Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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The issue this appeal presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review centered on the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff-Appellant David Hampton’s securities-fraud class action against Defendants-Appellees root9B Technologies, Inc. (“root9B”), Joseph Grano, Jr., the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, and Kenneth T. Smith, the former Chief Financial Officer. Hampton filed suit claiming root9B made false or misleading statements in connection with the purchase or sale of securities. Hampton identified two statements he alleged were false or misleading and material: (1) a letter from Grano to investors attesting that root9B was differentiated from competitors by its “proprietary hardware and software;” and (2) a press release and associated report published by root9B in which the company claimed to have detected a planned cyber attack against a number of international financial institutions. He further alleged that the individual defendants were jointly and severally liable under section 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The district court dismissed Hampton’s claims, finding that he had failed to sufficiently plead that the identified statements were false or misleading. The Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court’s findings and affirmed its judgment. View "Hampton v. Root9B Technologies" on Justia Law

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Mindy Armstrong was employed by The Arcanum Group, Inc., which served as a placement agency to staff federal-government positions. She was placed with the Real Estate Leasing Services Department of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). After she complained that BLM employees were falsifying lease-related records, the BLM demanded that Arcanum remove her from the placement. Her Arcanum supervisor could not find an alternative placement for Armstrong and accordingly terminated her employment. Armstrong sued Arcanum in federal district court, claiming Arcanum retaliated against her for her falsification complaints, in violation of the antiretaliation provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA) and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The district court granted Arcanum summary judgment, and Armstrong appealed. Finding that Armstrong did not produce sufficient evidence that her supervisor had knowledge of her complaints before he terminated her, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer. View "Armstrong v. The Arcanum Group" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Marcia Eisenhour worked for 24 years as a court administrator for the Weber County Justice Court. In 2008, she complained to the county attorney about sexual harassment by Judge Craig Storey, the only judge of that court. The matter was referred to Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, which found no misconduct. Eisenhour then went public in 2009, and the press reported her allegations. Several months later, three Weber County Commissioners, defendants Craig Deardon, Kenneth Bischoff, and Jan Zogmaister, voted to close the Justice Court and merge it with a similar court in another county. This eventually left Eisenhour without a job. Eisenhour sued Storey, Weber County, and the three commissioners who voted to close the Justice Court, raising a variety of claims. The district court granted summary judgment against Eisenhour on all claims, and she appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part. At the trial on the remanded claims, the jury rendered verdicts for Eisenhour on the equal-protection harassment claim against Storey and the whistleblower claim against the County but found against her on the First Amendment retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. The district court then granted a motion by the County for a new trial on the whistleblower claim, and it sua sponte ordered a new trial on the retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. At the retrial on those claims the court granted the commissioners’ motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) on the retaliation claim against them, and the jury found for the County on the whistleblower and retaliation claims against it. Storey raised two issues on appeal: (1) the denial of his motion for judgment as a matter of law because the evidence against him was insufficient; and (2) the admission into evidence of a poem he had written concerning Eisenhour. Eisenhour raised three issues: (1) the judge who presided at the first trial should have recused himself after the jury rendered its verdict in that trial; (2) her second trial was unfair because of the district court’s evidentiary rulings; and (3) at the second trial the district court should not have granted the commissioners a judgment as a matter of law but should have let the claim go to the jury. The Tenth Circuit rejected all challenges by both parties except dismissal of a punitive-damages claim. View "Eisenhour v. Weber County" on Justia Law

