August 31, 2015

Tenth Circuit: Waiver of 11th Amendment Immunity Applies to All Divisions of State Department of Labor

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arbogast v. State of Kansas Department of Labor on Friday, June 19, 2015.

Kathleen Arbogast worked for the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) in the Workers’ Compensation Division and suffers from asthma. She complained that her co-workers’ perfumes were triggering asthma attacks, so the Division moved her to an office in the basement in September 2010, but she continued to have asthma attacks when co-workers would visit her office. In August 2011, Ms. Arbogast was terminated by her supervisor, Karin Brownlee. Ms. Arbogast filed suit in January 2013, asserting claims of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, and named as defendants KDOL and Brownlee in her individual capacity. KDOL sought to dismiss the Rehabilitation Act claims, arguing KDOL lacks the capacity to sue or be sued and Kansas has not waived its judicial immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The district court denied KDOL’s motion to dismiss and KDOL brought an interlocutory appeal.

The Tenth Circuit first examined its appellate jurisdiction to consider KDOL’s claim that it lacked capacity to be sued. KDOL argued that under state law, as a mere agency of the state, it lacked capacity to sue or be sued, and the collateral order doctrine conferred immediate jurisdiction on the Tenth Circuit to hear the issue. However, at oral argument, KDOL’s counsel conceded that the collateral order doctrine may not permit interlocutory review of the capacity argument. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the concession. Citing three requirements to invoke jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine, i.e., (1) the district court’s order conclusively resolved the disputed issue, (2) the order resolved an issue separate from the merits of the case, and (3) the order is effectively unreviewable on order from final judgment, the Tenth Circuit found KDOL’s argument failed at the first prong because the district court did not conclusively determine KDOL’s capacity to sue or be sued. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the issue on appeal.

Next, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether KDOL waived Eleventh Amendment immunity by accepting funds for the Unemployment Insurance Division housed within the Department of Labor. KDOL contended that because Ms. Arbogast worked for the Workers’ Compensation Division, not the Unemployment Insurance Division, there was no waiver of immunity. Looking at the Rehabilitation Act, the Tenth Circuit found the plain language included in the waiver of immunity “all the operations of . . . a department . . . of a State.” Since the Workers’ Compensation Division and Unemployment Insurance Division were both housed in the Kansas Department of Labor, the acceptance of funds for the Unemployment Insurance Division constituted a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity for the entire Department of Labor. Kansas argued that extending the waiver of immunity to the Workers’ Compensation Division when it received no federal funds would violate the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Tenth Circuit found the first Dole factor was satisfied because allowing those who suffer discrimination to bring private causes of action is “reasonably calculated” to achieve Congress’s goal of combating discrimination. KDOL also argued it did not have notice of its waiver, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding the plain language of the Rehabilitation Act provided sufficient notice that the waiver extended to all the operations of the department. KDOL also argued that the waiver of immunity is unrelated to the federal interest justifying expenditure of the funds, but the Tenth Circuit again disagreed, finding that Congress’s intent to eliminate discrimination based on disability was reasonably related to its distribution of federal funds.

The Tenth Circuit dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction KDOL’s argument that it lacked capacity to be sued. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding of a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/6/2015

On Thursday, August 6, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Bird v. Regents of New Mexico State University

Casanova v. Ulibarri

Pruitt v. Heimgartner

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

Tenth Circuit: Final Decisions of Tenth Circuit and Supreme Court Must Be Respected

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation v. State of Utah on Tuesday, June 16, 2015.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Ute Tribe in Utah filed suit against the state and several local governments, alleging the governing bodies were unlawfully trying to displace tribal authority on tribal lands. The Tenth Circuit issued a ruling in 1985 (Ute III) agreeing with the tribe and rejecting Utah’s claim that Congressional action had diminished three constituent parts of the Ute tribal land. The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, but instead of following the Tenth Circuit’s mandate, state authorities prosecuted tribal members in state court for conduct occurring within tribal boundaries. One of these cases made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Court agreed with the Utah Supreme Court that the tribal boundaries were diminished. Because of the conflicting rulings, the Tenth Circuit recalled and modified Ute III‘s mandate in a ruling the parties called Ute V.

