August 19, 2017

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/24/2017

On Monday, July 24, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

Northglenn Gunther Toody’s, LLC v. HQ8-10410-10450 Melody Lane, LLC

New Mexico Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance v. United States Forest Service

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions.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

Tenth Circuit: Defendant’s Appeal of Motion to Reconsider Untimely Where Not Appeal of Qualified Immunity Denial

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Powell v. Miller on March 7, 2017.

Powell was released from death row and sued the prosecutor responsible for his overturned conviction, Miller. Powell charged that Miller had suborned perjury from a key witness at his trial, Derrick Smith, and had hidden from the defense evidence of Miller’s agreement to help Smith with his own criminal 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.

Three years later, Miller filed a motion to reconsider the denial of qualified immunity. The district court denied that motion because Miller did not present a substantive basis for the court to change its opinion. Miller appealed the denial of his motion to reconsider.

The Tenth Circuit held that a district court’s pretrial denial of a qualified immunity defense, to the extent it turns on an issue of law, is an appealable final decision. But here, the Tenth Circuit held that Miller did not appeal from the district court’s order denying his qualified immunity defense. Instead, Miller appealed from the district court’s order denying reconsideration of that ruling almost three years later. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the district court’s order denying Miller’s motion to reconsider. It held that Miller could not use his motion for reconsideration to resurrect his right to appeal the district court’s order denying him qualified immunity.

Therefore, the Tenth Circuit dismissed Miller’s appeal due to lack of jurisdiction.

Tenth Circuit: Unofficial Head of Small Town Police Department Did Not Have Final Policymaking Authority for Department

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Patel v. Hall on March 1, 2017.

On April 20, 1011, Officers Bubla and Hall arrived at Mr. Austin’s auto-repair business pursuant to a call from Ms. Austin regarding suspicious activity by their landlord, Plaintiff Chetan Patel. The officers were informed that several cars that Plaintiff brought in were missing their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Additionally, Mr. Austin told the officers that he suspected the VINs had been switched on certain vehicles.

The officers contacted the County Attorney’s Office after speaking with the Austins and were informed that the officers could permit the Austins to remove their belongings from the premises and seal the building pending a search warrant. The officers also photographed the trucks with missing or replaced VIN plates which Mr. Austin had pointed out to them. The officers sealed the building. The next morning, Mr. and Ms. Austin and their son submitted written statements to the police and swore to their truthfulness in front of a notary. The statements included instances where the Plaintiff told Mr. Austin he needed to remove Plaintiff’s vehicles off the premises “because they were starting to draw the state’s attention.”

Officer Hall was unable to immediately obtain a search warrant, as none of the judges in Big Horn County were available. Officer Hall contacted the County Attorney’s Office to inquire whether there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff because Officer Hall believed Plaintiff might remove evidence from the premises. The County Attorney determined that there was probable cause to justify a warrantless arrest for felony VIN fraud. Plaintiff was arrested and the county court issued an arrest warrant the next day, along with a search warrant for the premises.

Pursuant to the search warrant, the officers discovered a syringe and white powder on a table in the premises. The officers left the building and obtained a new warrant to search for drugs as well as VIN plates inside the building. In total, the officers seized two loose VIN plates, a truck with switched VIN plates, a truck with a missing VIN plate, and an empty insurance envelope which was found laying on the floor with a claim number written on it. The officers also photographed several documents with VIN numbers written on them.

The charges against Plaintiff for felony VIN fraud were dismissed on October 4, 2011. In April 2014, Plaintiff filed the §1983 complaint. Defendants argued they were entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiff supplied an affidavit purportedly signed by Mr. Austin. Plaintiff’s two attorneys also submitted affidavits stating they met with Plaintiff and Mr. Austin when Mr. Austin allegedly made statements that differed from his original sworn police witness statement.

The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants and refused to consider the purported Mr. Austin affidavit. The district court also disregarded Plaintiff’s attorneys’ affidavits holding that the affidavits would make the attorneys material witnesses to the case in violation of Rule 3.7 of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct. The district court held that Plaintiff had not shown a constitutional violation relating to the search and seizure because (i) Mr. Austin consented to the initial search, (ii) the officers had probable cause to seize the shop while they obtained a search warrant, (iii) the subsequent search was conducted pursuant to a search warrant, and (iv) there was sufficient probable cause for Plaintiff’s arrest. The district court also rejected Plaintiff’s claim that the search was beyond the scope of the search warrant because Plaintiff had not shown the officer’s actions violated clearly established law. Finally, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s state law claims with prejudice based on a procedural deficiency by Plaintiff and the state defense of qualified immunity.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Officer Hall on Plaintiff’s official-capacity claim. The claim requires evidence that the municipality “caused the harm through the execution of its own policy or customs or by those whose acts may fairly be said to represent official policy.” The police department at the time had no chief of police, and Officer Hall was the senior officer. The Tenth Circuit laid out the test to decide whether a government employee is a final policymaker whose actions can give rise to municipal liability. First, the employee must be constrained by policies not of his own making. Second, his decisions must be final. Finally, the policy decisions and actions must fall within the realm of the employee’s grant of authority.

