Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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The plaintiff, Gary Avant, was a truck driver for Muskogee County. County officials believed that Avant was complaining to other citizens about the county’s road plan and the assignment of a county worker. Avant was subsequently fired by the county commissioner. Avant sued the commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. However, during the litigation, Avant denied making the statements that led to his firing. The commissioner moved for summary judgment, arguing that the perceived speech hadn’t involved a matter of public concern. The district court denied this part of the motion, and the case was remanded for the district court to develop the record.After remand, the district court again denied summary judgment, leading the commissioner to appeal again. On appeal, the commissioner argued that Avant hadn’t pleaded a claim for perceived speech and that qualified immunity applies given the lack of precedent on how to assess a public concern for perceived speech.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the adequacy of the pleadings. However, it did have jurisdiction over the commissioner’s argument for reversal based on the absence of a clearly established violation. The court concluded that Avant had not shown that the perceived speech involved a clearly established public concern. Therefore, the commissioner was entitled to qualified immunity, and the court reversed the denial of qualified immunity and remanded the case for the district court to grant summary judgment to the commissioner in his personal capacity on the First Amendment claim for retaliation based on perceived speech. View "Avant v. Doke" on Justia Law

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Leachco, Inc., an Oklahoma corporation that manufactures and markets various products, appealed the denial of its request for a preliminary injunction to halt administrative enforcement proceedings by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Leachco argued that the statutory removal protections for CPSC commissioners and administrative law judges (ALJs) violated Article II of the Constitution and the separation of powers. The district court denied Leachco's motion for a preliminary injunction, stating that even if Leachco's constitutional arguments were valid, the alleged constitutional violations were insufficient to establish that Leachco would suffer "irreparable harm" if the injunction was denied.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that under current Supreme Court and Tenth Circuit precedent, Leachco's subjection to proceedings before an agency whose officials allegedly have unconstitutional protection against removal is insufficient, by itself, to establish irreparable harm. The court also found that Leachco failed to show that the removal protections for CPSC commissioners and its administrative law judge were unconstitutional. Therefore, Leachco failed to satisfy the irreparable harm requirement necessary to obtain a preliminary injunction. View "Leachco v. Consumer Product Safety Commission" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dr. Adam Lowther and his wife, Jessica Lowther, who sued various state officials on behalf of themselves and their children, alleging constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. The claims arose from the warrantless entry into their home, the arrest of Dr. Lowther, and the removal of their children by officials from New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Family Department (CYFD) and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department (BCSD). The actions of the officials were based on an anonymous report alleging that Dr. Lowther was sexually abusing his four-year-old daughter.The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that they were entitled to qualified immunity on the § 1983 claims and that the state law claims failed for similar reasons. The Lowthers appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the officials had reasonable suspicion that the children had been abused and were in imminent danger, which justified the warrantless entry into the Lowthers' home and the removal of the children. The court also held that the officials had probable cause to arrest Dr. Lowther. Therefore, the officials were entitled to qualified immunity, and the Lowthers' claims were dismissed. View "Lowther v. Children Youth and Family Department" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around an incident where Colorado Springs Police Officers Robert McCafferty and Christopher Pryor responded to a 911-call placed by Sasha Cronick reporting a drug overdose. During the incident, Officer Pryor questioned Cronick, which escalated into an argument, leading to her arrest for failure to desist and disperse in violation of Colorado Springs Code § 9.2.103. Cronick filed a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the officers violated her constitutional rights. The officers asserted qualified immunity, but the district court denied their claim.The district court found several disputes of fact, including whether Officer Pryor issued an order for Cronick to leave the scene, whether Cronick was obstructing the scene, and whether Officer Pryor grabbed Cronick's arm to escort her away or after she had already turned to walk away. The court concluded that these disputes prevented it from finding that the officers had probable cause to arrest Cronick.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court concluded that a reasonable officer under these circumstances would not have arguable probable cause to arrest Cronick for failure to desist or disperse. The court also found that the officers did not have probable cause to conduct a search incident to arrest. The officers failed to articulate specific facts that led them to believe Cronick posed a threat and offered nothing beyond conclusory references to safety. Therefore, the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because they violated Cronick's clearly established constitutional rights. View "Cronick v. Pryor" on Justia Law

