Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Roe v. FCA US
Plaintiff-Appellant Cindy Roe suffered serious injuries after her Jeep Grand Cherokee unexpectedly backed over her. After the accident, she filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the manufacturer of her vehicle, FCA US (“FCA”), alleging that the shifter assembly in her vehicle had been defectively designed in that it could be perched into a “false-park” position where the vehicle appears to be in park, but was actually in an unstable position that could slip into reverse. Roe further alleged this defect caused her injuries. FCA moved to exclude Roe’s experts as unreliable on the issue of causation, among other objections. FCA additionally moved for summary judgement because Roe could not create a material issue of fact on the essential element of causation without her experts’ testimony. The district court agreed with FCA, excluded the experts, and granted summary judgment for FCA. Notably, the district court found that the experts’ theory on causation was unreliable because they failed to demonstrate that the shifter could remain in false park for sufficient time for Roe to move behind the vehicle and then slip into reverse without manual assistance. Roe appealed, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in excluding the expert testimony. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Roe v. FCA US" on Justia Law
Hockenberry v. United States
Scott Hockenberry filed a complaint against Michelle Kalas in Oklahoma state court alleging state-law claims of defamation, tortious interference, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and abuse of process. Hockenberry was a Captain in the United States Army and Kalas was an Army Reserve Captain. In 2016, Hockenberry and Kalas were employed as attorneys at Fort Sill near Lawton, Oklahoma. Beginning in May 2016, Hockenberry and Kalas became involved in a consensual sexual relationship. In August 2016, Kalas made statements accusing Hockenberry of sexual assault and other misconduct to work colleagues, an officer with the Lawton Police Department, and a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator at Fort Sill. The Army brought formal charges of sexual and physical assault against Hockenberry under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The charges were referred to a general court-martial.The United States certified under 28 U.S.C. § 2679 that Kalas was acting within the scope of her federal employment when she made such statements. It then removed the action to federal court and substituted the United States as the defendant, deeming Hockenberry’s claims to be brought under the Federal Torts Claims Act (“FTCA”). Once in federal court, Hockenberry challenged the United States’ scope-of-employment (“SOE”) certification. The district court rejected that challenge, ruling that Hockenberry failed to demonstrate that Kalas had engaged in conduct beyond the scope of her federal employment. The court then granted the United States’ motion to dismiss Hockenberry’s action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based upon the United States’ sovereign immunity. Hockenberry appealed, arguing the the district court erred in its denial of his motion challenging the United States’ SOE certification. After review, the Tenth Circuit found the district court erred in concluding that an evidentiary hearing on Hockenberry’s motion was not necessary. The district court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Hockenberry v. United States" on Justia Law
Nelson, et al. v. United States
Plaintiff-appellee James Nelson was seriously injured while riding his bicycle on a trail on Air Force Academy property in Colorado. He and his wife, Elizabeth Varney, sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Nelson sought damages for his personal injuries; Varney sought damages for loss of consortium. After several years of litigation, the district court ruled the government was liable for Nelson’s accident and injuries. The court based its decision on the Colorado Recreational Use Statute (“CRUS”). The court awarded Nelson more than $6.9 million, and awarded Varney more than $400,000. In addition to the damages awards, the district court also ordered the government to pay plaintiffs' attorney’s fees. CRUS contained an attorney’s-fees-shifting provision, allowing prevailing plaintiffs to recover their fees against defendant landowners. Providing an exception to the United States’s sovereign immunity, the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) provided that “[t]he United States shall be liable for such fees and expenses to the same extent that any other party would be liable under the common law or under the terms of any statute which specifically provides for such an award.” The district court concluded that the government had to pay for plaintiffs' fees. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the district court erred in ordering the government to pay the attorney's fees after holding the CRUS qualified under the EAJA as “any statute which specifically provides for” an attorney’s fees award. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Nelson, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law
Hunt, et al. v. Montano, et al.
