Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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At issue in this case was whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was required to conduct an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it re-opened an area that it had temporarily closed to off-highway vehicles (OHVs) pursuant to its authority under 43 C.F.R. section 8341.2(a). In 2006, the BLM closed a portion of the Factory Butte area in Utah to OHVs due to their adverse effects on the endangered Wright fishhook cactus. The BLM lifted that closure order in 2019 and re-opened the area to OHV use, but did not perform any kind of environmental analysis under NEPA before doing so. Plaintiffs filed suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331, alleging violations of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The district court disagreed with Plaintiffs' contention and dismissed their complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Natural Resources Defense v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Ana Orellana-Recinos and her son, Kevin Rosales-Orellana, natives and citizens of El Salvador, sought review of a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) order dismissing their appeal of an immigration judge's (IJ) dismissal of their applications for asylum. They contended they were persecuted because of their membership in a particular social group: namely, Kevin’s immediate family. Even assuming that Kevin’s immediate family qualified as a particular social group under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the BIA properly found that Petitioners were not persecuted “on account of” their membership in that group. In addition, the Court rejected the government’s argument that the Court lacked jurisdiction to review Petitioners’ challenge to the BIA’s decision. View "Orellana-Recinos v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Santa Fe Alliance for Public Health & Safety, Arthur Firstenberg, and Monika Steinhoff (collectively the “Alliance”) brought a number of claims under Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (“TCA”), New Mexico’s Wireless Consumer Advanced Infrastructure Investment Act (“WCAIIA”), the Amendments to Chapter 27 of the Santa Fe City City Code, and Santa Fe mayor proclamations. The Alliance alleged the statutes and proclamations violated due process, the Takings Clause, and the First Amendment. Through its amended complaint, the Alliance contended the installation of telecommunications facilities, primarily cellular towers and antennas, on public rights-of-way exposed its members to dangerous levels of radiation. The Alliance further contended these legislative and executive acts prevented it from effectively speaking out against the installation of new telecommunications facilities. The United States moved to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and (b)(6), and the City of Santa Fe moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). The district court concluded that while the Alliance pled sufficient facts to establish standing to assert its constitutional claims, the Alliance failed to allege facts stating any constitutional claim upon which relief could be granted, thus dismissing claims against all defendants, including New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. The Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the Alliance's constitutional claims, finding apart from the district court, that the Alliance lacked standing to raise its takings and due process claims not premised on an alleged denial of notice. Furthermore, the Court held that while the Alliance satisfied the threshold for standing as to its First Amendment and procedural due process claims (premised on the WCAIIA and Chapter 27 Amendments), the district court properly dismissed these claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). View "Santa Fe Alliance v. City of Santa Fe" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Daniel Awuku-Asare appealed a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision to affirmed his removal order. Awuku-Asare entered the country on a nonimmigrant F-1 visa and could lawfully remain in the United States so long as he complied with the conditions of his visa. Relevant here, maintaining an F-1 visa status requires maintaining a full course of study at an approved educational institution. But Awuku-Asare did not comply with this full-course-of-study requirement because he was incarcerated for approximately 13 months for a crime of which he was ultimately acquitted. In an issue of first impression for the Tenth Circuit, Awuku-Asare argued that “the failure to maintain status must be attributable to the nonimmigrant to render him [removable],” and that because of circumstances beyond his control caused the lapse in his status, he was not removable. The Tenth Circuit determined the plain meaning of the relevant statute did not support Awuku-Asare's interpretation, therefore his arguments were rejected and the BIA's decision affirmed. View "Awuku-Asare v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Blanca Telephone Company was a rural telecommunications carrier based in Alamosa, Colorado. To be profitable, Blanca must rely in part upon subsidies from the Universal Service Fund (USF), a source of financial support governed by federal law and funded through fees on telephone customers. And in order to receive subsidies from the USF, Blanca must abide by a complex set of rules governing telecommunications carriers. The Federal Communications Commission began an investigation in 2008 into Blanca’s accounting practices, and identified overpayments Blanca had received from the USF between 2005 and 2010. According to the FCC, Blanca improperly claimed roughly $6.75 million in USF support during this period for expenses related to providing mobile cellular services both within and outside Blanca’s designated service area. Blanca was entitled only to support for “plain old telephone service,” namely land lines, and not for mobile telephone services. The FCC issued a demand letter to Blanca seeking repayment. to Blanca seeking repayment. The agency eventually used administrative offsets of payments owed to Blanca for new subsidies to begin collection of the debt. Blanca objected to the FCC’s demand letter and sought agency review of the debt collection determination. During agency proceedings, the FCC considered and rejected Blanca’s objections. Before the Tenth Circuit, Blanca challenged the FCC’s demand letter. And Blanca claimed the FCC's decision should have been set aside because: and subsequent orders on a number of grounds. Blanca claims the FCC’s decision should be set aside because: (1) it was barred by the relevant statute of limitations; (2) it violated due process; and (3) it was arbitrary and capricious. The Tenth Circuit concluded the FCC’s debt collection was not barred by any statute of limitations, Blanca was apprised of the relevant law and afforded adequate opportunity to respond to the FCC’s decision, and the FCC was not arbitrary and capricious in its justifications for the debt collection. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the FCC. View "Blanca Telephone Company v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Ethiopian native, petitioner Thewodros Wolie Birhanu petitioned the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for review of a final order of removal issued by the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”). The BIA dismissed Birhanu’s appeal of the Immigration Judge's (“IJ”) decision finding him removable. The BIA and the IJ found: (1) Birhanu was removable as an alien convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude (“CIMTs”) not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct; (2) he was not entitled to asylum or withholding of removal because his convictions qualified as particularly serious crimes; and (3) he was not entitled to relief under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). The Tenth Circuit dismissed Birhanu's claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as unexhausted, and denied the balance of his petition for review on the merits. View "Birhanu v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law