Despite these final rulings, Utah continued to defy the mandates and prosecute tribal members in state court for actions occurring within tribal boundaries. The tribe filed suit against Utah and several local governments in federal court, seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the state from prosecuting tribal members in state court for conduct occurring within tribal boundaries and prohibiting the state from relitigating matters settled by Ute III and Ute V. The tribe specifically asked for an injunction to halt the prosecution of one tribal member, Lesa Jenkins, for alleged traffic infractions occurring within tribal lands. The state and Uintah and Duchesne counties counterclaimed, arguing the tribe had infringed upon their sovereignty. Three interlocutory orders were before the Tenth Circuit as a result of the latest litigation: (1) the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction, (2) the tribe’s assertion of immunity from the government’s counterclaims, and (3) Uintah County’s claim of immunity from the tribe’s suit.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction. The district court denied the request in one sentence, holding the tribe failed to demonstrate that it would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, stating that it has repeatedly held that an invasion of tribal sovereignty can constitute irreparable injury, and the invasion of sovereignty in the instant case was much greater than that in the previous precedent. The Tenth Circuit suspected the “tortured litigation history” behind the prosecution of Ms. Jenkins was a repeated campaign to undo its previous mandates in Ute III and Ute V. The state brushed off the tribe’s concerns as “speculative,” and Wasatch County argued the tribe could not exercise any authority over any lands in Utah because it was once a separate, independent nation called the “State of Deseret” with its own constitution that didn’t recognize tribal authority. The Tenth Circuit found this argument unavailing. The Tenth Circuit found no doubt that the government’s conduct significantly interfered with tribal self-government sufficient to constitute irreparable injury to the tribe, opining that it seemed to be the government’s purpose. The merits of the case also supported the Tenth Circuit’s conclusion that a preliminary injunction was mandated. The Tenth Circuit found little support in the state’s argument that it would be required to engage in racial profiling to determine whether a driver stopped for a traffic infraction was a member of a tribe, noting the police could simply ask the driver whether the driver is a member of the tribe, and contact tribal authorities instead of writing the ticket. The Tenth Circuit compared the potential harms that could arise with and without the injunction, finding no question that the tribe would suffer more than the state. The Tenth Circuit remanded to the district court with instructions to issue the preliminary injunction against the defendants.

The Tenth Circuit next dismissed the counterclaims against the tribe, finding it had long been settled that Indian tribes are only subject to suit where authorized by Congress and these counterclaims were not authorized. The states and counties argued the tribes waived their immunity in three agreements signed after Ute V, but the Tenth Circuit found no support for this argument, because the agreements had expired and specifically reserved tribal immunity. The Tenth Circuit found the tribe was entitled to dismissal of the counterclaims.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit turned to Uintah County’s argument it was entitled to immunity, finding it foreboding that no other governmental entity joined its claims. Noting that the Supreme Court has repeatedly denied immunity to counties, the Tenth Circuit quickly rejected Uintah County’s assertion that its county attorneys were the main focus of the suit and they were subject to immunity as “arms of the state.” After determining that the attorneys had insufficient connections to qualify as arms of the state, the Tenth Circuit dismissed these arguments.

Issuing a reprimand to the state and counties for disobeying its previous mandates, the Tenth Circuit noted “A system of law that places any value on finality — as any system of law worth its salt must — cannot allow intransigent litigants to challenge settled decisions year after year, decade after decade, until they wear everyone else out. Even — or perhaps especially — when those intransigent litigants turn out to be public officials, for surely those charged with enforcing the law should know this much already.” The district court’s decision denying the tribal request for a preliminary injunction was reversed and the court was directed to issue the injunction. The decision denying tribal immunity was also reversed and the district court was instructed to dismiss the counterclaims against the tribe. The district court’s decision denying immunity to Uintah County was affirmed. The Tenth Circuit warned that sanctions would issue for further litigation about these settled issues.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/5/2015

On Wednesday, August 5, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

United States v. Aranda-Diaz

Miner v. Falk

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/4/2015

On Tuesday, August 4, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued three published opinions and no unpublished opinions.