The Tenth Circuit held that there was no evidence to indicate whether or not Officer Hall was meaningfully constrained by policies not of his own making, whether or not his decisions were final, or whether his actions fell within the realm of his grant of authority. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that Plaintiff failed to satisfy the municipal liability test. Simply because Hall was “in charge” before the new chief took office was not enough. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s official-capacity claims.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the claims against Defendants in their individual capacities. The Tenth Circuit held that because Defendants asserted qualified immunity, the burden shifted to Plaintiff to establish that the Defendants violated a constitutional right and that the right was clearly established at the time of the violation.

Plaintiff’s first claim was against Officers Hall and Bubla for violation of his Fourth Amendment right when they initially searched the shop without a warrant. The Tenth Circuit held that the search was conducted pursuant to consent. The Austins had actual or apparent authority to consent as both worked at the auto-repair business. Ms. Austin contacted police and both she and Mr. Austin were present when the officers were shown around the shop. Mr. Austin did not protest, and the Tenth Circuit held that this was non-verbal consent.

Next, Plaintiff argued that Officers Hall and Bubla violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they sealed the premises without a warrant or probable cause. The Tenth Circuit held that there was probable cause and therefore Plaintiff’s rights were not violated. Probable cause existed because of what the officers found during their initial search with the Austins, Plaintiff’s suspected criminal conduct, and what Mr. Austin had told the officers about his conversations with Plaintiff. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that the officers were justified in sealing the building.

Third, Plaintiff argued that Hall violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without a warrant. The Tenth Circuit held that the arrest was valid because Hall had probable cause to believe Plaintiff was fraudulently altering VIN Plates. The Tenth Circuit held that the factors justifying the warrantless seizure of the building also supported Plaintiff’s arrest.

Fourth, Plaintiff argues that the warrants to search his shop and for his arrest were defective because they were “procured with reckless insufficient information.” The Tenth Circuit stated that there only needs to be a “substantial probability” that the suspect committed the crime before making an arrest. The Tenth Circuit held that Plaintiff’s evidence did not dispute that there was a substantial probability. Further because the prior search was lawful due to consent, the Tenth Circuit held that there was probable cause for a warrant to search the shop based on the initial findings.

Fifth, Plaintiff argued that the officers exceeded the scope of the search warrant. The Tenth Circuit held that the first two ways alleged by Plaintiff were not supported by evidence. The third allegation was that the officers exceeded the scope by seizing an envelope found on the ground of the shop. The Tenth Circuit held that Plaintiff met his burden of showing that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity on that issue. The warrant clearly specified what items were to be seized, and by seizing additional items, the officers acted unreasonably for Fourth Amendment purposes.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the district court’s decision to disregard the affidavit purportedly signed by Mr. Austin and its holding that the attorneys’ affidavits were inadmissible based on Wyoming’s professional conduct lawyer-as-witness rule. The Tenth Circuit held that is did not need to consider whether the district courts holding was accurate because even if the information from Mr. Austin’s purported affidavit was considered, it would not have created a material dispute of fact to defeat the Defendant’s assertion of qualified immunity. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that any error by the district court regarding Mr. Austin’s affidavit was harmless.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s state law claims with prejudice. Because the district court did not explain why the defendants were entitled to the state qualified immunity, the Tenth Circuit remanded the issue for further consideration by the district court.

In sum, the Tenth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment as to the seizure of the envelope, remanded for further proceedings on the state qualified immunity issue, and affirmed the district courts grant of summary judgment in favor of all Defendants on the remaining claims.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/21/2017

On Friday, July 21, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and two unpublished opinions.

United States v. Voog

United States v. Muhtorov

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/20/2017

On Thursday, July 20, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

United States v. Henderson

United States v. Kundo

United States v. Magnan

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/19/2017

On Wednesday, July 19, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and seven unpublished opinions.

