Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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The district court dismissed Marc Schenkel's claims against Xyngular Corporation and various third parties as a sanction for abuse of what he claims was pre-litigation discovery. The Tenth Circuit had not previously decided whether pre-litigation conduct that did not give rise to the substantive claims in a case was sanctionable by dismissal of a party’s claims. After review of Schenkel's arguments on appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded termination sanctions were permissible when pre-litigation conduct was aimed at manipulating the judicial process and was unrelated to the conduct that gave rise to the substantive claims in a case. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that these conditions were met in the present case, its judgment was affirmed. View "Xyngular v. Schenkel" on Justia Law

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Correct Care Solutions, LLC (CCS) terminated Alena Fassbender’s employment for violating CCS policy. Fassbender, who was pregnant at the time of her termination, argued she was terminated because CCS had one too many pregnant workers in Fassbender’s unit, which posed a problem for her supervisor. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded a reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s version of events. Accordingly, the Court reversed the portion of the district court’s order granting CCS summary judgment on Fassbender’s pregnancy discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. secs. 2000e–2000e-17. However, the Court affirmed in part, finding no reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s alternative claim that CCS terminated her in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. View "Fassbender v. Correct Care Solutions" on Justia Law

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Defendant Williams Companies, Inc. (Williams) was an energy company; its president and chief executive officer (CEO) was Defendant Alan Armstrong and its chief financial officer (CFO) was Defendant Donald Chappel. Armstrong also served on its board of directors. Defendant Williams Partners GP LLC (Williams Partners GP) was a limited-liability company owned by Williams. Armstrong was chairman of the board and CEO; and Chappel was CFO and a director. Defendant Williams Partners L.P. (WPZ) was a master limited partnership, whose general partner was Williams Partners GP. Williams owned 60% of WPZ’s limited-partnership units. Plaintiff’s case centered on merger discussions between Williams and Energy Transfer Equity L.P. (ETE), a competing energy firm. The members of the putative class purchased units of WPZ between May 13, 2015 (when Williams announced that it planned to merge with WPZ) and June 19, 2015 (when ETE announced that, despite having been rebuffed by Williams, it would seek to merge with Williams and that such a merger would preclude the merger with WPZ). The value of the units dropped significantly after this announcement. Ultimately, ETE merged with Williams and the proposed WPZ merger was not consummated. The Complaint alleged the class members paid an excessive price for WPZ units because Williams had not disclosed during the class period its merger discussions with ETE. Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island (Plaintiff) appealed the dismissal of its amended complaint in a putative class-action suit, alleging violations of federal securities law because of the failure to disclose merger discussions that affected the value of its investment. The Tenth Circuit concluded the complaint failed to adequately allege facts establishing a duty to disclose the discussions, the materiality of the discussions, or the requisite scienter in failing to disclose the discussions. View "Employees' Retirement System v. Williams Companies" on Justia Law

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In 2014, nine of Jerry and Deidre Matthews’ adopted children were placed in the emergency custody of the State. In June 2016, Jerry Matthews pleaded no contest to reduced charges of child neglect. He received a suspended life sentence in exchange for his promise to testify truthfully against his now former wife, Deidre Matthews. In October 2017, Deidre Matthews pleaded no contest in the same state court to twelve counts of child abuse, child neglect, and child endangerment. The state court sentenced Deidre Matthews to life in prison with all but four years suspended. The children claimed among other things, that eighteen Oklahoma Department of Human Services (ODHS) caseworkers violated their Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights in connection with the horrific events recounted in the complaint. They generally alleged that between January 2004 and March 2014, various individuals, all with good cause, reported to ODHS that the children living in the Matthews’ home were being mentally and physically abused. At least seventeen reports of abuse and neglect were made to ODHS during this time period. “To say the ODHS caseworkers left the children with the Matthews to suffer continued abuse and neglect under deplorable conditions in a dangerous home environment is perhaps an understatement.” The caseworkers appealed the district court’s denial of their motion to dismiss the constitutional claims against them on the basis of qualified immunity. At issue before the Tenth Circuit was: (1) whether the facts alleged in the complaint gave rise to constitutional claims against each of the ODHS caseworkers; and if so, (2) whether those claims were clearly established at the time of the alleged constitutional violations. Because the caseworkers asserted the defense of qualified immunity, the burden was on Plaintiffs to establish their right to proceed. The Tenth Circuit found plaintiffs did not meet that burden as to some, but not all, of the caseworkers, and affirmed in part and reversed in part. “The people of the State of Oklahoma ‘may well prefer a system of liability which would place upon the State and its officials the responsibility for failure to act in situations such as the present one.’ The people may create such a system if they have not already done so. But ‘when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief [under the Constitution], this basic deficiency should be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.’” View "Matthews v. Bergdorf" on Justia Law

