July 28, 2014

Tenth Circuit: No Need to Suppress Contents of Consensual Search After Legal Traffic Stop

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Salas on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

Defendant Salas was driving through Oklahoma on his way from Arkansas to Texas when he was pulled over by Deputy Gragg for erratic driving. Salas had crossed the fog line on the right side of the lane twice, forming the basis for the traffic stop. Gragg issued Salas a warning for the traffic violations and told him he was good to go, but when Salas shook Gragg’s hand, the deputy asked him if he would mind answering more questions. Gragg asked Salas if he could search the vehicle and Salas consented. The dash cam in the patrol car recorded this interaction. Gragg’s search revealed nine one-gallon ziploc baggies of methamphetamine, weighing nearly 20 pounds. Salas was arrested and charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Salas moved to suppress the contents of the search, arguing that Gragg lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Salas and that he did not validly consent to the search.

The district court denied suppression, finding that Gragg had reasonable suspicion to stop Salas based on just one of the two fog line violations. After his motion to suppress was denied, Salas entered a guilty plea. The district court accepted the presentence report’s base offense level and sentenced Salas to 151 months’ imprisonment with three years’ supervised release. Salas challenged both the search and the imposed sentence.

The Tenth Circuit determined that the initial traffic stop was lawful based on the fog line violations, one of which would have been enough to raise reasonable suspicion in the officer. Although Salas’ initial fog line violation occurred near a curve in the road, it would not have been enough to cause a driver to veer halfway over the fog line, and the vehicle he was driving was a four-door sedan that would not have been susceptible to light winds. Because the initial stop was lawful, the Tenth Circuit did not need to apply a heightened standard to the legality of Gragg’s search. Salas had consented to the search after the traffic stop had ended and the encounter became a consensual one, and his consent was recorded on the officer’s dash cam. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit determined that there had been no Fourth Amendment violation.

Salas also argued that his sentence should be reduced because of his acceptance of responsibility. However, the purpose of the sentence reduction is to mitigate trial preparation costs, and Salas did not enter the guilty plea until the day the government filed its trial brief. The government was not required to offer the sentence reduction and did not do so in this case, since it had already begun trial preparation and there was no cost mitigation. The Tenth Circuit determined no error in the government’s failure to offer the sentence reduction.

The district court’s order denying suppression and the sentence were affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/11/2014

On Friday, July 11, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and one unpublished opinion.

Wagner v. Bank of America Corp.

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

Tenth Circuit: Qualified Immunity Appropriate for Officers who Reasonably Believed Probable Cause Existed for Search

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Stonecipher v. Special Agents on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

Anthony and Melissa Stonecipher were targets of an investigation into their purchases and sales of firearms and explosives. Mrs. Stonecipher had purchased 14 handguns over a period of 10 months, including 12 on a single day, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms began investigating her. The ATF also learned that Mr. Stonecipher was attempting to sell firearms and explosives out of his home. Two special agents went undercover to the Stoneciphers’ home and purchased a firearm and two explosives from Mr. Stonecipher. The ATF determined that Mr. Stonecipher’s sale of the explosives violated 18 U.S.C. § 842(a)(1) because he did not have a federal firearms or explosives license and investigated further into his activity.

In the course of their investigation into Mr. Stonecipher’s activity, Officer Carlos Valles obtained a certified court document showing that Mr. Stonecipher had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2007 in Missouri. Valles also obtained a report from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that indicated Mr. Stonecipher had been denied the right to purchase a handgun because of the conviction, and a report from the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) noting Mr. Stonecipher’s domestic violence charge. Valles sought legal advice from Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Jennings regarding whether Mr. Stonecipher was prohibited from possessing firearms due to his domestic violence conviction. After reviewing all the documents, Jennings advised Valles that Mr. Stonecipher was prohibited from possessing firearms. Valles prepared an application and supporting affidavit for a search warrant to search the Stoneciphers’ house. The warrant was signed by a magistrate judge, and the search was executed. Mr. Stonecipher was placed under arrest during the search, after which he repeatedly proclaimed that his First and Second Amendment rights were being violated. Mr. Stonecipher requested to retrieve some papers from his house, one of which was a letter from his Missouri criminal defense attorney that advised Stonecipher that his conviction would not count after he completed his probation. The agents continued their search, and the next day Valles informed Jennings of the letter produced by Mr. Stonecipher. Jennings advised Valles to proceed with the case. Valles prepared a criminal complaint, which Jennings approved, and Valles filed the complaint in federal district court. Five days later, the prosecuting U.S. Attorney moved to dismiss the case upon discovering that the domestic violence charge was not a qualifying conviction.

