Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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North Mill Street, LLC (“NMS”) owned commercial property in Aspen, Colorado. It sued the City of Aspen and the Aspen City Council (collectively, the “City”) in federal court, alleging the City’s changes to Aspen’s zoning laws and denial of a rezoning application caused a regulatory taking of NMS’s property without just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The district court concluded NMS’s action was not ripe under Article III of the Constitution because NMS did not obtain a final decision from the City on how the property could be developed. The court thus dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "North Mill Street v. City of Aspen, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellants were shareholders in a major mutual fund complex through their employer-sponsored retirement plans. They alleged the complex’s investment adviser, Great-West Capital Management LLC (“GWCM”), and affiliate recordkeeper, Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co. (“GWL&A”), breached their fiduciary duties by collecting excessive compensation from fund assets. After holding an eleven-day bench trial in January 2020, the district court adopted and incorporated by reference, with few changes, Defendants’ Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. It also found for Defendants on every element of every issue, concluding “even though they did not have the burden to do so, Defendants presented persuasive and credible evidence that overwhelmingly proved that their fees were reasonable and that they did not breach their fiduciary duties.” Plaintiffs appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Obeslo, et al. v. Great-Western Life & Annuity, et al." on Justia Law

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Texas resident Gerald Hamric joined a church group on an outdoor recreation trip to Colorado. The church group hired Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. (“WEI”) to arrange outdoor activities. Before the outdoor adventure commenced, WEI required each participant to complete a “Registration Form” and a “Medical Form.” On the first day, WEI led the church group on a rappelling course. In attempting to complete a section of the course that required participants to rappel down an overhang, Hamric became inverted. Attempts to rescue Hamric proved unsuccessful, and he fell and died. Alicia Hamric sued WEI for negligence. WEI moved for summary judgment, asserting the Registration Form and the Medical Form contained a release of its liability for negligence. A magistrate judge first declined to grant leave to amend the complaint due to Ms. Hamric’s failure to (1) sustain her burden under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) because the deadline for amendments had passed; and (2) make out a prima facie case of willful and wanton conduct as required by Colorado law to plead a claim seeking exemplary damages. Next, the magistrate judge concluded WEI was entitled to summary judgment, holding the liability release was valid under both Colorado law and Texas law. Finally, the magistrate judge denied as moot Ms. Hamric’s motions for additional discovery and to disclose an expert out of time. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the magistrate judge's order. View "Hamric v. Wilderness Expeditions, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose because debtor-appellant Margaret Kinney failed to make some of the required mortgage payments within her Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan’s five-year period. Shortly after the five-year period ended, however, she made the back payments and requested a discharge. The bankruptcy court denied the request and dismissed the case. The issue on appeal was whether the bankruptcy court could grant a discharge, and the answer turned on how the Tenth Circuit characterized Kinney’s late payments. She characterized them as a cure for her earlier default; HSBC Bank characterized them as an impermissible effort to modify the plan. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the bank and affirmed dismissal. View "Kinney v. HSBC Bank USA" on Justia Law

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Phelps Gas & Oil brought a class action in Colorado state court against Noble Energy and DCP Midstream for underpayments on oil and gas royalties Noble allegedly owed Phelps and other owners of royalty interests. DCP Midstream removed the class action to federal district court. Phelps then moved to remand the case to state court, arguing the case failed to meet the federal $75,000 amount-in-controversy requirement. The district court denied the motion, and later entered summary judgment, dismissing all of Phelps’s claims. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in denying Phelps’s motion to remand, thus dismissing the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. "[N]either the value to Phelps nor the cost to either defendant in this case would result in more than $75,000 at controversy. Though the contracts between Noble and DCP are worth millions of dollars, we cannot base federal jurisdiction on potential future litigation involving the defendants." View "Phelps Oil and Gas v. Noble Energy" on Justia Law

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Attorney Mark Schell asked a federal district court to invalidate Oklahoma’s requirement that practicing attorneys join the Oklahoma Bar Association (“OBA”) and pay mandatory dues. In addition, Schell alleged that the OBA did not utilize adequate safeguards to protect against the impermissible use of funds. Initially, the district court dismissed Schell’s challenges to membership and dues but permitted his challenge to the OBA’s spending procedures to proceed. Then, the OBA adopted new safeguards consistent with Schell’s demands. The parties agreed the revised safeguards mooted Schell’s remaining claim and asked that the district court dismiss the Amended Complaint. The district court obliged, and this appeal, limited to the membership and dues requirements, followed. On appeal, Schell, primarily citing Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018), disputed whether Supreme Court precedents upholding bar membership and mandatory dues remained good law. He contended "Janus" transformed prior Supreme Court decisions upholding mandatory bar dues and membership such that what was once permitted by Lathrop v. Donohue, 367 U.S. 820 (1961), and Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), was now precluded. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that mandatory bar dues did not violate Schell’s First Amendment rights. As for Schell’s First Amendment claim based on mandatory bar membership, the Court held the majority of the allegations supporting this claim occurred prior to the controlling statute-of-limitations period. However, some of the allegations falling within the statute-of-limitations period alleged conduct by the OBA not necessarily germane to the purposes of a state bar as recognized in Lathrop and Keller. Accordingly, the district court erred by relying upon Lathrop and Keller to dismiss Schell’s freedom of association claim based on mandatory bar membership. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed the district court’s dismissal of Schell’s freedom of association claim based on mandatory bar membership, and remanded the case so that Schell could conduct discovery on that claim. View "Schell v. OK Supreme Court Justices" on Justia Law