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Chester Bailey Jr. was employed by the Independent School District No. 69 of Canadian County Oklahoma (“the School District”) as Director of Athletics from 2009 to 2016. Throughout his career, Bailey received positive evaluations, indicating that he “exhibited strong leadership abilities,” “demonstrat[ed] a high degree of integrity,” and was “an asset to the district.” Bailey's nephew, Dustin Graham, pled guilty in 2014 to various state charges largely stemming from video recordings he made of women in the bathroom of his apartment without their consent. Graham also pled guilty to a single count of manufacturing child pornography based on a video he recorded of a minor. There was considerable media coverage of Graham’s arrest, trial, and sentencing. During Graham’s sentencing proceedings in 2014, Bailey wrote a letter to the sentencing judge on Graham’s behalf. The School District does not issue its employees official letterhead but it was common practice for individuals to produce their own letterhead using the school logo and their titles. Bailey had created such a letterhead and used a sheet to write to Graham’s sentencing judge. The letter’s header contained the logo for the school district, and gave the address of the Department of Athletics and Bailey’s job title. More than thirty individuals wrote letters to the sentencing judge on Graham’s behalf, including his local state representative. In 2017, the Superintendent of Schools for the School District received a letter expressing concern that Bailey used School District letterhead in support of an individual convicted of a child pornography offense. The Superintended decided to recommend Bailey's termination, citing loss of trust in Bailey's judgment, for using the school letterhead to request leniency for Graham. After a due process hearing before the Board of Education, the Board terminated Bailey's employment. Bailey filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the School District and Superintendent, alleging wrongful termination in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment. Concluding that Bailey’s speech did not relate to a matter of public concern, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the School District and the Superintendent. Bailey timely appealed. The issue this case presented on appeal to the Tenth Circuit was whether a letter written by a public employee, seeking a reduced sentence for his relative, speech on a matter of public concern for the purposes of a First Amendment "Garcetti/Pickering" inquiry. The Court determined it was, and reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgement favoring the School District. Nonetheless, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to school superintendent Sean McDaniel because the law was not previously clearly established on this issue. View "Bailey v. Independent School District No. 69" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs in consolidated appeals each settled a claim under their automobile-insurance policies with the defendants. But plaintiffs maintained the defendants illegally reduced their settlement offers by taking into account certain benefits they had previously paid plaintiffs. The district courts dismissed the plaintiffs’ putative class-action lawsuits after concluding the plaintiffs each waived their rights to collect further damages from the defendants on their settled claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part and remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate its judgment in favor of USAA Casualty Insurance Company because it lacked jurisdiction to hear the claims against that defendant. Otherwise, the Court affirmed. View "McCracken v. Progressive Direct Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Appellants, the Navajo Nation and its wholly-owned government enterprise the Northern Edge Navajo Casino (together, the “Tribe” or “Nation”), entered into a state-tribal gaming compact with New Mexico under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”). The Tribe agreed not only to waive its sovereign immunity for personal-injury lawsuits brought by visitors to its on-reservation gaming facilities, but also to permit state courts to take jurisdiction over such claims. Harold and Michelle McNeal were plaintiffs in such a state-court action against the Tribe. Mr. McNeal allegedly slipped on a wet floor in the Northern Edge Navajo Casino. This incident constituted the basis for the McNeals’ tort claims against the Nation for negligence, res ipsa loquitur, and loss of consortium. The Tribe moved to dismiss the McNeals’ complaint, arguing that the state court lacked jurisdiction because neither IGRA nor Navajo law permitted the shifting of jurisdiction to a state court over such personal-injury claims. The state court rejected that motion. In response, the Tribe sought declaratory relief in federal court on the basis of the same arguments. The district court granted summary judgment for the McNeals, holding that IGRA permitted tribes and states to agree to shift jurisdiction to the state courts and that Navajo law did not prohibit such an allocation of jurisdiction. Along with the jurisdictional issue, the parties also disputed: (1) whether IGRA permitted an Indian tribe to allocate jurisdiction over a tort claim arising on Indian land to a state court; and (2) assuming that IGRA did allow for such an allocation, whether the Navajo Nation Council (“NNC”) was empowered to shift jurisdiction to the state court under Navajo Law. The Tenth Circuit determined that IGRA, under its plain terms, did not authorize an allocation of jurisdiction over tort claims of the kind at issue here. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded with instructions to grant the declaratory relief sought by the Nation. View "Navajo Nation v. Dalley" on Justia Law

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Michelle Renee Lamb was born a male, but from a young age, however, displayed feminine characteristics and identified as a female. Lamb was in state prison experiencing gender dysphoria. For this condition, she received medical treatment. However, she claimed the treatment was so poor that it violated the Eighth Amendment. The undisputed evidence showed Lamb received hormone treatment, testosterone-blocking medication, and weekly counseling sessions. A 1986 precedent, Supre v. Ricketts, 752 F.2d 958 (10th Cir. 1986), suggested these forms of treatment would preclude liability for an Eighth Amendment violation. Based partly on this precedent, the district court granted summary judgment to the prison officials. Lamb challenged the grant of summary judgment. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded no genuine issue of material fact existed: “In light of the prison’s treatment for Michelle’s gender dysphoria, no reasonable factfinder could infer deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials. And the district court did not improperly curtail Michelle’s opportunity to conduct discovery. Thus, we affirm the award of summary judgment to the prison officials.” View "Lamb v. Norwood" on Justia Law

