Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Municipal authorities in Oklahoma fined Plaintiff BNSF Railway Company for violating its Blocked Crossing Statute—setting up a preemption challenge between the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (“ICCTA”) and the Blocked Crossing Statute. Defendants argued the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”), not the ICCTA, applied to Oklahoma’s statute and did not preempt it. The district court held that the ICCTA preempted Oklahoma’s Blocked Crossing Statute because it regulated railroad operations. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the federal district court and affirmed its decision. View "BNSF Railway v. City of Edmond, et al." on Justia Law

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Nkemchap Nelvis Takwi sought review of a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissing his appeal from a removal order entered by an Immigration Judge (IJ) and denying his motion to remand. Mr. Takwi was a 36-year-old native and citizen of Cameroon. In August 2019, he came to the United States without authorization and claimed he would be persecuted if returned to Cameroon. An asylum officer conducted an interview and found Mr. Takwi had a “credible fear of persecution.” Shortly thereafter, the government charged Mr. Takwi as “subject to removal” because he was a noncitizen who attempted to enter the United States without valid entry documents. The Tenth Circuit granted the petition and remanded this matter to the BIA because the IJ did not make an explicit adverse credibility determination, and the BIA did not afford Mr. Takwi the required rebuttable presumption of credibility. View "Takwi v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Gabriel Villegas-Castro was a Mexican citizen who entered the United States without being admitted or paroled. The government sought removal, and Villegas-Castro requested asylum, cancellation of removal, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. The Board of Immigration Appeals ordered removal, rejecting all of Villegas-Castro’s requests. In its opinion, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed three issues involving: (1) the scope of the immigration judge’s authority when the Board orders a remand; (2) the Board’s failure to apply the clear-error standard to the immigration judge’s factual findings; and (3) the immigration judge’s discretion to reconsider eligibility for withholding of removal and deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture. The Court found: the immigration judge properly considered petitioner's second application for asylum but the Board's reasoning did not support its denial of asylum; and the Board erred in failing to apply the clear-error standard. With regard to the Convention Against Torture, the Court found the immigration judge abated consideration of these applications, but the Board sua sponte rejected the applications, concluding that Villegas-Castro couldn’t obtain relief because the immigration judge had earlier deemed Villegas-Castro ineligible for withholding of removal under federal law and the Convention Against Torture. The Tenth Circuit found the immigration judge had discretion to revisit these conclusions. "Until the immigration judge entered a final decision on removal, the Board had no basis to sua sponte deny withholding of removal or deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture." The Court granted the petition for judicial review, and remanded the matter for the Board to reconsider Villegas-Castro’s application for asylum, to apply the clear-error standard to the immigration judge’s credibility findings, and to reconsider the applications for withholding of removal and deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture. View "Villegas-Castro v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Edgar Tarango-Delgado appealed the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (“BIA”) denial of his two motions to reopen his removal proceedings. Tarango-Delgado, a Mexican citizen, came to the United States in 1977, when he was seven months old. He became a lawful permanent resident at age ten. And for almost four decades, he lived in the U.S. with his parents, siblings, wife, and children. In 2015, state police arrested Tarango-Delgado and charged him with aggravated animal cruelty, a felony. He pleaded guilty to that charge. But, before entering his plea, his counsel failed to advise him that pleading guilty would have deportation consequences because aggravated animal cruelty was a crime of moral turpitude. A few months after he pleaded guilty, the government commenced removal proceedings. Tarango-Delgado moved for post-conviction relief in state court, arguing he received ineffective assistance of counsel. This was ultimately denied, and Tarango-Delgado was removed in 2017. Almost a year after his removal, a Colorado state court ruled on Tarango-Delgado’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel motion, concluding that Tarango-Delgado had not “knowingly and voluntarily” pleaded guilty to the aggravated-animal-cruelty charge, and vacated his conviction and reinstated the original aggravated-animal-cruelty