Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Morris Blackburn worked as a coal miner for twenty years, exposed to dust in an Energy West coal mine. He also smoked cigarettes, and eventually developed a respiratory disease. Based on this disease, Blackburn claimed benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. Energy West challenged the award of benefits, arguing Blackburn caused his disease by smoking cigarettes. The Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board affirmed an award of compensation, and Energy West appealed. The Tenth Circuit found no reversible error in the award of benefits, and affirmed. View "Energy West v. Blackburn" on Justia Law

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After his release from death row, Paris Powell sued the prosecutor responsible for his overturned conviction, Robert Miller. Powell alleged: Miller had suborned perjury from a key witness at his trial, Derrick Smith; had hidden from the defense evidence of Miller’s agreement to help Smith with his own criminal charges; and had failed to disclose the efforts Miller made on Smith’s behalf with regard to those charges. Miller filed a motion to dismiss. The district court granted the motion in part, but denied qualified immunity on certain claims. Miller did not appeal the ruling. Years later, Miller filed a motion to reconsider the denial of qualified immunity. The district court denied that motion as well. Miller then appealed the denial of his motion to reconsider. Because the Tenth Circuit lacked appellate jurisdiction over the district court’s order denying Miller’s motion to reconsider, it dismissed Miller’s appeal. View "Powell v. Miller" on Justia Law

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This appeal stems from an officer-involved shooting in the early morning hours of September 19, 2011. At approximately 3:50 a.m., plaintiff Matthew Carabajal was driving a vehicle containing three other individuals, including his infant son V.M.C., when he noticed that he was being followed by a police vehicle with its lights and siren activated. Plaintiff drove for several blocks. Other officers were notified and reported to the scene. Plaintiff pulled over, the officers exited their police cars, and one officer stepped in front of plaintiff’s vehicle. Soon thereafter, plaintiff’s vehicle began to move forward. The officer fired two rounds from his shotgun at plaintiff, severely injuring him. At that time, V.M.C. was still in the vehicle, secured in a car seat behind the front passenger. V.M.C., through Mathew and V.M.C.’s mother, Arianna Martinez, appealed the district court’s judgment in favor of defendants-appellees Officers Joshua Thornton and Michael Sutton, and Defendant-Appellee City of Cheyenne (“the City”). On appeal, plaintiffs challenged: (1) the district court’s grant of a motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment claim of unlawful seizure of V.M.C. by Officer Thornton when he shot into the vehicle that V.M.C. occupied; (2) the grant of summary judgment in favor of the officers based upon qualified immunity as to Carabajal’s excessive force claims; and (3) the district court’s initial dismissal of, and later grant of summary judgment in favor of the City on, Plaintiffs’ claims of negligent hiring of Officer Thornton. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Carabajal v. City of Cheyenne" on Justia Law

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This case began with plaintiff Clyde Rife, sitting on a motorcycle next to a road, unable to recall the date, the time, or even what he had been doing in a town he had just visited. When approached by a state trooper, Rife said that he was fine. Nonetheless, the trooper questioned Rife and concluded that he was intoxicated on pain medication and had been in a motorcycle accident. These conclusions led the trooper to arrest Rife for public intoxication. After the arrest, the trooper drove Rife to jail. Rife groaned and complained of pain in his heart and chest. Upon arriving at the jail, Rife was put in a holding cell. The scene was observed by a cellmate, who said that Rife had repeatedly complained about pain. Nonetheless, Rife was not provided medical attention. The arrest itself and the later lack of medical care led Rife to sue: (1) the trooper, two jail officials, and the entity operating the jail for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs; and (2) the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety for negligent failure to provide medical care. As a threshold question, the Tenth Circuit concluded probable cause existed to arrest Rife. With regard to his other claims, the Court found that the district court thought no one could reasonably infer either deliberate indifference or negligence. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, concluding that both could have been reasonably inferred from the evidence. The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rife v. McCurtain County Jail Trust" on Justia Law

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Terrill Graf, bought his fiancee a van for her 50th birthday. Celebrating the birthday and new purchase, Graf drank liquor and then gathered four friends in the van. Plaintiff Wendy Peden was one of those friends. She says that she expected Graf only to show off the van and to photograph the group. But Graf drove away with his friends in the van, crashing it, and causing serious injuries to Peden. She obtained $240,000 in insurance benefits. But Peden claimed more under her insurance policy for underinsured-motorist benefits. The insurer (State Farm) initially denied the claim, but ultimately paid her an additional $350,000, the maximum amount that she could receive under the underinsured-motorist coverage. Peden sued State Farm under Colorado’s common law and statutory law, claiming an unreasonable denial or delay in paying benefits. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that State Farm unreasonably denied or delayed payment of benefits. The district court answered “no.” But the Tenth Circuit disagreed after careful consideration of the facts of this case, and reversed the grant of summary judgment to State Farm. The denial of Peden’s motion for partial summary judgment was vacated, and the entire matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Peden v. State Farm Mutual Auto Ins Co" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Blake Brown, Dean Biggs, Jacqueline Deherrera, Ruth Ann Head, Marlene Mason, Roxanne McFall, Richard Medlock, and Bernadette Smith appealed a summary judgment order upholding Defendants-Appellees Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, and the Office of Workers Compensation’s (“OWC”) (collectively, “the agency”) redactions to documents they provided to Plaintiffs pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, (“FOIA”). Plaintiffs were former federal civilian employees eligible to receive federal workers compensation benefits. If there was a disagreement between a worker’s treating physician and the second-opinion physician hired by the OWC, an impartial “referee” physician was selected to resolve the conflict. The referee’s opinion was frequently dispositive of the benefits decision. To ensure impartiality, it is the OWC’s official policy to use a software program to schedule referee appointments on a rotational basis from a list of Board-certified physicians. Plaintiffs suspected that the OWC did not adhere to its official policy, but instead always hired the same “select few” referee physicians, who were financially beholden (and presumably sympathetic) to the agency. To investigate their suspicions, Plaintiffs filed FOIA requests for agency records pertaining to the referee selection process. Because the Tenth Circuit found that the FOIA exemptions invoked by the agency raise genuine disputes of material fact, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Brown v. Perez" on Justia Law