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

Tenth Circuit: State Does Not Waive Sovereign Immunity Under ADA by Accepting Federal Funds

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Levy v. Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services on Tuesday, June 16, 2015.

Paul Levy was a rehabilitation counselor for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS). In December 2008, he agreed to serve as a counselor for a blind co-worker, Tina Bruce, who was concerned she was not being properly accommodated. He ordered an assessment from a contractor, Brenda Umholtz, who had done extensive work for both Levy and Bruce at SRS. Umholtz’s report stated that Bruce was not receiving adequate accommodations and could not compete on a level playing field with her co-workers. In February 2009, Levy’s supervisor, Michael Donnelly, sent Levy a letter proposing Levy’s termination due to a violation of SRS’s conflict of interest policy based on Umholtz’s report. The letter provided Levy an opportunity to appear in person and respond to the allegations on February 24, 2009. Levy reported in his interrogatories that he met with Donnelly prior to receiving the termination letter, and in that meeting he told Donnelly that other counselors in the division had served as counselors for co-workers without being punished. He also stated that he informed his supervisor about Bruce’s case in January 2009 and transferred the case to his supervisor immediately when asked to do so. Levy tendered his resignation on February 25, 2009, noting that it became clear to him in the February 24 meeting that Donnelly intended to terminate him regardless of the outcome of the meeting.

Umholtz filed suit against SRS on February 11, 2011. Levy joined the suit on March 2, 2011, and Bruce joined shortly after. In the Second Amended Complaint, Levy alleged SRS retaliated against him in violation of the ADA and requested reinstatement, compensatory damages, attorney fees, and other litigation expenses. Plaintiffs subsequently amended their complaint to include Rehabilitation Act claims for Bruce and Levy, and SRS agreed not to oppose the amendment in exchange for plaintiffs’ agreement that SRS had not waived sovereign immunity. SRS filed for summary judgment on all Levy’s claims on March 23, 2012, arguing Levy’s ADA claim was barred by the Eleventh Amendment and his Rehabilitation Act claim was barred by Kansas’ two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Levy countered that SRS waived its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity claim by accepting federal funds and the Rehabilitation Act claims were more appropriately characterized as statutorily created rights subject to Kansas’ three-year statute of limitations. The district court granted summary judgment to SRS on the ADA claim based on sovereign immunity and on the Rehabilitation Act claims due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Levy appealed.

The Tenth Circuit found Levy’s arguments that the state waived sovereign immunity by accepting federal funds cogent, but ultimately disagreed. Levy contended the waiver provisions of the Rehabilitation Act similarly apply to the ADA because the two acts are closely linked. The Tenth Circuit agreed that the two acts were closely linked, but instead found it appropriate to apply a stringent test to determine whether the state waived its sovereign immunity. The Tenth Circuit decided that, since “Congress does not hide elephants in mouseholes,” the waiver of sovereign immunity under the ADA must be explicitly stated and not “hidden in another statute and only applied to the ADA by implication.” Particularly because the ADA was passed after the Rehabilitation Act’s waiver provisions, the Tenth Circuit found merit in its determination.

Turning next to the statute of limitations issue, the Tenth Circuit agreed that Kansas’ two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions applied to the analogous Rehabilitation Act claims. Levy argued that the case on which the district court relied was confusing because it made several references to a Kansas statute detailing when a three-year statute of limitations applies, and argued Kansas case law supported the determination that Rehabilitation Act claims should be subject to the three-year statute of limitations because they involved statutorily created rights. The Tenth Circuit found that although the case incorrectly cited the wrong statute twice, the holding of the case was clear that the personal injury analogy should apply to Rehabilitation Act claims. The Tenth Circuit found Levy’s second argument more persuasive, since Kansas courts expressly characterized employment discrimination claims as statutorily based and subject to the three-year statute of limitations. However, the Tenth Circuit was not bound by the Kansas Supreme Court decisions, and chose to uphold its own precedent in finding Rehabilitation Act claims analogous to personal injury claims. The Tenth Circuit determined Levy’s Rehabilitation Act claims were time-barred.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/3/2015

On Monday, August 3, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and five unpublished opinions.