The Stoneciphers brought a civil rights action against Valles and five other ATF agents involved in the search. The defendants moved to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds, and the district court granted the motion, finding that the agents reasonably concluded on facts available that they had probable cause to search the house and arrest Mr. Stonecipher. The Stoneciphers contended that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because they lacked probable cause. The Stoneciphers also alleged that Valles’ warrant application was a reckless disregard of the truth, contending that he knew or should have known that the Missouri suspended sentence was not a conviction for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). The Tenth Circuit disagreed, noting that the documents on which Officer Valles relied were confusing and could be interpreted by an objectively reasonable officer as supportive of the warrant and complaint. The Tenth Circuit also examined the conduct of Officer Valles, particularly that he independently consulted AUSA Jennings, and determined that Officer Valles’ conduct was reasonable and supported dismissal on qualified immunity grounds.

The Stoneciphers also alleged that once they produced the letter from the Missouri criminal defense attorney, the officers should have stopped their search. However, the Tenth Circuit noted that the officers had no duty to credit the suspect’s explanation if they independently believed they still had reasonable probable cause to conduct the search. There was no way for the officers to verify the authenticity of the letter in the middle of the search, and Valles informed Jennings of the letter and its contents the next day. Upon evaluation of the Stoneciphers’ malicious prosecution claims, the Tenth Circuit similarly upheld the actions of Officer Valles, noting that nothing supported that his behavior was malicious. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal because the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.

Tenth Circuit: Three-Year Statute of Limitations for General Tort Applies to Childhood Sexual Abuse Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Varnell v. Dora Consolidated School District on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

Plaintiff Varnell was allegedly sexually abused by her coach, Amber Shaw, beginning in 2005 and ending in early 2007, when plaintiff was in seventh through ninth grades at Dora Consolidated School District. On May 24, 2012, when she was 20 years old, plaintiff brought suit against Shaw, Dora Schools, and Dora Schools superintendent Steve Barron under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. She later sought to amend her complaint to add additional parties and claims. On defendants’ motion, the district court dismissed the claims as time-barred, denied the amendments to the complaint as futile, and dismissed without prejudice the state court claims. Plaintiff appealed.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The Tenth Circuit evaluated applicable statutes of limitation for the federal claims, noting that § 1983 does not contain a statute of limitations. It therefore evaluated local state statutes of limitations, and decided that New Mexico’s three-year statute of limitations for tort personal injury claims under § 1983 applied. Because of her minority at the time of the abuse, plaintiff would have been given one extra year after achieving majority in which to file suit, but she did not file until she was 20 years old. Plaintiff argued that the statute should have been further tolled due to alleged incapacity. However, she brought forth no evidence of incapacity and was a college student pursuing a biology degree at the time of the appeal, evidencing an ability to manage her own affairs. Plaintiff also argued that the limitations period was tolled because she did not realize the extent of her psychiatric injury until 2012. This argument failed as well, since under Supreme Court precedent in Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007), the common-law tort claim closest to plaintiff’s injuries was battery, and the statute of limitations would have begun to run in early 2007, when the last incident occurred. Plaintiff erroneously relied on the “discovery rule,” which delays accrual of a claim until the discovery of the claim, stating that she did not discover the extent of the damage until 2012. However, quoting Wallace, the Tenth Circuit noted that the cause of action accrues even though the full extent of the injury is not known or predictable, because if it were otherwise, “the statute would begin to run only after a plaintiff became satisfied that he had been harmed enough, placing the supposed statute of repose in the sole hands of the party seeking relief.” Wallace, 549 U.S. at 391.

Plaintiff also alleged that the district court erred by dismissing her state court claims without prejudice instead of remanding them, but the Tenth Circuit noted that the district court properly exercised its discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, and that she would have had 30 days in which to bring her claims in state court after they were dismissed in federal court. Finally, plaintiff contends that the district court erred by denying as futile her motion to amend. Because her claims were time-barred and plaintiff failed to present any argument as to why the amendments would not be time-barred in her opening brief, the Tenth Circuit found no error.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed on all counts.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/10/2014

On Thursday, July 10, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

Horton v. Holly Corporation

Kennedy v. Addison

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

Tenth Circuit: Bankruptcy Reorganization Does Not Create Separate Legal Entity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in ASARCO LLC v. Union Pacific Railroad Co. on Monday, June 23, 2014.