Harris v. Cozza-Rhodes

Coburn v. Wilkinson

Pledger v. Russell

Robles v. United States

Jimenez v. Allbaugh

Northern New Mexicans Protecting Land v. United States

United States v. Lopez

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/18/2017

On Tuesday, July 18, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued three published opinions and three unpublished opinions.

United States v. Richardson

Vreeland v. Wren

United States v. Purify

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/17/2017

On Monday, July 17, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

Rusk v. Warner

Truby v. Denham

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

Tenth Circuit: Mens Rea Element of Child Sex-Trafficking Statute Satisfied Where Defendant Recklessly Disregarded Victim’s Underage Status

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Doung on Tuesday, February 14, 2017.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had to determine whether a statutory amendment to 18 U.S.C. § 1591, relating to child sex-trafficking, altered the government’s burden in proving the requisite mens rea. The defendants, Tung Doung, William Baker, and Curtis Anthony were each charged with one count of child sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to engage in child sex-trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C §§ 1591 and 1594. The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment, on the basis that it did not allege the mens rea element of the child sex trafficking crime, and the district court granted the motion.

Under § 1591, the government can prove the mens rea element of child sex-trafficking pertaining to the age of a child in three ways: (1) by showing that the defendant knew the child was underage; (2) the defendant acted in reckless disregard of their age, or (3) the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim prior to engaging in a commercial sex transaction. In the superseding indictment, the government charged the defendants only with having a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim to prove the requisite mens rea.

To interpret the statute, the court began by looking at the plain language of § 1591, stating, “the plainness or ambiguity of statutory language is determined by reference to the language itself, the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole. After looking at the plain language of the statute, the court determined that § 1591 (c) (pertaining to the language adding reasonable observation as a mens rea standard), was not ambiguous, and provides the government a third option for proving a defendant’s mens rea.

Because the section was enacted by congress as a part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), the court next addressed the congressional intent behind the addition of § 1591. The court noted that Congress’ stated purpose behind the act was to, “combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude,” and that § 1591 was added to provide federal criminal penalties for engaging in such conduct. The court then stated that because Congress added subsection 1591(b) to lessen the government’s burden as to the mens rea required regarding a child’s age, the addition of a third subsection further lessening that burden is wholly consistent with the intent of the TVPA.

The defendants argued that if the court interprets § 1591(c) as giving the government a third avenue to prove mens rea, then the section would effectively relieve the government from having to prove actual knowledge or reckless disregard of a victim’s age. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, and stated that contrary to the defendant’s assertions, the government will still have to prove actual knowledge or reckless disregard in circumstances where the defendants did not have a reasonable opportunity to observe the child victim before engaging in the commercial sex transaction. Additionally, the court stated that the defendant’s preferred interpretation actually goes against the stated objective of the TVPA of lessening the government’s burden by restricting the government’s ability to show mens rea under the reckless disregard standard.

As to the conspiracy charge, the defendants argue that the courts interpretation of § 1591(c) does not resolve if the district court properly dismissed the conspiracy charge. Relying on the seventh circuit holding in United States v. Saldago, the defendants claim that they could not have conspired to commit the crime of child sex-trafficking without knowing that the child in question was actually a minor. The court rejected this claim as well, holding that because the government is alleging the defendants had reasonable opportunity to observe the victim, the indictment specifically charges that the defendants had knowledge of the victim’s age for the purpose of the conspiracy charge as well.

The court reversed the decision of the district court in dismissing both charges against the defendants, and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: 18 U.S.C. § 3583 Allows Sentences Greater than One Year for Violations of Terms of Supervised Release

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Collins on Tuesday, February 14, 2017.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had to determine if the maximum allowable term of incarceration following a second violation of the terms of supervised release under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3) refers to the original crime or the violation of the terms of the supervised release. Howard Collins was originally convicted of a Class B felony for knowingly and intentionally distributing more than five grams of (in this case) crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B)(ii). After his initial period of incarceration, he was granted supervised release. After violating his supervised release once before, upon his second violation of the terms of his release, the court sentenced him to one-year re-incarceration under the belief that § 3583(e)(3) permitted a one-year maximum term.

Section 3583(e)(3) stipulates the maximum allowable period of re-incarceration where supervised release has been revoked is the length of the supervised release authorized by statute for the offense that resulted in the supervised release. On appeal, the government asserted that the district court improperly read the statute to preclude a re-incarceration period over one year. The government argued that the language of the statute relating to the “offense that resulted in such term of supervised release” referred to the original offense for which Collins was convicted (which would allow for a three year maximum), not the violation of his supervised release. In interpreting the statute, the court noted that revocation of supervised release, while often leading to incarceration, is not in and of itself a crime and is only subject to a preponderance of the evidence standard. As incarceration for a criminal offense under a standard less than beyond a reasonable doubt would be a violation of the Due Process Clause, the court reasoned that the “offense” referenced in the statute was the original offense for which Collins was charged.