Cochran v. Colvin

United States v. Butler

Parker v. Dowling

Kostich v. McCollum

United States v. Dyke

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

Tenth Circuit: Sole Shareholders Should Not Be Discouraged from Infusing Capital Into Failing Businesses

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Alternate Fuels, Inc.: Redmond v. Jenkins on Friday, June 12, 2015.

Alternative Fuels, Inc. (AFI) is a Kansas corporation that formerly engaged in surface coal mining operations in Missouri. AFI filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Kansas in 1992 and briefly continued operations while its bankruptcy was pending. John Warmack acquired 100% of AFI’s stock and formed Cimarron Energy Co. to continue the mining operations for which AFI still held permits. Mr. Warmack provided the State of Missouri with new reclamation bonds to assure that AFI would reclaim the mining land when its mining operations were finished. The bonds were secured with 24 certificates of deposit, worth approximately $1.4 million.

Mr. Warmack finished mining in 1999 and entered into an agreement with Mr. Jenkins where Mr. Jenkins would fulfill the reclamation obligations and obtain the proceeds of the 24 certificates of deposit and Cimarron’s remaining mining equipment. Mr. Jenkins paid Mr. Warmack $549,250 in exchange for 100% of AFI’s stock and 99% of Cimarron’s stock, certain equipment owned by Cimarron, and the 24 certificates of deposit. On the same day, AFI executed a promissory note for $500,000 to Mr. Jenkins. AFI executed three promissory notes to Mr. Jenkins altogether—two for $500,000 and one for $1,000,000. In 2002, AFI filed a lawsuit against certain state officers and employees, alleging tortious interference with the reclamation efforts. AFI assigned $3,000,000 of its potential recovery to Mr. Jenkins.

Judgment entered for AFI in the tort suit for $6.4 million, which, following an appeal and payment of attorney fees and costs, resulted in a recovery of about $5 million. AFI’s creditors began making claims against the proceeds, and in 2009 AFI applied for help from the bankruptcy court in distributing the funds. Mr. Jenkins filed a proof of claim against AFI’s estate for about $4.3 million. Exercising discretion and applying the Tenth Circuit test for recharacterization, the bankruptcy court recharacterized the transfers evidenced by the promissory notes as equity infusions and found he no longer held a claim secured by the alleged assignment of the suit proceeds. The bankruptcy court held in the alternative that Mr. Jenkins failed to provide sufficient documentation to prove the amount of his claim, and additionally held in the alternative that equitable subordination would be appropriate since Mr. Jenkins had acted inequitably to the detriment of AFI’s creditors and his claim should be subordinated to the level of an unsecured creditor. Mr. Jenkins appealed. The Tenth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed, and Mr. Jenkins again appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first rejected Mr. Jenkins’ argument that two recent Supreme Court decisions overruled Tenth Circuit precedent in In re Hedged Investments. The two cases relied on by Mr. Jenkins dealt with disallowance, not recharacterization, so the Tenth Circuit found the 13-step Hedged Investments recharacterization test applied. The bankruptcy court found three steps superficially supported treating Mr. Jenkins’ advances as loans: the names given to the certificates evidencing indebtedness, no increased participation in management as a result of the advances, and the extent to which the advances were used to acquire capital assets. The Tenth Circuit agreed that these three steps supported treating the advances as loans, but averred they did so more than superficially.

The Tenth Circuit found little support for the bankruptcy court’s determination that other factors necessitated recharacterization. It discounted the bankruptcy court’s decision that the ninth factor, the identity of interest between creditor and shareholder, pointed to recharacterization, finding that because there was only one shareholder this factor did not apply. As for the second factor, the presence or absence of a fixed maturity date, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with the court’s finding that the notes lacked a maturity date, finding instead they each required full payment after five years. The fact that Mr. Jenkins did not seek repayment did not render the requirement meaningless. Concerning the eighth factor, recapitalization, the Tenth Circuit found that placing too much emphasis on the factor could discourage investors from funding “rescue efforts” for failing businesses. As to the seventh factor, the intent of the parties, the Tenth Circuit found the parties intended the capital contributions to be treated as loans. The Tenth Circuit balanced the remaining factors and decided the bulk of the Hedged Investments factors weighed against recharacterization. The Tenth Circuit painted a picture of Mr. Jenkins as a sole shareholder loaning money to a failing business in hopes of keeping it afloat.