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The case involves Duke Bradford, Arkansas Valley Adventure (AVA), and the Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) who appealed against the District of Colorado’s order denying their motion to preliminarily enjoin a Department of Labor (DOL) rule. The rule required federal contractors to pay their employees a $15.00 minimum hourly wage. The DOL promulgated the rule pursuant to a directive in Executive Order (EO) 14,026, issued by President Biden. The EO imposed the minimum wage requirement on most federal contractors and rescinded an exemption for recreational services outfitters operating on federal lands.The appellants argued that the district court erred in concluding that the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (FPASA) authorizes the minimum wage rule as applied to recreational services permittees because the government does not procure any services from them or supply anything to them. They also argued that the DOL acted arbitrarily and capriciously in promulgating the minimum wage rule without exempting recreational service permittees.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the appellants have not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits that the DOL’s rule was issued without statutory authority. The court held that FPASA likely authorizes the minimum wage rule because the DOL’s rule permissibly regulates the supply of nonpersonal services and advances the statutory objectives of economy and efficiency. The court also held that the appellants have not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits that the DOL’s rule is arbitrary and capricious. View "Bradford v. U.S. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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In 1989, Andrew Johnson was convicted of aggravated burglary and sexual assault. In 2013, a Wyoming state court declared Johnson innocent based on DNA evidence and vacated his convictions. Johnson then filed a lawsuit against Officer Alan Spencer, the Estate of Detective George Stanford, and the City of Cheyenne, Wyoming, alleging that they fabricated evidence, failed to produce exculpatory evidence, and failed to maintain adequate policing policies. The district court dismissed Johnson's claims, and he appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Johnson failed to plausibly allege a fabrication-of-evidence claim against Officer Spencer. Regarding Johnson's claim based on the alleged failure to produce exculpatory evidence, the court determined that Johnson failed to show that his constitutional rights were violated, and thus, Officer Spencer and Detective Stanford were entitled to qualified immunity. The court also concluded that the district court properly dismissed the claims against the City of Cheyenne because Johnson did not demonstrate that any City of Cheyenne law enforcement officer violated his constitutional rights. View "Johnson v. City of Cheyenne" on Justia Law

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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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Albert Bustillos, an independent journalist, was filming content for his YouTube channel outside the Navajo oil refinery in Artesia, New Mexico. He was approached by refinery security and later by officers from the Artesia Police Department, including Corporal David Bailey. Despite Bustillos asserting he was on public property and had not broken any laws, Bailey arrested him for failure to identify himself in violation of New Mexico law.Bustillos sued Bailey and the City of Artesia, alleging violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights and New Mexico law. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Bailey was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion, rejecting Bailey’s qualified immunity defense.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity. The court found that Bailey lacked reasonable suspicion of a predicate crime, which is required to lawfully arrest someone for concealing identity. The court also found that Bustillos had met his burden to show that Bailey violated his clearly established Fourth Amendment rights. The court dismissed the portion of the appeal relating to Bustillos’s state-law claims, as the defendants had failed to meet their burden to support pendent appellate jurisdiction. View "Bustillos v. City of Artesia" on Justia Law

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A California-based psychologist, Dr. Rick Q. Wilson, was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for potential violations of the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA issued an administrative subpoena to obtain Wilson's medical, prescription, and billing records. Wilson challenged the subpoena on statutory, constitutional, and privacy grounds.The district court initially dismissed the United States' petition to enforce the subpoena, finding it violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Fourth Amendment. However, upon reconsideration, the court granted the United States' motion to amend the petition and enforce a narrowed version of the subpoena.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the modified subpoena complied with HIPAA, was not unreasonably burdensome under the Fourth Amendment, and did not violate Wilson's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination due to the required-records exception. The court held that the subpoena was issued within the DEA's authority, was relevant to the DEA's investigation, and was not unreasonably broad or burdensome. The court also found that the records requested fell within the required-records exception to the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a lower court's ruling regarding a veteran, Bruce Hay, who was convicted of ten counts of stealing government property and six counts of wire fraud. The case centered around Hay's alleged exaggeration of his disability to gain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA conducted a six-year investigation, even installing a pole camera that recorded Hay's daily activities outside his house for 68 days.Hay appealed his conviction on three grounds: insufficient evidence supporting his conviction, violation of his Fourth Amendment rights by the VA's installation of the pole camera, and wrongful admission of evidence by the district judge. The court rejected all three arguments.First, the court ruled that Hay's fraudulent acquisition of government property constituted "stealing" under 18 U.S.C. § 641 and that sufficient evidence was presented at trial to support his conviction for stealing government property and wire fraud.Second, the court held that the use of the pole camera did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment as it only captured his activities in public view.Lastly, the court rejected Hay's claim that evidence post-dating the charging period was improperly admitted, finding that the district court acted within its discretion.In conclusion, the court affirmed the district court's denial of a judgment of acquittal and the admission of contested evidence. View "United States v. Hay" on Justia Law