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This case was a qui tam action alleging violations of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) involving fraudulent reimbursements under the Medicare Act. Plaintiff Gerald Polukoff, M.D., was a doctor who worked with Defendant Sherman Sorensen, M.D. After observing some of Sorensen’s medical practices, Polukoff brought this FCA action, on behalf of the United States, against Sorensen and the two hospitals where Sorensen worked (collectively, “Defendants”). Polukoff alleged Sorensen performed thousands of unnecessary heart surgeries and received reimbursement through the Medicare Act by fraudulently certifying that the surgeries were medically necessary. Polukoff further alleged the hospitals where Sorensen worked were complicit in and profited from Sorensen’s fraud. The district court granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss, reasoning that a medical judgment could not be false under the FCA. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that a doctor’s certification to the government that a procedure is “reasonable and necessary” is “false” under the FCA if the procedure was not reasonable and necessary under the government’s definition of the phrase. View "Polukoff v. St. Mark's Hospital" on Justia Law

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Alpenglow Botanicals, LLC (“Alpenglow”) sued the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) for a tax refund, alleging the IRS exceeded its statutory and constitutional authority by denying Alpenglow’s business tax deductions under 26 U.S.C. 280E. The federal government classified marijuana as a “controlled substance” under schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), but it is legal for medical or recreational use in Colorado. This appeal was the product of the clash between these state and federal policies: Alpenglow is a medical marijuana business owned and operated by Charles Williams and Justin Williams, doing business legally in Colorado. After an audit of Alpenglow’s 2010, 2011, and 2012 tax returns, however, the IRS issued a Notice of Deficiency concluding that Alpenglow had “committed the crime of trafficking in a controlled substance in violation of the CSA” and denying a variety of Alpenglow’s claimed business deductions under section 280E. Alpenglow’s income and resultant tax liability were increased based on the denial of these deductions. Because Alpenglow was a “pass through” entity, the increased tax liability was passed on to Charles Williams and Justin Williams. The two men paid the increased tax liability under protest and filed for a refund, which the IRS denied. The district court dismissed Alpenglow’s suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and denied Alpenglow’s subsequent motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) to reconsider the judgment. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Alpenglow Botanicals v. United States" on Justia Law

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Xlear, Inc. and Focus Nutrition, LLC were both in the business of selling sweeteners that used the sugar alcohol xylitol. Xlear filed a complaint raising a trade dress infringement claim under the Lanham Act, a claim under the Utah Truth in Advertising Act (UTIAA), and a claim under the common law for unfair competition. The claims all alleged that Focus Nutrition copied the packaging Xlear used for one of its sweetener products. Focus Nutrition moved to dismiss Xlear’s Lanham Act claim. At a hearing on Focus Nutrition’s motion to dismiss, the district court judge made several comments questioning the validity of Xlear’s Lanham Act claim but, ultimately, denied the motion. Following the hearing, the parties, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), stipulated to the dismissal of all claims with prejudice. Under the stipulation, the parties reserved the right to seek attorneys’ fees and Focus Nutrition exercised its right by filing a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54 to recover its fees under the Lanham Act and the UTIAA. The district court concluded that Focus Nutrition was a prevailing party under both the Lanham Act and the UTIAA, and that Focus Nutrition was entitled to all of its requested fees. On appeal, Xlear raised five challenges to the district court’s order. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees under the Lanham Act because Focus Nutrition was not a prevailing party under federal law. As to the UTIAA, the Court vacated the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees and remanded for further proceedings to permit the district court to analyze the factors governing prevailing party status under Utah law and, if the court concluded Focus Nutrition was a prevailing party under the UTIAA, to determine what portion of the requested fees Focus Nutrition incurred in defense of the UTIAA claim and the reasonableness of the requested fees. View "Xlear v. Focus Nutrition" on Justia Law