The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected the bankruptcy court’s alternative holding discharging Mr. Jenkins’ claim because he failed to meet his burden of persuasion as to amount. The Tenth Circuit found the copies of the three promissory notes proved his claim amount. The Tenth Circuit also declined to accept the bankruptcy court’s determination that if Mr. Jenkins’ claim were allowed to proceed it should be equitably subordinated. The Tenth Circuit noted that equitable subordination is an extraordinary remedy that should be employed sparingly and only if three factors are present: inequitable conduct, injury to the other creditors, and consistency with the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. The Tenth Circuit further noted that the inequitable conduct warranting subordination must be egregious, tantamount to fraud, or involving moral turpitude. The Tenth Circuit found no such conduct from Mr. Jenkins.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the bankruptcy court’s judgment, finding neither recharacterization nor equitable subordination appropriate to Mr. Jenkins’ claims. Judge Phillips wrote a thoughtful and detailed dissent.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/31/2015

On Friday, July 31, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued four published opinions and three unpublished opinions.

Didier v. Abbott Laboratories

Moore v. Hartley

General Steel Domestic Sales v. Chumley

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

Tenth Circuit: District Court Abused Discretion by Rejecting Plea Bargain Based on Appeal Waiver

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Vanderwerff on Wednesday, June 10, 2015.

Timothy Vanderwerff was indicted in the District of Colorado on three child pornography-related counts: Count 1 charged him with receipt of child pornography and Counts 2 and 3 charged him with possession. Vanderwerff entered into a plea agreement with the government wherein he would plead guilty to Count 2, which carried a statutory sentencing range of zero to ten years, in exchange for dismissal of Counts 1 and 3. The plea agreement contained an appeal waiver. The district court rejected the plea agreement, citing a “tectonic shift” in jurisprudence following the Supreme Court’s decision in Lafler v. Cooper which suggested the court should be a participant in the plea bargaining process. The district court also relied on United States v. Booker to support its finding that sentencing requires a court to consider context and apply criteria instead of performing mechanical judgment. The district court suggested that some of the judges on the Tenth Circuit were not “paying attention to their obligations” in reviewing lower court decisions. The district court rejected the proposed plea agreement.

Vanderwerff sought review of the district court’s rejection of the first plea agreement, but the Tenth Circuit determined it lacked jurisdiction because the issues were premature. The parties then negotiated a new plea agreement, wherein Vanderwerff would plead guilty to Count 1 in exchange for dismissal of Counts 2 and 3. Notably, the new plea agreement did not contain an appeal waiver. The statutory sentencing range for Count 1 was five to twenty years’ imprisonment. The district court sentenced Vanderwerff to 108 months’ imprisonment, and Vanderwerff timely appealed.

On appeal, the government agreed that the district court abused its discretion in rejecting the first plea agreement. The Tenth Circuit appointed pro bono amicus counsel to independently assess the legal propriety of the district court’s sentence decision. The amicus also agreed that the district court abused its discretion. The Tenth Circuit similarly concluded the district court abused its discretion in rejecting the plea agreement based on the appeal waiver, since its decision was premised on legally erroneous and irrelevant considerations. The Tenth Circuit opined that the district court’s reading of Lafler as a basis for rejecting the plea agreement evinced a serious misunderstanding of the case. The Tenth Circuit did not read Lafler to introduce a new role for the judiciary in the plea bargaining process.

The Tenth Circuit also disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of Booker, finding nothing in the case to suggest that district courts were obligated to exercise a wider scope of discretion in evaluating plea agreements. The Tenth Circuit noted the core holding of Booker was that the Guidelines are advisory, and found the district court seriously misconstrued Booker‘s mandate, constituting an abuse of discretion. In fact, the Tenth Circuit found nothing in Booker that spoke to appellate waivers at all, much less anything that allowed the district court to restrict a defendant’s ability to knowingly and voluntarily waive his or her appellate rights.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit disapproved of the district court’s use of the § 3553(a) factors as a basis for its rejection of the appeal waiver. The Tenth Circuit found the court committed serious error by applying the sentencing factors to the entry of guilt phase. The Tenth Circuit also did not appreciate the suggestion that it was not paying attention to its obligations to review the decisions of district court judges, and noted that it had its responsibilities firmly in hand. The Tenth Circuit found that plea bargaining was strongly favored and the appellate waiver was an important bargaining tool for a defendant.

