim with the United States Department of Labor (DOL) against Clemens Coal for benefits under the Act. After some investigation, the DOL advised Woolman that Clemens Coal was uninsured for black-lung-benefits claims as of July 25, 1997 (the last date of Spencer’s employment) and that, without such coverage, Woolman, as Clemens Coal’s president, could be held personally liable. Woolman promptly tendered the claim to Liberty Mutual for a legal defense. Liberty Mutual responded with a reservation-of-rights letter, stating that it hadn’t yet determined coverage for Spencer’s claim but that it would provide a defense during its investigation. Then in a follow-up letter, Liberty Mutual clarified that it would defend Clemens Coal as a company (not Woolman personally) and advised Woolman to retain his own counsel. Liberty Mutual eventually concluded that the insurance policy didn’t cover the black-lung claim, and sued Clemens Coal and Woolman for a declaration to that effect. In his suit, Woolman also challenged the district court’s rejection of his argument that Liberty Mutual should have been estopped from denying black-lung-disease coverage, insisting that he relied on Liberty Mutual to provide such coverage. Having considered the totality of the circumstances, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court didn’t err in declining Woolman’s extraordinary request to expand the coverages in the Liberty Mutual policy. “Liberty Mutual never represented it would procure the coverage that Woolman now seeks, and the policy itself clearly excludes such coverage. No other compelling consideration justifies rewriting the agreement— twenty years later—to Woolman’s liking.” View "Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance v. Woolman" on Justia Law

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Enable Intrastate Transmission, LLC owned and operated a natural gas pipeline that crossed Indian allotted land in Anadarko, Oklahoma. A twenty-year easement for the pipeline expired in 2000. Enable failed to renew the easement but also failed to remove the pipeline. In response, roughly three-dozen individual Native American Allottees who held equitable title in the allotted land filed suit. The district court granted summary judgment to the Allottees, ruling on the basis of stipulated facts that Enable was liable for trespass. The court then enjoined the trespass, ordering Enable to remove the pipeline. Enable appealed both rulings; the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. The Court determined the district court properly granted summary judgment to the Allottees but erred in issuing the permanent injunction. A federal district court’s decision to permanently enjoin a continuing trespass on allotted land should take into account: (1) whether an injunction is necessary to prevent “irreparable harm;” (2) whether “the threatened injury outweighs the harm that the injunction may cause” to the enjoined party; and (3) whether the injunction would “adversely affect the public interest.” The Tenth Circuit concluded that by ordering Enable to remove the pipeline on the basis of liability alone, the district court legally erred and thus abused its discretion. The district court incorporated a simplified injunction rule from Oklahoma law when it should have adhered to basic tenants of federal equity jurisprudence. This matter was remanded for the district court "for a full weighing of the equities." View "Davilla v. Enable Midstream Partners" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant DTC Energy Group, Inc., sued two of its former employees, Adam Hirschfeld and Joseph Galban, as well as one of its industry competitors, Ally Consulting, LLC, for using DTC’s trade secrets to divert business from DTC to Ally. DTC moved for a preliminary injunction based on its claims for breach of contract, breach of the duty of loyalty, misappropriation of trade secrets, and unfair competition. The district court denied the motion, finding DTC had shown a probability of irreparable harm from Hirschfeld’s ongoing solicitation of DTC clients, but that DTC could not show the ongoing solicitation violated Hirschfeld’s employment agreement. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not abuse its discretion when denying DTC's motion for a preliminary injunction, and affirmed. View "DTC Energy Group v. Hirschfeld" on Justia Law

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Terry Schulenberg, a train engineer for BNSF Railway Company, was injured when the train he was riding “bottomed out.” Schulenberg filed suit against BNSF, alleging liability for negligence under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). BNSF filed motions to exclude Schulenberg’s expert witness and for summary judgment, both of which the district court granted. Schulenberg appealed, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert witness because there was no discernable methodology offered for his opinions. And the Court concluded the district court was correct in granting summary judgment to BNSF because Schulenberg failed to present a dispute of material fact on his sole theory of liability on appeal, negligence per se. View "Schulenberg v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law

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Husky Ventures, Inc. (“Husky”) sued B55 Investments Ltd. (“B55”) and its president, Christopher McArthur, for breach of contract and tortious interference under Oklahoma law. In response, B55 filed counterclaims against Husky. A jury reached a verdict in Husky’s favor, awarding $4 million in compensatory damages against both B55 and McArthur and $2 million in punitive damages against just McArthur; the jury also rejected the counterclaims. In further proceedings, the district court entered a permanent injunction and a declaratory judgment in Husky’s favor. After the court entered final judgment, B55 and McArthur appealed, and moved for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) or, in the alternative, to certify a question of state law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The court denied the motion in all respects. On appeal, B55 and McArthur contended the district court erred in denying their motion for a new trial and again moved to certify a question of state law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In addition, they appealed the permanent injunction and declaratory judgment and argue that the district court erred in refusing to grant leave to amend the counterclaims. The Tenth Circuit dismissed B55 and McArthur’s claims relating to the motion for a new trial for lack of appellate jurisdiction and denied their motion to certify the state law question as moot. The Court otherwise affirmed the district court’s judgment on the remaining issues. View "Husky Ventures v. B55 Investments" on Justia Law