Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Before the Tenth Circuit in this matter was a product liability case involving a rifle manufactured by Remington Arms Company, LLC. The rifle allegedly misfired (without anyone pulling the trigger) and injured Joann Harris. Harris and her husband sued Remington, attributing the injury to a defect in the rifle. In support, the Harrises proffered testimony by an expert witness who had explained how the rifle could have fired without anyone pulling the trigger. Remington argued the Harrises’ expert’s testimony was inadmissible because it conflicted with undisputed evidence. To counter this, the Harrises disclosed that their expert had changed his explanation. But by the time of this disclosure, discover had already closed. The district court excluded the expert testimony, and granted summary judgment to Remington. On appeal, the Harrises challenged the exclusion of the expert testimony and the award of summary judgment. The Tenth Circuit rejected both challenges, finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert testimony, and the Harrises didn’t argue in district court that they could survive summary judgment even without expert testimony. So the award of summary judgment to Remington was affirmed. View "Harris v. Remington Arms Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Thomas Standish was injured when his right ski struck a six-and-a-half-foot stump covered with freshly fallen snow skiing in an ungroomed area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. stump covered with freshly fallen snow. Standish and his wife brought a negligence lawsuit against Jackson Hole to recover for his injuries. Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, contending the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA) limited Jackson Hole’s liability because Standish’s injury was a result of an “inherent risk” of alpine skiing. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that a tree stump covered by fresh snow was an inherent risk of skiing for which the WRSA precluded liability. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed and affirmed the district court’s conclusion. View "Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Nathan Petersen Plaintiff injured himself while operating the Raymond Model 4200 stand-up counterbalance lift truck (“Raymond forklift”). The Raymond forklift had an open compartment. So it did not fully enclose the operator’s lower extremities. When Plaintiff lost control of the Raymond forklift, his left leg slid out of the open compartment and he crushed it against warehouse racking. Plaintiff argued the district court impermissibly closed the door on the strict products liability claim he brought against Defendant Raymond Corporation (“Raymond”) alleging it defectively manufactured a forklift. In support of his claim he sought to offer expert testimony that the forklift would be safer if it had a literal door on it. The district court found the expert’s testimony unreliable and excluded it. It then granted a related motion for summary judgment in Raymond’s favor. Plaintiff appealed. "The district court serves as a gatekeeper, shutting the door on unreliable expert testimony." Finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony, the Tenth Circuit affirmed judgment. View "Petersen v. Raymond Corporation" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Keith Sanders, a sergeant with the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office, appealed the denial of his summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity. Plaintiff-appellee Eric Vette filed a verified complaint alleging, among other things, that Sergeant Sanders subjected him to excessive force during the course of his arrest by committing the following acts after Vette had already been apprehended: punching Vette, hitting him in the face with a dog chain, and letting a police dog attack him. Sergeant Sanders moved to dismiss the complaint, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, arguing he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court converted Sergeant Sanders’s motion to one for summary judgment and denied it. Sergeant Sanders appealed, invoking the collateral order doctrine as the purported basis for appellate jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit determined, however, that it lacked jurisdiction over Sergeant Sanders’ appeal to the extent his arguments depended on facts that differed from those the district court assumed in denying his summary judgment motion. Exercising jurisdiction over the abstract issues of law advanced by Sergeant Sanders, the Court held the district court did not err. View "Vette v. Sanders" 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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Plaintiff-appellant Antonio Hooks alleged Officers Chris Harding and James Irby of the Bethany, Oklahoma, Police Department, used excessive force against him in the course of an arrest, and, separately, that Officer Kayode Atoki exhibited deliberate indifference by failing to intervene during a vicious, gang-related jailhouse assault. The district court screened and dismissed Hooks’s excessive force claim prior to discovery. And after limited discovery, the district court granted Officer Atoki’s motion for summary judgment on the deliberate indifference claim. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, in part and reversed, in part. Specifically, the Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Hooks’s excessive force claim because some of his allegations were not barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Officer Atoki on Hooks’s deliberate indifference claim. The Court also took the opportunity to clarify that its recent discussion of the deliberate indifference standard in Strain v. Regalado, 977 F.3d 984 (10th Cir. 2020), applied outside the medical context. View "Hooks v. Atoki" on Justia Law