Ariza Barreras, T.B., and F.B. (“the children”) were siblings. In May 2017, the children were transferred to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department's (“CYFD”) custody. At the time, Barreras was four months old, T.B. was two years old, and F.B. was one year old. CYFD employees Michelle Hill and Lora Valdez placed the children with foster parents Vanessa Dominguez and Justin Romero without evaluating whether Barreras and T.B., who were exposed to drugs in utero, “should have been treated and cared for as ‘special needs’ children and placed with foster parents who had received . . . additional training.” Dominguez and Romero had no experience as full-time foster parents for multiple children under the age of three with special needs. Hill and Valdez allegedly made this full-time placement even though Dominguez and Romero were licensed only as respite care providers. This case arose from allegations of abuse of T.B. and F.B., and the death of Ariza. The specific issue was whether the "special relationship" doctrine exposed five CYFD employees from liability when they all asserted qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the children’s representatives’ allegations stated a plausible claim that two of the CYFD employees—Leah Montano and Gwendolyn Griffin—violated the children’s substantive due process rights. However, the district court erred by concluding that the other three employees—Kim Chavez-Buie, Michelle Hill, and Lora Valdez—committed a constitutional violation. The district court also erred by finding that the clearly established prong of qualified immunity had been waived for purposes of this motion. The Court therefore reversed as to Chavez-Buie, Hill, and Valdez on the constitutional violation prong of qualified immunity because the complaint failed to allege liability under the special relationship doctrine. Chavez-Buie, Hill, and Valdez were therefore entitled to qualified immunity. The Court reversed as to Montano and Griffin on the clearly established prong of qualified immunity because, even though it agreed with the district court that the allegations state a claim under the special relationship doctrine, the Court found the district court incorrectly deemed the clearly established prong waived. The case was remanded for a determination whether Montano and Griffin violated clearly established law. View "Hunt, et al. v. Montano, et al." on Justia Law
Estate of Tomas Beauford, et al. v. Correct Care Solutions, et al.
In 2014, Tomas Beauford suffered a fatal epileptic seizure in his cell while in pretrial custody at the Mesa County Detention Facility (“MCDF”). The administrator of Beauford’s estate sued various Mesa County and medical defendants in federal district court in Colorado under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging they were deliberately indifferent to Beauford’s serious medical needs in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment as to Deputy Dalrymple, finding that whether the deputy was aware that Beauford was not breathing was a material fact in genuine dispute: “We cannot imagine a more material fact in the context of the Estate’s deliberate indifference claim than whether Deputy Dalrymple knew of the risk that Mr. Beauford was not breathing. The district court failed to account for this dispute, which a reasonable jury could resolve in favor of the Estate.” The Court affirmed summary judgment in all other respects, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Estate of Tomas Beauford, et al. v. Correct Care Solutions, et al." on Justia Law
George v. Beaver County, et al.
On June 13, 2014, Beaver County Correctional Facility (“BCCF”) officers responded to reports of a truck running into parked cars. The decedent, Troy Bradshaw, was arrested Bradshaw for driving under the influence and he was transported to Beaver Valley Hospital. A deputy completed the Initial Arrestee Assessment (IAA), which reflected that Bradshaw previously considered suicide; was not thinking about it currently; had a brother who committed or attempted suicide; and was intoxicated. Bradshaw stated that he would kill himself if placed in a cell. After the IAA, the officers placed Bradshaw on suicide watch. Bradshaw beat on the cell door for two to three hours. Officers did not place him in a safety smock or create a suicide watch log, in violation of BCCF’s suicide-prevention policy, but a corporal monitored Bradshaw by sitting in the booking area all night. By June 14, Bradshaw was no longer acting violently, and he was transferred from a suicide-watch cell two to cell three, pertinent here, a cell with bed linens. Just after noon on June 15, Bradshaw was found dead in his cell after he hanged himself with some of the provided bedding. Bradshaw’s mother, plaintiff Kathy George, sued on behalf of her son’s estate, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 that prison defendants violated Bradshaw’s Fourteenth Amendment rights and “Utah Code Article I, Section 7.” The district court granted summary judgment to all prison defendants because the law entitled them to qualified immunity, and no Beaver County policy violated Bradshaw’s constitutional rights. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that although Plaintiff proved that certain officers failed to follow Beaver County’s suicide-prevention policy, “failing to follow prison policy is not a constitutional violation in and of itself.” View "George v. Beaver County, et al." on Justia Law
