Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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The case involves a dispute over a parcel of land within the Rio Grande National Forest in Colorado, owned by Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV). The land, obtained through a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in 1987, was intended for development into a ski resort village. However, access to the parcel was hindered due to a gravel road managed by the USFS that was unusable by vehicles in the winter.In 2007, LMJV invoked the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), claiming it required the USFS to grant access to inholdings within USFS land. The USFS initially proposed a second land exchange with LMJV to secure access to Highway 160. However, this proposal was challenged by several conservation groups under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 2017, the district court vacated the USFS decision and remanded to the agency.The USFS then considered a new alternative in the form of a right-of-way easement to LMJV across USFS land between the Parcel and Highway 160. The USFS consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to secure a new biological opinion (BiOp) and incidental take statement (ITS) for the proposed action in 2018. The USFS then issued a final Record of Decision (ROD) in 2019, approving the easement.The conservation groups challenged this latest ROD under NEPA, the ESA, and ANILCA. The district court vacated and remanded under the law of the case doctrine, concluding that it was bound by the reasoning of the district court’s 2017 order. The Agencies appealed the district court’s decision vacating the 2018 BiOp and 2019 ROD.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s order and affirmed the Agencies’ decisions. The court concluded that it had jurisdiction over the matter under the practical finality rule, and that the Conservation Groups had standing. The court held that the district court incorrectly applied the law of the case doctrine because the Agencies considered a different alternative when issuing the 2019 ROD. The court also concluded that ANILCA requires the USFS to grant access to the LMJV Parcel. The court determined that even if the Conservation Groups could show error under NEPA, they had not shown that any alleged error was harmful. Finally, the court held that the Conservation Groups failed to successfully challenge the 2018 BiOp under the ESA, and that the Agencies correctly allowed the ITS to cover not only the proposed easement, but also LMJV’s proposed development. View "Rocky Mountain Wild v. Dallas" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around a copyright dispute between Whyte Monkee Productions, LLC and Timothy Sepi (Plaintiffs) and Netflix, Inc. and Royal Goode Productions, LLC (Defendants). Plaintiffs sued Defendants for copyright infringement, alleging that Defendants had used clips from eight videos filmed by Mr. Sepi without permission in the documentary series "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness". The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendants, concluding that seven of the videos were works made for hire and thus Mr. Sepi did not own the copyrights. The court also found that the use of the eighth video constituted fair use and did not infringe on Mr. Sepi’s copyright.On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Plaintiffs waived their argument regarding the first seven videos as they presented a new theory not raised in the lower court. Accordingly, the appellate court upheld the district court's judgment regarding these videos. However, regarding the eighth video, the appellate court ruled that the district court erred in determining that Defendants were entitled to summary judgment on their fair use defense. The court concluded that the first factor of the fair use analysis favored the Plaintiffs instead of the Defendants, and that the Defendants failed to provide any evidence demonstrating the absence of a market impact, which is necessary to apply the fourth fair use factor. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s judgment as to the first seven videos, reversed the judgment as to the eighth video, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Whyte Monkee Productions v. Netflix" on Justia Law

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This case involved the interpretation of an offer of judgment in a lawsuit where a prisoner, Samuel Lee Dartez, II, sued state officers for excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The state officers offered a judgment of $60,000 “plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs allowed by law, if any.” The district court interpreted this offer as allowing attorneys’ fees exceeding the statutory cap and waiving the plaintiff's obligation to contribute to these fees.On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's interpretation. The court determined that the offer of judgment was ambiguous in its language pertaining to the statutory cap on attorney fees and the requirement for the plaintiff to contribute to those fees. The ambiguity was resolved against the defendants, who had drafted the offer, and found that the defendants had waived the statutory cap and the plaintiff's contribution requirement.In Dartez's cross-appeal, he argued that the district court wrongly applied a statutory cap on hourly rates. The Tenth Circuit agreed, reversing the district court's application of the cap and remanding for recalculation of the fee award without this cap. The court did not address Dartez's arguments that the statutory limitations on fees did not apply due to his obtaining non-monetary relief and because he received an agreed settlement amount rather than a monetary judgment. View "Dartez v. Peters" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Joshua