ASARCO, along with Union Pacific Railroad Corp. and Pepsi Co., operated in a four-square-mile area in Denver known as the Vasquez site, which was found to be environmentally contaminated. The EPA brought a CERCLA action against ASARCO. The CERCLA action was still pending when ASARCO filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Southern District of Texas. The EPA filed proofs of claim in ASARCO’s bankruptcy case to recover its expenses for cleaning the Vasquez site. ASARCO eventually moved for approval of a settlement agreement, in which it would agree to pay over $1.5 million to resolve its CERCLA claims at the Vasquez site and other sites, and the bankruptcy court approved the settlement on June 5, 2009. The bankruptcy plan was also approved, which reorganized ASARCO as ASARCO LLC and noted that all claims, including any pending environmental claims, would be paid in full on the effective date of December 9, 2009.

ASARCO LLC filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific and Pepsi on December 10, 2012, asserting that it paid more than its fair share for environmental remediation at the Vasquez site. ASARCO LLC brought two claims: a direct contribution claim under CERCLA, and a contribution claim as debtor-ASARCO’s subrogee under CERCLA. The magistrate judge recommended dismissal of both claims – as to the first claim, it found that the claim was untimely, as it was brought more than three years after the date the bankruptcy court approved the settlement. As to the second claim, the magistrate judge rejected ASARCO’s argument that it was a separate legal entity from debtor-ASARCO and it could not be subrogated to itself. The magistrate judge also noted that CERCLA provided the exclusive legal remedy to ASARCO’s claims. The district judge accepted the magistrate judge’s recommendations and dismissed the complaint in its entirety. ASARCO appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

ASARCO first argued that its claim was not barred by the statute of limitations. The Tenth Circuit commented that the plain language of the statute did not support ASARCO’s argument, since the statute refers to the date the judicially approved settlement is entered. The Tenth Circuit also noted that all of the case law cited by ASARCO counseled the same result, that the statute of limitations had expired prior to ASARCO’s filing of the complaint. As to the second argument, the Tenth Circuit denied that ASARCO became a separate legal entity after bankruptcy reorganization, and noted that an entity cannot become subrogated to itself. Because the direct contribution claim was time-barred and because ASARCO is not a subrogee, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/9/2014

On Wednesday, July 9, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and four unpublished opinions.

Williams v. Colorado Springs Police Department

McCormick v. Parker

Frazier v. Flores

Sartori v. Susan P. Little & Associates, P.A.

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/8/2014

On Tuesday, July 8, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued three published opinions and five unpublished opinions.

United States v. Slape

United States v. Doe

Integris Health, Inc. v. Insurance Co. of the State of Pennsylvania, Inc.

Dahlberg v. MCT Transportation, LLC

United States v. Hendrix

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/7/2014

On Monday, July 7, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Marshall v. Rudek

Holbrooks v. Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada

United States v. Montes

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/3/2014

On Wednesday, July 3, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinions and eight unpublished opinions.

Yellowbear v. Wyoming Attorney General

United States v. Moser

Goings v. Sumner County D.A.’s Office

United States v. Gerkin

Lopez-Munoz v. Holder

United States v. Marquez

Sifuentes-Felix v. Holder

United States v. Ashlock

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

 

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/2/2014

On Wednesday, July 2, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and seven unpublished opinions.

Chairez-Perez v. Holder

Fogle v. Gonzales

TruGreen Companies, LLC v. Mower Brothers, Inc.

Smith v. Howell

Bigley v. Ciber, Inc.

Velocity Press v. Key Bank, N.A.

In re Trierweiler: Royal v. First Interstate Bank

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

 

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/1/2014

On Tuesday, July 1, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued three published opinions and seven unpublished opinions.

United States v. Freerksen

Creamer v. Larned State Hospital

Wofford v. Colvin

Knox v. Trammell

United States v. Velasquez

Mothershed v. State of Oklahoma

McNamara v. Brauchler

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.