charge. In January 2019, Tarango-Delgado filed his first motion to reopen his immigration proceedings before an IJ. The IJ denied Tarango-Delgado’s motion to reopen. In late February or early March 2019, a few days after the IJ denied Tarango-Delgado’s first motion to reopen, he reentered this country without authorization. And a few weeks later, after the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) learned about the illegal reentry, it reinstated Tarango-Delgado’s prior removal order. Tarango-Delgado applied for withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). An asylum officer found that Tarango-Delgado credibly feared returning to Mexico and referred his petition to an IJ. But the IJ denied his petition for CAT relief. The BIA affirmed. Tarango-Delgado pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor animal-cruelty charge, which by definition would no longer qualify as a crime of moral turpitude. Tarango-Delgado then filed a second motion to reopen his immigration proceedings. The government raised a new argument: Tarango-Delgado's motion could not be considered because he had illegally reentered the U.S. after being removed. Tarango-Delgado appeals the BIA’s denial of his two motions to reopen. Because the Tenth Circuit concluded that 8 U.S.C. 1231(a)(5) barred the reopening of his removal proceedings, the BIA’s denials were affirmed. View "Tarango-Delgado v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Nicholas Roberts appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants James Winder, Rosie Rivera (solely in her official capacity as Salt Lake County Sheriff), and the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake (“UPD”) (collectively, “Defendants”) on Roberts’ 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) claims. All of his claims arose from his removal as Range Master-Firearms Instructor (“Range Master”). On March 1, 2017, at Winder’s request, Undersheriff Scott Carver and Chief Deputy Shane Hudson met with Roberts and informed him that the Range Master position was being eliminated. Hudson told Roberts he would be reassigned to patrol duties and his pay would be reduced. On March 9, Roberts, through counsel, sent a letter to Winder objecting to his removal, reassignment, and pay reduction. Winder treated Roberts’ letter as a grievance and rejected the grievance, explaining that the Range Master was subject to transfer under Merit Commission Policy 3140, Range Master was a specialist position, and Roberts’ merit rank was “sergeant.” The UPD Board later ratified Winder’s decision to remove Roberts as Range Master and reassign him to patrol duties as a sergeant. Winder later assigned Todd Griffiths, a merit rank Lieutenant four years younger than Roberts, to oversee the shooting range. Roberts did not appeal his grievance, and instead filed this complaint in the district court. In June 2017, after Roberts initiated this lawsuit, the UPD conducted two investigations of Roberts’ management of the Range. Both investigations described failures in Roberts’ performance as Range Master. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Defendants on Roberts’ declaratory judgment and due process claims, finding that Roberts did not have a property interest in his position as Range Master, and thus his reassignment did not violate due process. Alternatively, the district court held that Roberts waived his due process claims by failing to appeal Winder’s decision to the Merit Commission. After review, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Roberts v. Winder, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant John Tompkins worked as a physician at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for thirty years. From 2012 through 2016, he served as Chief of Surgery. In 2017, he was terminated from his position as a physician based on administrative deficiencies during his tenure as Chief of Surgery. After exhausting the VA’s administrative remedies, Tompkins filed suit claiming entitlement to: (1) review under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”); and (2) relief under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Tompkins appealed a district court order dismissing his complaint without prejudice based on his failure to identify an applicable waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no error in the district court's dismissal of Tompkins' complaint for lack of jurisdiction, and affirmed. View "Tompkins v. DOVA, et al." on Justia Law

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Animal rights organization Friends of Animals served a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) seeking disclosure of form 3-177s submitted by wildlife hunters and traders seeking to import elephant and giraffe parts. FWS disclosed the forms with redactions. Most relevant here, it withheld the names of the individual submitters under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C), which prevent disclosure of information when a privacy interest in withholding outweighs the public interest in disclosure, as well as information on one Form 3-177 under Exemption 4, which prevents the disclosure of material that is commercial and confidential. Friends of Animals challenged these redactions in the district court, which granted summary judgment in favor of FWS, upholding the redactions. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of FWS as to the withholdings in the Elephant Request under Exemptions 6 and 7(C) and as to the withholdings under Exemption 4. The Court affirmed summary judgment as to the withholdings in the Giraffe Request. View "Friends of Animals v. Bernhardt, et al." on Justia Law