Seale v. Peacock
In late 2017, someone sent anonymous letters containing personal and derogatory information about appellant Bryan Seale to his acquaintances. In December 2018, Seale discovered that someone had accessed his real estate business software account without authorization. Seale brought this action asserting claims against: (1) his ex-husband and ex-employee, Gary Peacock, for accessing his real estate business account without authorization; and (2) unnamed defendants for sending the anonymous letters. The magistrate judge dismissed the claims in two separate orders: (1) granting with prejudice Peacock’s motion to dismiss the claims alleged against him for failure to state a claim; and (2) denying Seale’s motion to amend the complaint to substitute Peacock for the unnamed defendants and dismissed the remaining claims without prejudice. Seale appealed both orders. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the magistrate court's order. Specifically, the Court affirmed dismissal of Seale’s Stored Communications Act (SCA) claim under Rule 12(b)(6). The Court affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of the statutory civil theft claim. The Court reversed and remanded the dismissal with prejudice of the SCA claim and the invasion of privacy by appropriation of name or likeness claim and instructed the magistrate court to dismiss these claims without prejudice. View "Seale v. Peacock" on Justia Law
Estate of Susanne Burgaz, et al. v. Board of County Commissioners, et al.
Following Susanne Burgaz’s suicide in a County Detention Facility, her children and estate sued two individual Sheriff’s deputies on duty the night she died, and various other County officials. They argued the deputies were deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs and the County and sheriff negligently operated the jail. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, and the district court granted the motion. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that both individual deputies were entitled to qualified immunity because the Estate failed to allege either deputy violated Ms. Burgaz’s constitutional rights. The "Monell" claim against the sheriff was also properly dismissed. And because all the claims arising under federal law were properly dismissed, the district court correctly dismissed the remaining state-law claims. View "Estate of Susanne Burgaz, et al. v. Board of County Commissioners, et al." on Justia Law
Gerson v. Logan River Academy, et al.
Plaintiff Samantha Gerson was allegedly sexually abused when she was 15 years old by an employee (the Perpetrator) at Logan River Academy, a residential treatment facility in Logan, Utah. She filed suit against Logan River a decade later in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, from which the case was transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Utah. Logan River moved to dismiss on the ground that the suit was barred by Utah’s applicable statute of limitations. Gerson responded that the suit was timely under California law. The district court applied California’s choice-of-law doctrine, determined that Utah’s statute of limitations governed, and granted the motion to dismiss. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal. View "Gerson v. Logan River Academy, et al." on Justia Law
Osterhout v. Board of County Commissioners, et al.
Kendall Morgan, a former deputy sheriff for LeFlore County, conducted a traffic stop of plaintiff-appellee Chad Osterhout. During the traffic stop, Morgan struck Osterhout in the face and kicked him twice in the ribs. According to Morgan, Osterhout was trying to flee; Osterhout maintained he remained still with his hands raised. Osterhout sued Morgan and the Board of County Commissioners of LeFlore County, Oklahoma. The jury attributed liability to Morgan and the Board, awarding Osterhout $3 million in compensatory damages against both defendants, and $1 million in punitive damages against Morgan. Morgan moved for a new trial or remittitur of damages. The district court remitted the compensatory damages to $2 million, but denied the motion for a new trial. Both defendants appealed. The Board and Mr. Morgan argue that the district court abused its discretion by using a verdict form with a single total for compensatory damages. And the Board argued: (1) the district court erred in denying summary judgment because the notice had been defective and Morgan’s alleged force would have fallen outside the scope of his employment; (2) the jury acted inconsistently by assessing punitive damages and finding that Morgan had acted within the scope of his employment; (3) the verdict against the Board conflicted with the clear weight of the evidence; and (4) the award of compensatory damages was grossly excessive. Morgan argued: (5) the district court should have granted a new trial based on opposing counsel’s misconduct; (6) the compensatory damages were grossly excessive and unsupported by the evidence; and (7) the punitive damages were grossly excessive. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the trial court judgment. View "Osterhout v. Board of County Commissioners, et al." on Justia Law