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Samantha Hall was diagnosed with leukemia; she attributed the disease to a ConocoPhillips refinery’s emissions of a chemical known as benzene. Hall lived near ConocoPhillips’s refinery in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Roughly two decades later, she developed a form of leukemia known as “Acute Myeloid Leukemia with Inversion 16.” Liability turned largely on whether benzene emissions had caused Hall’s leukemia. On the issue of causation, the district court excluded testimony from two of Hall’s experts and granted summary judgment to ConocoPhillips. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed because: (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert testimony; and (2) expert testimony was necessary to create a genuine issue of material fact on causation because of the length of time between the exposure to benzene and the onset of Hall’s disease. View "Hall v. Conoco" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a dispute between Summit Park Townhome Association and its insurer, Auto-Owners Insurance Company, over the value of property damaged in a hail storm. To determine the value, the district court ordered an appraisal and established procedural requirements governing the selection of impartial appraisers. After the appraisal was completed, Auto-Owners paid the appraised amount to Summit Park. But the court found that Summit Park had failed to make required disclosures and had selected a biased appraiser. In light of this finding, the court vacated the appraisal award, dismissed Summit Park’s counterclaims with prejudice, and awarded interest to Auto-Owners on the amount earlier paid to Summit Park. Summit Park appealed, raising six issues of alleged error with the proceedings. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, however, finding that in the absence of a successful appellate challenge to the disclosure order, Summit Park was obligated to comply and did not. The court was thus justified in dismissing Summit Park’s counterclaims. In addition, Summit Park’s failure to select an impartial appraiser compelled vacatur of the appraisal award under the insurance policy. View "Auto-Owners v. Summit Park" on Justia Law

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William Harris and David Pettinato were two attorneys who represented Summit Park Townhome Association who represented Summit Park in a lawsuit against its insurer. The two attorneys were sanctioned for failing to disclose information. The Tenth Circuit affirmed sanctions against them, finding that regardless of whether the district court had authority to require the disclosures, the attorneys were obligated to comply. They did not, and the district court acted reasonably in issuing sanctions, determining the scope of the sanctions, and calculating the amount of the sanctions. View "Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. Summit Park Townhome Assoc." on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of a dispute between an insured (Summit Park Townhome Association) and its insurer (Auto-Owners Insurance Company) over the value of property damaged in a hail storm. To determine the value, the district court ordered an appraisal and established procedural requirements governing the selection of impartial appraisers. After the appraisal was completed, Auto-Owners paid the appraised amount to Summit Park. But the court found that Summit Park had failed to make required disclosures and had selected a biased appraiser. In light of this finding, the court vacated the appraisal award, dismissed Summit Park’s counterclaims with prejudice, and awarded interest to Auto-Owners on the amount earlier paid to Summit Park. Summit Park appealed, but the Tenth Circuit affirmed. “In the absence of a successful appellate challenge to the disclosure order, Summit Park was obligated to comply and did not. The court was thus justified in dismissing Summit Park’s counterclaims. In addition, Summit Park’s failure to select an impartial appraiser compelled vacatur of the appraisal award under the insurance policy. Finally, Summit Park obtained due process through the opportunity to object to the award of interest.” View "Auto-Owners v. Summit Park" on Justia Law

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William Harris and David Pettinato were attorneys who represented Summit Park Townhome Association. While representing Summit Park against its insurer, the two attorneys were sanctioned for failing to disclose information. In this appeal, the attorneys raised five arguments to challenge the sanctions. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: “Regardless of whether the district court had authority to require the disclosures, the attorneys were obligated to comply. They did not, and the district court acted reasonably in issuing sanctions, determining the scope of the sanctions, and calculating the amount of the sanctions.” View "Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. Summit Park Townhome Assoc." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a private enforcement action under Section 505 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1365. Defendant-Appellant Ozark Materials River Rock, LLC, appealed a district court’s order approving Plaintiff-Appellee David Benham’s proposed restoration plan of unlawfully filled wetlands in Saline Creek. Ozark was a sand and gravel mining company that operated on property adjacent to Saline Creek in Oklahoma. Benham recreates in Saline Creek and claimed Ozark’s operations degraded his ability to do so. In March 2011, Benham served Ozark with a notice letter pursuant to Section 505, informing the company that it was violating Section 404 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. 1344. Section 404 required a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to discharge dredge or fill material into navigable waters if the activity disturbed more than one-half acre of wetland, and Ozark did not have a Section 404 permit. The Army Corps of Engineers had inspected Ozark’s operations in 2010 (again in 2012 and 2013) by driving through the property, but it found no CWA violations. Nevertheless, after receiving Benham’s notice, Ozark hired an environmental consulting firm to perform a Section 404 impact analysis of Ozark’s Saline Creek operations. By June 1, 2011, Ozark had not addressed the CWA violations that Benham alleged in his notice, so he filed the underlying citizen suit, as authorized by Section 505. The district court held a bench trial and found that Ozark’s construction of a roadway in Saline Creek and the filling of its surrounding wetlands without a permit constitute a continuing violation of the CWA. The district court imposed a civil penalty of $35,000 and ordered briefing on a restoration plan for the unlawfully filled wetlands. On June 1, 2017, the district court issued an order adopting (substantially all of) Benham’s proposed restoration plan; one element of the plan created a conservation easement for the restoration site. Ozark raised several issues on appeal challenging the district court’s order and underlying findings of fact and conclusions of law. But finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Benham v. Ozark Materials River Rock" on Justia Law