Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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After a boiler exploded at a refinery, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the refinery’s owner, Wynnewood Refining Co., LLC, for violating 29 C.F.R. section 1910.119, which set forth requirements for the management of highly hazardous chemicals. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (the Commission) upheld the violations, noting that the refinery had previously violated section 1910.119, but the prior violations occurred before Wynnewood LLC owned the refinery, and therefore occurred under a different employer. Accordingly, the Commission did not classify the violations as “repeat[] violations” under 29 U.S.C. 666(a), which permitted increased penalties for “employer[s] who willfully or repeatedly violate[]” the regulation. Wynnewood appealed the Commission’s order, arguing that section 1910.119 did not apply to the boiler that exploded. The Tenth Circuit found section 1910.119’s plain text unambiguously applied to the boiler, and affirmed that portion of the Commission’s order upholding the violations. The U.S. Secretary of Labor also appealed the Commission's order, arguing the Commission erred by failing to characterize the violations as repeat violations. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed Wynnewood was not the same employer as the refinery's previous owner, thus affirming that portion of the Commission's order relating to the repeat violations. View "Scalia v. Wynnewood Refining" on Justia Law

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The Appellants objected to the IRS’s attempts to collect and audit information about their marijuana-related business practices, arguing: (1) the IRS investigation was quasi-criminal, exceeded the Agency’s authority, and was being conducted for an illegitimate purpose; (2) even if the investigation had a legitimate purpose, the information sought was irrelevant; and (3) the investigation was in bad faith and constituted an abuse of process because (a) the IRS may share the information collected with federal law enforcement agents, (b) the IRS summonses are overly broad and require the creation of new reports, (c) the dispensaries had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data they tender to state regulatory authorities, and (d) those state authorities could not provide the requested information without violating Colorado law. The Appellants further contended the district court applied the wrong standard of review when it denied motions to quash and granted motions to enforce the summonses. Relying on the reasoning outlined in Standing Akimbo, LLC v. United States, 955 F.3d 1146, 1150–69 (10th Cir. 2020), the Tenth Circuit rejected Appellants' arguments and affirmed the district court's rulings in favor of the IRS. View "Speidell v. United States" on Justia Law

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Pretrial detainee Thomas Pratt exhibited alcohol withdrawal symptoms while in a county jail. Healthcare providers diagnosed and treated Pratt’s symptoms, but their course of treatment proved ineffective. Plaintiff Faye Strain, as Pratt’s guardian, sued. "Disagreement about course of treatment or mere negligence in administering treatment do not amount to a constitutional violation." To state a claim for deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must allege that an official acted (or failed to act) in an objectively unreasonable manner and with subjective awareness of the risk. "Indeed, the word deliberate makes a subjective component inherent in the claim." The Tenth Circuit concluded Plaintiff's allegations did not rise to the "high level" of deliberate indifference, and affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's federal claims (in addition to the court's decision not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims). View "Strain v. Regalado" on Justia Law

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The Pueblos of Jemez, Santa Ana, and Zia resided along the Jemez River at a time when their lands passed from Spanish to Mexican sovereignty, and finally to the United States. In 1983, the United States initiated a water-rights adjudication for the Jemez River Basin, claiming water rights on behalf of the Pueblos. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the Pueblos' aboriginal water rights were extinguished by the imposition of Spanish authority "without any affirmative adverse act." No matter the method used, the sovereign’s intent to extinguish must be clear and unambiguous; “an extinguishment cannot be lightly implied in view of the avowed solicitude of the Federal Government for the welfare of its Indian wards.” Moreover, “if there is doubt whether aboriginal title has been validly extinguished by the United States, any ‘doubtful expressions, instead of being resolved in favor of the United States, are to be resolved in favor of’ the Indians.” The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court, finding that while "All conquering sovereigns possess authority over their land and resources ... not until the sovereign exercises this authority through clear and adverse affirmative action may it extinguish aboriginal rights." View "United States v. Abouselman" on Justia Law

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In September 2018, petitioner Larry Baca was removed from his position in the Directorate of Public Works at the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Baca sought review of this decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), asserting three affirmative defenses to his removal. The MSPB rejected all of Baca’s defenses and affirmed his removal. He appealed only the MSPB’s determination with respect to one of his affirmative defenses, that his firing was unlawful retaliation for whistleblowing in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the MSPB's decision. View "Baca v. Department of Army" on Justia Law