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Ricardo Ortiz died in 2016 while in the custody of the Sante Fe Adult Detention Facility (ADF). Ortiz’s personal representatives sued multiple individual ADF affiliates, alleging state claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act and violations of his Fourteenth Amendment right to medical treatment under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The defendants moved to dismiss the first amended complaint, and the plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to include a claim for municipal liability that was not in any prior complaint. In an order addressing both motions, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claims, denied the plaintiffs leave to amend to include that municipal liability claim, and remanded the state-law claims. On appeal, the plaintiffs-appellants argued the district court erred in dismissing the section 1983 claims against individual prison employees and in denying leave to amend. The Tenth Circuit agreed that plaintiffs-appellants plausibly alleged Officer Chavez violated Ortiz’s clearly established constitutional right to medical care for acute symptoms related to his withdrawal from heroin. But the Court could not conclude they plausibly alleged the other individual defendants violated Ortiz’s clearly established constitutional right to medical care under these circumstances. Therefore, the Court vacated the district court’s dismissal with regard to Officer Chavez but affirmed with regard to the other individual defendants. Separately, the Court concluded the district court should not have denied the plaintiff leave to amend for reasons of futility: the district court determined that the plaintiff could not state a claim for municipal liability without first properly stating a claim against an individual, but Tenth Circuit precedent allowed municipal liability even where no individual liability existed. Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court's denial of leave to amend. View "Quintana v. Santa Fe County Board of Comm." on Justia Law

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Jane Doe appealed the dismissal of her Title IX claim against School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado (the District or DPS) for failure to state a claim. According to the complaint, a group of students began sexually harassing Ms. Doe after she was sexually assaulted by another student in March of her freshman year at East High School (EHS). She alleged that despite her numerous reports of the harassment to school personnel, as well as reports from teachers and a counselor, the school administration never investigated her complaints and little if anything was done to prevent the harassment from continuing. She stopped attending regularly scheduled classes about 14 months after the assault, and she transferred to a different school after completing her sophomore year. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding Ms. Doe's complaint contained sufficient allegations to support an inference of deliberate indifference. View "Doe v. School District Number 1" on Justia Law

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Shortly before 3:00 a.m. on June 12, 2016, Sarah Ball was killed when the car in which she was a passenger drove off United States Forest Service Road 456.1A and over an earthen mound before falling into an abandoned mine shaft about 20 feet off the road. Plaintiffs, her parents and her estate filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), raising several causes of action alleging negligence by the United States Forest Service. The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, ruling that the government was immune from liability under the discretionary-function exception to the FTCA. Plaintiffs appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Ball v. United States" on Justia Law

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Denver Police Sergeant Justin Dodge fatally shot Joseph Valverde after he saw Valverde pull out a gun as a SWAT team arrived to arrest him after an undercover drug transaction. Plaintiff Isabel Padilla, as personal representative of Valverde’s estate, sued Dodge under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming Dodge used excessive force in violation of Valverde's Fourth Amendment rights. Dodge moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, but the district court denied the motion. The district court held: (1) a reasonable jury could find that Valverde had discarded the gun and was in the process of surrendering before Dodge shot him; and (2) the use of deadly force in that situation would violate clearly established law. Dodge appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court. "Dodge is entitled to qualified immunity because he had only a split second to react when Valverde suddenly drew a gun. He did not violate the Fourth Amendment by deciding to shoot without waiting to see whether Valverde was merely taking the gun from his pocket to toss away rather than to shoot an officer. And to the extent that Plaintiff is arguing that Dodge should be liable because he recklessly created the situation that led to the apparent peril, Dodge is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate clearly established law." View "Estate of Joseph Valverde v. Dodge" on Justia Law