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While responding to an early-morning 911 call, Officer Blaine Parnell of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, attempted to arrest Jakota Wolfname on two outstanding tribal warrants. Parnell ordered Wolfname to put his hands behind his back; instead, Wolfname ran away. As the result of his flight from Parnell and the ensuing scuffle, a grand jury indicted Wolfname for “knowingly and forcibly assault[ing], resist[ing], and interfer[ing] with” Parnell while Parnell “was engaged in the performance of his official duties, which resulted in bodily injury to . . . Parnell.” The jury found Wolfname guilty of resisting and interfering with Parnell in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 111(a)(1). It also found that Wolfname made physical contact with Parnell. But the jury wrote, “No,” next to the assault option on the verdict form. And despite testimony from Parnell and his orthopedic surgeon indicating that Parnell suffered damage to a ligament in his thumb during the struggle, the jury also declined to find that Wolfname inflicted bodily injury on Parnell. The district court imposed a 24-month prison sentence. Wolfname appealed. In this case, the parties asked the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether assault was an element of every conviction under 18 U.S.C. 111(a)(1). The Tenth Circuit found that the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury it had to find Wolfname assaulted Parnell. This error was plain error, and warranted reversal. View "United States v. Wolfname" on Justia Law

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Zachery Edens was killed in when an oncoming car turned in front of his motorcycle. David Edens, Zachery's father and the Chief Executive Officer of Edens Structural Solutions LLC (Edens LLC), and Rhonda Edens, Zachery's mother, sent a demand letter to The Netherlands Insurance Company, claiming that Zachery was an insured under Edens LLC’s Netherlands insurance policy and demanding $1,000,000 in underinsured motorist benefits. After Netherlands denied coverage, David, Rhonda, and Edens LLC sued Netherlands. On summary judgment, the district court concluded that David was an insured under the policy because he was an executive officer of Edens LLC, and that Zachery was an insured as David's family member. Despite this, because David and Rhonda Edens owned Zachery's motorcycle, the district court concluded that the Netherlands policy didn’t cover his accident. David, Rhonda and Edens LLC appealed, arguing, among other things, that the policy’s coverage terms were ambiguous and should be construed in their favor. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Edens v. Netherlands Insurance" on Justia Law

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ACE Fire Underwriters Insurance Company appeals the district court’s declaration that a policy ACE issued offered total coverage up to $2 million for an accident involving two insured vehicles: a tractor and trailer. The trailer detached from the tractor. The driver pulled off the roadway to reattach, then hoped to make a quick u-turn and continue down the road. But before he could complete the turn, another vehicle collided with the trailer, killing the vehicle's driver. As the insurer of the tractor and the trailer, ACE reached a settlement with the Estate of the vehicle's driver. But the parties conditioned the settlement upon litigating the available limits of the policy. ACE maintained that the policy provisions limited its liability to $1 million per accident, regardless of the number of covered autos involved. The Estate, on the other hand, insisted that ACE’s liability under the policy was $1 million per covered auto involved in each accident. That interpretation of the policy would cap ACE’s liability in this case at $2 million because, according to the Estate, the tractor and the trailer were both involved in the accident. Under the terms of the settlement, ACE initially paid the Estate $1 million. But it agreed to pay it an additional $550,000 if the court accepted the Estate’s interpretation of the policy. Because the Tenth Circuit agreed with ACE that the policy instead limits its liability to only $1 million, it reversed. View "ACE Fire Underwriters v. Romero" on Justia Law

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A recreational boating accident killed four adults. The boat had been rented from Aramark Sports and Entertainment Services, LLC. Because the accident occurred on navigable waters, the case fell within federal admiralty jurisdiction. Anticipating that it would be sued for damages, Aramark filed in the United States District Court for the District of Utah a petition under the Limitation of Liability Act, which permitted a boat owner to obtain a ruling exonerating it or limiting its liability based on the capacity or value of the boat and freight. The district court denied the petition, leaving for further proceedings the issues of gross negligence, comparative fault, and the amount of damages. Aramark appealed the denial. After review, the Tenth Circuit held the district court erred in its application of admiralty principles of duty and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: Aramark Sports" on Justia Law