The district court’s judgment was reversed and remanded. Judge Hartz separately concurred.

Tenth Circuit: No Fundamental Right Exists to Limitless Taxation in Order to Fund Education

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Petrella v. Brownback on Monday, June 1, 2015.

Plaintiffs, parents of students in the relatively wealthy Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) in Kansas, sued various Kansas officials in U.S. District Court in 2010, seeking to enjoin enforcement of Kansas’ cap on local property taxes for education. The district court dismissed their suit for lack of standing, but the Tenth Circuit reversed in an opinion limited to the sole issue of standing. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims that the tax cap is subject to heightened scrutiny but allowed the rational basis claims to proceed. Plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider and a notice of appeal. When the district court denied the motion for reconsideration, plaintiffs again appealed. The Tenth Circuit consolidated the appeals.

Plaintiffs sought relief as to four district court rulings: (1) the denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction; (2) denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment; (3) partial grant of Defendants’ motion to dismiss; and (4) denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration. First addressing jurisdiction, the Tenth Circuit found it lacked jurisdiction to consider the denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. Next, the Tenth Circuit considered whether Plaintiffs’ claims were moot because of subsequent amendments to Kansas’ school financing system, and found they were not, since the slight increases to the budget cap did not ameliorate their claims that the cap burdened their constitutional rights. The Tenth Circuit proceeded to address the merits of Plaintiffs’ claims.

The district court concluded Plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail on their claims that the budget cap violated their First Amendment rights, burdens their fundamental rights, imposes an unconstitutional condition, and denies them equal protection. The Tenth Circuit agreed. Plaintiffs argued the budget cap violated their First Amendment rights because education is speech and the budget cap burdens education, therefore the budget cap burdens speech. The Tenth Circuit found each premise seriously flawed, and noted that no court has recognized that a limit on public funding for education constitutes a limit on speech. Plaintiffs argued the budget cap limits their free association rights because it prevents them from coming together as a community to vote to raise property taxes for education at the district level. However, the Tenth Circuit found that there is no First Amendment right to a voter initiative, and Plaintiffs were free to raise funds for the school district privately, which they did.

As to Plaintiffs’ argument that the cap violates their civil liberties, the Tenth Circuit found there is no fundamental right to tax one’s neighbors without limitation in order to fund education. Plaintiffs also argued the cap undermines their right to direct the education of their children, but the Tenth Circuit reiterated that there is no fundamental liberty interest in setting public policy for public education funding, and the cap only prevents Plaintiffs from compelling their neighbors to vote on a tax increase. As to Plaintiffs’ argument that the cap burdens their fundamental voting rights, the Tenth Circuit again disagreed, finding that precedential case law only scrutinized who may be subject to voting restrictions, not which topics may be restricted.

The Tenth Circuit similarly dismissed Plaintiffs’ argument that the cap should be reviewed under heightened scrutiny because it denies them equal protection of the law in a base desire to harm them, holding that wealth, or residence in a wealthy school district, is not a suspect class subject to heightened scrutiny. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ various claims that the budget cap should be reviewed under heightened scrutiny, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed this dismissal.

The Tenth Circuit dismissed Plaintiffs’ challenge to the district court’s denial of summary judgment, and otherwise affirmed and remanded for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/30/2015

On Thursday, July 30, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and nine unpublished opinions.

Janczak v. Tulsa Winch, Inc.

Landmark American Insurance Co. v. VO Remarketing Corp.

Carlson v. Pryor

United States v. Chisholm

Peterson v. Timme

In re Harth: Tal v. Harth

Villanueva v. Frawner

United States v. Charre

United States v. Cervantes

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