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The issue common to appeals consolidated for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on what are "waters of the United States." In April 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers tried to define the phrase through a regulation called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR). The State of Colorado swiftly challenged the NWPR in federal court, arguing the new rule, despite its name, did very little to protect waters of the United States and was both substantively and procedurally flawed. Before the NWPR took effect, Colorado asked the district court to enjoin the Agencies from implementing the rule pending a determination on the merits of the case. The district court obliged, issuing an order staying the effective date of the NWPR and preliminarily enjoining the Agencies to continue administering the Clean Water Act under the then-current regulations. The Tenth Circuit was asked whether the district court abused its discretion when it granted Colorado injunctive relief. To this, the Court responded in the affirmative: "Colorado asked for immediate relief but hasn’t shown it will suffer irreparable injury absent a preliminary injunction. Because that alone compels us to reverse, we do not consider the other preliminary injunction factors." View "State of Colorado v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Christina Smith was the mother of Joshua England. Her claims arose from the death of England from a ruptured appendix in May 2018, while England was housed at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center (JHCC), an Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) facility in Lexington, Oklahoma. England was a 21-year-old prisoner at JHCC who was a few months away from release when he submitted multiple sick call requests. At the fifth such request, England complained his stomach hurt and he was short of breath. Unable to bear the pain while waiting at the clinic, England died in his cell from a ruptured appendix with acute peritonitis. Defendants-Appellants Joe Allbaugh, the Director of the Department of Corrections at the time this claim arose, and Carl Bear, the Warden of Joseph Harp Correctional Center (collectively, Defendants) appealed the district court’s order denying their motion to dismiss Smith's subsequent lawsuit relating to England's death on grounds of qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding Smith alleged only that JHCC medical staff failed to follow procedure, not that Defendants failed to enforce those policies. Furthermore, the Court determined Smith failed to plead sufficient factual allegations to support deliberate indifference on the part of these defendants. Likewise, Smith failed to sufficiently plead Defendants improperly hired, supervised, and retained certain medical staff employees. View "Smith v. Allbaugh" on Justia Law

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At the heart of this case was governmental jurisdiction over one percent of state- and privately owned land within the Grand Teton National Park’s exterior boundaries - collectively called “inholdings.” In consolidated appeals, the Tenth Circuit was tasked with resolving administrative challenges to two actions taken by Defendant-Appellee National Park Service (“NPS”) regarding the management of wildlife on the Park’s inholdings. Appellants challenged NPS’s 2014 determination that 36 C.F.R. 2.2 - a wildlife regulation that prohibited hunting in national parks - did not apply to the Park’s inholdings, based on what NPS had concluded was its lack of jurisdiction over wildlife management on those lands. The Appellants contended the NPS did possess such jurisdiction, and that its determination otherwise was contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”). The second agency action was challenged only by appellant Conservation Association, concerning the Joint Elk Reduction Program - a plan under the joint auspices of NPS and the State of Wyoming, aimed at controlling the Park's elk-herd population. The district court rejected both challenges to the two NPS actions, finding as an initial matter, that Appellants possessed standing to challenge both actions, but they failed to show that either of the contested actions was contrary to law or arbitrary and capricious, and therefore affirmed NPS’s actions in full. After review, the Tenth Circuit held: (1) NPS’s determination that 36 C.F.R. 2.2 did not apply to Park inholdings was not contrary to law or arbitrary and capricious; and (2) the Conservation Association lacked standing to challenge NPS’s approval of the 2015 Elk Reduction Program. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court with respect to NPS’s section 2.2 determination. Furthermore, the Court dismissed the portion of the appeal pertaining to NPS’s approval of the 2015 Elk Reduction Program, and remanded with instructions to the district court to vacate that portion of the judgment, and dismiss the Conservation Association’s claim thereof without prejudice. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Dept. of Interior" on Justia Law

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The City of Truth or Consequences converted a community center for senior citizens into a visitor center operated by Spaceport America. A local resident, Ron Fenn, unhappy with this change, publicly protested his opposition over a period of several years. Some of his protests were inside the building and included offensive behavior and unauthorized uses of the facility. Several tenants in the building, including Spaceport Director Daniel Hicks, complained to local law enforcement about Fenn’s behavior and presence at the Center. He was issued three no trespass notices pursuant to New Mexico law over that time. Finally, in June 2017, Fenn was arrested and charged with trespass. The charges were later dismissed. Fenn sued, asserting: (1) a 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil rights claim for First Amendment retaliation against Hicks, arresting officer Michael Apodaca, and Police Chief Lee Alirez; (2) a section 1983 claim for malicious prosecution against Apodaca and Alirez; (3) claims against the City for supervisory liability and under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); (4) a section 1983 claim for supervisory liability against Alirez; and (5) a state law claim for malicious abuse of process against Apodaca and Alirez. The district court rejected Fenn’s claims on qualified immunity grounds, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed: the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because no constitutional violation occurred. "And, in the absence of a constitutional violation by Apodaca or Alirez, there is no basis for the Monell and supervisory claims. Finally, the district court correctly dismissed Fenn’s state law claim for malicious abuse of process." View "Fenn v. City of Truth or Consequences" on Justia Law