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This case arose from the cancellation of long-term-care Medicaid benefits for two claimants when an Oklahoma agency concluded that the claimants’ resources exceeded the regulatory cap for eligibility. One claimant, Idabelle Schnoebelen died, mooting her claim. The eligibility of the other claimant, Nelta Rose, turned on whether her resources included a 2018 promissory note. In 2017 and 2018, Rose loaned money to her daughter-in-law in exchange for three promissory notes. The daughter-in-law provided the first two promissory notes in 2017 (before Rose applied for Medicaid benefits). The Oklahoma Department of Human Services initially approved Rose for Medicaid, declining to regard the 2017 promissory notes as resources. In 2018, the daughter-in-law provided the third promissory note. But the Department of Human Services concluded that the 2018 promissory note: (1) was a resource because the payment to the daughter-in-law did not constitute a bona fide loan; and (2) was a deferral that turned the 2017 promissory notes into resources. The extra resources put Rose over the eligibility limit for Medicaid, so the Department of Human Services cancelled Rose’s benefits. A district court concluded that the agency’s conclusion did not conflict with federal law. In the Tenth Circuit's view, however, a reasonable factfinder could disagree. Summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Baker, et al. v. Brown, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Tojiddin Berdiev faced immigration removal proceedings since 2007. After more than a decade of petitions, motions, and appeals, the Board of Immigration Appeals denied Berdiev’s untimely motion to reopen removal proceedings (Berdiev’s second motion), then denied Berdiev’s motion to reconsider. In each of its two orders, the Board held that: (1) Berdiev was not entitled to equitable tolling of his untimely motion to reopen; and (2) exercise of the Board’s sua sponte reopening authority was unwarranted. Berdiev argued to the Tenth Circuit that the Board abused its discretion in making the first determination and relied on an erroneous legal premise in making the second. On equitable tolling, the Court concluded the Board did not abuse its discretion. On the exercise of the Board’s sua sponte reopening authority, however, the Court concluded the Board at least partly relied on a legally erroneous rationale; the Court could not determine whether the Board would have reached the same outcome independently based solely on valid reasons. Accordingly, the Court granted Berdiev’s petitions for review, vacated the Board’s two orders solely as to the sua sponte reopening decision, and remanded to the Board to reconsider that decision. View "Berdiev v. Garland" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from Alfred Brown’s lawsuit under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. secs. 701–796l, against his former employer, the Defense Health Agency. In April 2010, the Agency hired Brown as a healthcare fraud specialist (HCFS) assigned to the Program Integrity Office (PIO) in Aurora, Colorado. Shortly after joining the Agency, Brown told his supervisors that he had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder and other panic and anxiety disorders related to his military service. When Brown’s symptoms worsened in September 2011, he was hospitalized and received in-patient treatment for one week. The Agency approved Brown’s request for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment for the Agency, determining that there were no triable issues on Brown’s claims that the Agency failed to accommodate his mental-health disabilities and discriminated against him based on those disabilities. Brown appealed, challenging the district court’s rulings that: (1) his requests for telework, weekend work, and a supervisor reassignment were not reasonable accommodations; and (2) he failed to establish material elements of his various discrimination claims. The Tenth Circuit found no reversible error: (1) granting Brown’s telework and weekend-work requests would have eliminated essential functions of his job, making those requests unreasonable as a matter of law; (2) Brown did not allege the limited circumstances in which the Agency would need to consider reassigning him despite the fact that he performed the essential functions of his position with other accommodations; (3) the Court declined Brown’s invitation to expand those limited circumstances to include reassignments that allow an employee to live a “normal life;” and (4) Brown did not allege a prima facie case of retaliation, disparate treatment, or constructive discharge. Summary judgment for the Agency was affirmed. View "Brown v. Austin, et al." on Justia Law