Young, an employee of the Colorado Department of Corrections, claimed that mandatory Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) training he was subjected to created a hostile work environment. Young resigned from the Department and filed a lawsuit claiming violations of Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause. He alleged that the training program violated Title VII by creating a hostile work environment and violated the Equal Protection Clause by promoting race-based policies. The district court dismissed both claims without prejudice. Young appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit examined Young's allegations and affirmed the district court's dismissal of Young's claims. The court found that while Young had plausibly alleged he was subjected to unwelcome harassment, he failed to adequately allege that the harassment was so severe or pervasive that it altered the terms of his employment and created an abusive working environment.The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of Young's equal protection claim, agreeing that Young lacked standing to pursue the claim since he was no longer employed by the Department of Corrections and had not asked for reinstatement as part of his equal protection claim.Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to grant Young leave to amend his complaint, noting that Young neither requested leave to amend in his briefing nor filed a separate motion to amend. View "Young v. Colorado Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In a complex and long-running series of legal disputes over attorney fees, two law firms, Shields Law Group and Paul Byrd Law Firm, and another firm, Hossley-Embry LLP, (collectively referred to as the "Objecting Firms") challenged the district court's approval of a settlement agreement among other firms involved in the litigation. The dispute arose from a class action lawsuit against Syngenta, an agricultural company, which was settled for $1.51 billion in 2018. One-third of the settlement was allocated for attorneys' fees, but the distribution of these fees among the numerous law firms involved in the case led to additional litigation.The district court approved a settlement agreement in which a group of firms (the Appellee Parties) agreed to pay $7 million to another firm, Watts Guerra. The Objecting Firms challenged this decision, arguing that it effectively reallocated money among the various pools of attorney fees. However, the Appellate Court concluded that the Objecting Firms lacked standing to challenge the district court's approval of the settlement agreement because they were not affected by it. The court also found that the Objecting Firms' challenges to the disbursement orders were moot. As a result, the court dismissed the appeals. View "SHIELDS LAW GROUP, LLC v. STUEVE SIEGEL HANSON LLP" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Michael Bacote Jr., an inmate with a history of mental illness, filed a claim for injunctive and declaratory relief against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, seeking to improve the conditions of his confinement at a maximum-security facility. However, during litigation, the Bureau voluntarily transferred Bacote to a mental health ward in a different penitentiary. Bacote's appeal to the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, raised three issues: whether a class action settlement had preempted his claims, whether the district court had erred in denying him leave to amend his complaint, and whether the district court had erred in entering judgment for the Bureau.The Tenth Circuit did not reach the merits of Bacote's arguments. Instead, it dismissed the appeal as prudentially moot. The court reasoned that the Bureau's transfer of Bacote had materially changed the conditions of his confinement, rendering his request for relief from his previous conditions moot. It noted that the court had no information about Bacote's current conditions of confinement, and thus could not evaluate whether those conditions violated his rights. The court also observed that Bacote had not alleged that the Bureau had transferred him to moot his lawsuit or that he faced a risk of being returned to his prior conditions. Finally, the court expressed reluctance to issue a judgment affecting prison officials outside its jurisdiction. The court did not decide whether Bacote's claims were constitutionally moot, as it found them prudentially moot. View "Bacote v. FBP" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over rights-of-way on federal land in Utah. Kane County and the State of Utah (collectively, "Kane County") have filed multiple lawsuits seeking to establish title to hundreds of these roads under an old statute known as Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and several other environmental groups (collectively, "SUWA") have sought to intervene in these lawsuits to oppose Kane County's claims and to argue for a narrow interpretation of any rights-of-way that are recognized.In this appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the district court incorrectly denied SUWA's motion to intervene on the issue of "scope," which concerns the use and width of any recognized rights-of-way. The court held that SUWA's interests in this issue were not adequately represented by the United States, which also opposed Kane County's claims but had broader responsibilities and interests to balance. However, the court affirmed the district court's denial of SUWA's motion to intervene on the issue of "title" (i.e., whether Kane County has a valid claim to the roads under R.S. 2477), because SUWA's interests on this issue were adequately represented by the United States. The case was sent back to the lower court for further proceedings consistent with the appeals court's decision. View "Kane County v. United States" on Justia Law