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This case arose after a Silver City police officer murdered his ex-girlfriend, Nikki Bascom, and then committed suicide. Her Estate sued, alleging the Silver City police did not adequately respond to Bascom’s domestic violence complaints because the shooter, Marcello Contreras, was a fellow police officer. The Estate brought various civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, including a claim that Silver City officers Ed Reynolds and Ricky Villalobos violated Bascom’s equal protection rights by providing her less police protection than other similarly situated domestic violence victims. The officers moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, and, as relevant here, the district court denied their motion as to the equal protection claim. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment to officers Reynolds and Villalobos: "A reasonable jury could find their conduct violated Ms. Bascom’s clearly established right to equal protection of the law." View "Dalton v. Town of Silver City" on Justia Law

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In 2017, the City of Farmington (Defendant) adopted an ordinance that imposed additional charges on customers who generate their own electricity. Defendant argued that change reflected the true cost imposed by these customers on the electric grid; Plaintiffs argued the charges amounted to price discrimination in violation of FERC rules. Defendant moved to dismiss Vote Solar and several other plaintiffs for lack of standing. Sua sponte, the district court requested supplemental briefing concerning its statutory subject-matter jurisdiction. The parties, operating under the assumption that the "as-implemented" versus "as-applied" framework governed subject-matter jurisdiction: Plaintiffs argued they were lodging an as-implemented claim and Defendant characterized the claim as as-applied. Due to its interpretation of PURPA’s jurisdictional provisions, the district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), finding that because Plaintiffs did not argue Defendant had made no effort to implement FERC’s price discrimination rules, its claim did not fall within the district court’s jurisdiction. It also deemed Defendant’s motion regarding standing moot. Plaintiffs appealed. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding that this case was one of an “as-implemented” claim. "In this case, the district court rejected that established distinction, introducing a particularized and novel interpretation of PURPA’s jurisdictional scheme under which federal courts have jurisdiction only if a utility fails to make any reasonable effort to implement a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rule." The Tenth Circuit declined to adopt the district court's decision in this case. View "Vote Solar v. City of Farmington" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Appellee Reorganized FLI, Inc.1 (“Farmland”) brought an action against Appellants alleging violations of the Kansas Restraint of Trade Act (“KRTA”). Farmland sought, amongst other things, full consideration damages pursuant to Kan. Stat. Ann. section 50-115. In 2019, Appellants moved for summary judgment on Farmland’s claims, arguing the repeal of section 50-115 operated retroactively to preclude Farmland from obtaining any relief. The Kansas District Court denied the motion for summary judgment but granted Appellants’ motion for leave to file an interlocutory appeal with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Appellants sought reversal of the district court’s denial of summary judgment and a ruling ordering the district court to enter judgment in their favor. After review, for reasons different from the district court, the Tenth Circuit concluded 50-115 applied retroactively to foreclose Farmland from recovering full consideration damages, Farmland was entitled to other relief if it prevailed on the merits of its claims. Thus, the repeal of 50-115 did not leave Farmland without a remedy and Appellants were not entitled to summary judgment. View "Reorganized FLI v. Williams Companies" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a sexual-misconduct investigation conducted by the University of Denver and the subsequent expulsion of John Doe after a classmate accused him of sexual assault. Doe sued the University and various school administrators (collectively, the University) alleging, among other things, that the University violated the sex discrimination prohibition of Title IX, because anti-male bias pervaded the sexual-misconduct investigation, resulting in a disciplinary decision against the weight of the evidence. The district court concluded Doe failed to present sufficient evidence that the University’s actions were motivated by bias against him because of his sex, and it therefore granted summary judgment to the University on Doe’s Title IX claim. Doe challenged that conclusion, alleging the district court applied the wrong legal standard in resolving his motion for summary judgment. Applying the “McDonnell Douglas” evidentiary standard to Doe’s claim, the Tenth Circuit concluded he provided sufficient evidence for a jury to decide whether the investigation into the allegations and subsequent disciplinary action discriminated against him because of his sex. View "Doe v. University of Denver" on Justia Law