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Ricardo Ortiz died in 2016 while in the custody of the Sante Fe Adult Detention Facility (ADF). Ortiz’s personal representatives sued multiple individual ADF affiliates, alleging state claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act and violations of his Fourteenth Amendment right to medical treatment under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The defendants moved to dismiss the first amended complaint, and the plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to include a claim for municipal liability that was not in any prior complaint. In an order addressing both motions, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claims, denied the plaintiffs leave to amend to include that municipal liability claim, and remanded the state-law claims. On appeal, the plaintiffs-appellants argued the district court erred in dismissing the section 1983 claims against individual prison employees and in denying leave to amend. The Tenth Circuit agreed that plaintiffs-appellants plausibly alleged Officer Chavez violated Ortiz’s clearly established constitutional right to medical care for acute symptoms related to his withdrawal from heroin. But the Court could not conclude they plausibly alleged the other individual defendants violated Ortiz’s clearly established constitutional right to medical care under these circumstances. Therefore, the Court vacated the district court’s dismissal with regard to Officer Chavez but affirmed with regard to the other individual defendants. Separately, the Court concluded the district court should not have denied the plaintiff leave to amend for reasons of futility: the district court determined that the plaintiff could not state a claim for municipal liability without first properly stating a claim against an individual, but Tenth Circuit precedent allowed municipal liability even where no individual liability existed. Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court's denial of leave to amend. View "Quintana v. Santa Fe County Board of Comm." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kansas Natural Resource Coalition (“KNRC”) sought an order to enjoin the United States Department of the Interior (“DOI”) to submit its rules to Congress, pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”), before those rules “take effect.” The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the CRA contained a provision prohibiting judicial review of any “omission under this chapter.” The Tenth Circuit affirmed based on KNRC’s lack of Article III standing. Furthermore, the Court declined to remand the case so that KNRC could amend its complaint because, in any event, the district court was correct that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. View "Kansas Natural Resource v. United States Dept of Interior" on Justia Law

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Jane Doe appealed the dismissal of her Title IX claim against School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado (the District or DPS) for failure to state a claim. According to the complaint, a group of students began sexually harassing Ms. Doe after she was sexually assaulted by another student in March of her freshman year at East High School (EHS). She alleged that despite her numerous reports of the harassment to school personnel, as well as reports from teachers and a counselor, the school administration never investigated her complaints and little if anything was done to prevent the harassment from continuing. She stopped attending regularly scheduled classes about 14 months after the assault, and she transferred to a different school after completing her sophomore year. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding Ms. Doe's complaint contained sufficient allegations to support an inference of deliberate indifference. View "Doe v. School District Number 1" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lynda Hickey, a former employee of the United States Postal Service (“USPS”), filed a discrimination complaint against Defendant Megan Brennan, the Postmaster General of the USPS, in her official capacity. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis that Hickey had not properly exhausted her administrative remedies because she did not contact an Equal Employment Office (“EEO”) counselor within forty-five days after her employment was terminated. The magistrate judge, exercising full jurisdiction with the consent of both parties, granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Finding that Hickey indeed, failed to initiate contact with an EEO counselor within forty-five days after the effective date of her termination as required by 29 C.F.R. 1614.105(a), the Tenth Circuit affirmed. Furthermore, the Court found Hickey did not show either that Defendant should have been equitably estopped from raising her lack of timeliness as an affirmative defense or that she was entitled to an extension of time for initiating contact with the EEO. View "Hickey v. Brennan" on Justia Law

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Zen Magnets, LLC's small rare-earth magnets were shiny and smooth, resembling candies that commonly garnish cookies and desserts. The appearance sometimes leads young children to put the magnets in their mouths. Older children also sometimes put the magnets in their mouths to magnetize braces or mimic facial piercings. When put in children’s mouths, the magnets were sometimes swallowed, lodging in the digestive system and causing serious injury or death. The Consumer Product Safety Commission tried to address this danger through both rulemaking and adjudication. The Commission conducted two proceedings involving the making of small rare-earth magnets: (1) a rulemaking affecting all manufacturers of these magnets; and (2) an adjudication affecting only one manufacturer: Zen Magnets, LLC. For the adjudication, the Commission needed to provide Zen with a fair proceeding under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Zen contended the adjudication was unfair for two reasons: (1) the Commissioners conducted the adjudication after engaging in a rulemaking on closely related issues; and (2) three Commissioners participated in the adjudication after making public statements showing bias. The district court found: (1) the Commission had not denied due process by simultaneously conducting the adjudication after the related rulemaking; (2) two of the Commissioners had not shown bias through their public statements; but (3) one Commissioner did show bias through a public statement specifically about Zen. Both parties appealed: the Commission appealed the district court's decision as to the third Commissioner's statements; Zen cross-appealed, arguing a due process violation, and that the district court issued an advisory opinion on the merits. After its review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the Commissioners’ participation in the rulemaking and their statements did not result in a denial of due process, so the district court's judgment as to Commissioners Robinson and Kaye were affirmed. The Court reversed, however, as to Commissioner Adler. The Court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to decide whether the district court rendered an advisory opinion. View "Zen Magnets v. Consumer Product Safety" on Justia Law