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In this case, Plaintiff-Appellant Lazy S Ranch Properties, LLC (Lazy S) filed a lawsuit against Defendants-Appellees Valero Terminaling and Distribution Company and related entities (collectively, Valero), alleging that Valero's pipeline leaked and caused contamination on Lazy S's property. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Valero.Lazy S runs cattle operations on a large property in Oklahoma, beneath which several pipelines transport hydrocarbons. In 2018, a representative of the ranch noticed a diesel fuel odor emanating from a cave near a water source on the property. Samples were taken and tested, and these tests revealed trace amounts of refined petroleum products in soil, surface water, groundwater, spring water, and air on the ranch.Lazy S brought several claims against Valero, including private nuisance, public nuisance, negligence per se, and negligence. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Valero, holding that Lazy S did not present sufficient evidence to establish a legal injury or causation.On appeal, the Tenth Circuit found that Lazy S had presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to legal injury on its claims of private nuisance, public nuisance, and negligence per se. The court noted that Lazy S had presented evidence of a strong odor emanating from a cave near a water source on the property, headaches suffered by individuals due to the odor, and changes in behavior due to the odor. As such, a rational trier of fact could conclude that the odor injured the ranch.The Tenth Circuit also found that Lazy S had presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to causation. The court noted that the pipeline was a major source of potential contamination beneath the ranch, that it had leaked in the past, and that a pathway existed for hydrocarbons to travel from the pipeline to the water source.The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Lazy S's claims of constructive fraud and trespass, finding that Lazy S had not presented sufficient evidence to support these claims.The court remanded the case to the district court for trial on the issues of negligence per se, private nuisance, and public nuisance, including Lazy S's claims for damages. View "Lazy S Ranch Properties v. Valero Terminaling and Distribution" on Justia Law

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In a case brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the plaintiff organization, Speech First, Inc., challenged three policies implemented by Oklahoma State University (OSU) that allegedly suppressed the freedom of speech of its student members. The organization provided declarations of three pseudonymous students, Student A, Student B, and Student C, describing how these policies stifled their constitutionally protected expression. The main issue in this case was whether pseudonymous declarations could establish Article III standing for Speech First to bring the action. The defendant, OSU President Kayse Shrum, had successfully argued in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma that the plaintiff lacked standing because it failed to identify its members by name, as required by the Supreme Court in Summers v. Earth Island Institute.The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of Summers, stating that the Supreme Court had not intended to require legal names for standing and had not suggested that it was overruling decades of precedent allowing anonymous plaintiffs. The Tenth Circuit explained that the Supreme Court in Summers had simply required that there be a specific person who is injured, not just a statistical probability that some member would suffer an injury. The appeals court found that this requirement could be satisfied by identifying an injured member as “Member 1” just as well as by a legal name. It also pointed to previous cases where standing was granted based on pseudonymous or anonymous declarations.The Tenth Circuit ultimately concluded that an organization can establish standing to bring a suit if at least one of its members, even if identified by a pseudonym, would have standing to sue in their own right. The court therefore reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Speech First v. Shrum" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit was considering an appeal by Elite IT Partners Inc. and its officer, James Michael Martinos, against a decision by the United States District Court for the District of Utah. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had previously sued the defendants and alleged a fraudulent scheme to sell unnecessary services. The parties had settled the suit with a stipulated judgment providing equitable monetary relief under § 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act and waiving future challenges. However, a year after the entry of the stipulated judgment, the Supreme Court held in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC that § 13(b) does not allow equitable monetary relief. The defendants then requested vacatur of the stipulated judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6), which the district court denied.Two main issues were considered by the Court of Appeals: whether the defendants' agreement to waive their right to challenge or contest the stipulated judgment prohibited them from arguing that the judgment was invalid, and whether the change in case law could be used as a basis for vacating the judgment. The court held that the defendants had indeed waived their rights to challenge the stipulated judgment and that the change in case law could not be used as a basis for vacating the judgment as it was unrelated to the facts of their case. The court affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to vacate the stipulated judgment. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Elite IT Partners" on Justia Law