Looking to the holding in the Supreme Court case of Kellogg Brown & Root Servs. Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter, the court stated that the interpretation of the term “offense” to be the original offense for which someone was convicted is applicable to the entirety of Title 18, (at issue here). At the outset, Collins argues that the court’s interpretation of the term original must, in his case, relate to his violation of the terms of supervised release because the phrase “resulted in” requires actual causation, and “but for” his first violation of supervised release he would no longer be on a term of supervised release to violate. The court rejects this contention, stating that Collins’ reading of the statute and the holding in Burrage v. United States to require actual and proximate cause, if adopted, would require the court to to over look the aforementioned due process issues. Furthermore, the court states that ‘but-for’ his original conviction, he could not have been sentenced to a term of supervised release upon either revocation.

In further opposition to the court’s interpretation, Collins supports his own interpretation by asserting that the statutory history of § 3583(e)(3) and (h), including its cross-reference to § 3553(a)(1) leads to an interpretation that the term ‘offense’ means violation of his supervised release. The court, again citing Kellogg to reject Collins’ interpretation, said that because the term ‘offense’ under Title 18 has been interpreted to mean the original offense for which he was convicted, the cross-reference to § 3553 (a)(1) would also carry that interpretation. In Collins’ final challenge to the court’s interpretation, he asserted that because prior to a 1994 amendment the statute referred to “the offense for which the person was convicted” (emphasis added), as opposed to the current iteration that replaced ‘convicted’ with ‘offense’, Congress specifically intended to include violations of the terms of statutory release. The court also rejected these arguments under Kellogg, stating that because Title 18 refers to crimes as the original ‘offense’, the term must be given the same meaning throughout the statutory scheme. Furthermore, the court added, the amendment worked to actually expand the sentencing court’s authority, and an interpretation that limited the court’s ability to sentence a term of imprisonment for revocation of supervised release would be inconsistent with that intention.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the sentencing order of one-year, and remanded the case with the instruction that the court vacate its revocation judgment and resentence Collins.

Tenth Circuit: Discretionary Function Exemption Applies to All Activities of Prosecutors

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Estate of James D. Redd, M.D. v. United States on Tuesday, February 14, 2017.

The facts of the case stemmed from the case of Estate of James D. Redd, M.D. v. Love, in which the estate of Dr. Redd alleged that Mr. Love, a special agent with the Bureau of Land Management, violated Dr. Redd’s Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights when officers searched the Redds’ home as a part of an investigation that targeted persons in possession and trafficking in Native American artifacts that had been taken illegally from the Four Corners region of the United States. The day after agents searched the Redds’ property and arrested him, Dr. Redd committed suicide.

At the beginning of the trial of the lawsuit against Agent Love, the court dismissed all claims against Agent Love except one alleging excessive force. The court later dismissed the excessive force claim as well. In this appeal, the Tenth Circuit was evaluating one of the early claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) that had been dismissed by the district court in the first case: that the value of a “bird effigy pendant” was, as alleged by the estate, overstated in order to support a felony charge against Dr. Redd.

At the request of the parties to the case, the court decided the case on the briefs without oral argument. The court reviewed the claim de novo that the value of the pendant was inflated, and that prosecutors were aware of the inflation. The court stated, “determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” The court agreed with the district court’s finding that the allegation that a cooperating witness intentionally over-valued the pendant is implausible and not well pleaded. The court then noted that the district court was correct in stating that, “absent the implausible allegation of fraudulent valuation of the pendant, the discretionary function exception applies to all identified activities of the prosecutors barring the Estate’s FTCA claim.”

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of all the Estate’s FTCA claims based on the discretionary-function exemption.

Tenth Circuit: Commerce Clause Authorizes Regulation of Take of Utah Prairie Dog

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (PETPO), representing over 200 property owners and entities, challenged a regulation promulgated by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The challenged regulation restricts, but does not prohibit, the take of Utah prairie dogs, a listed threatened species, on non-federal land. The U.S. District Court of Utah granted PETPO’s request for summary judgment on the basis that neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clauses authorizes Congress to regulate the take. The FWS and Friends of Animals (FoA), as intervenors, appealed. Together they argue, that PETPO lacks standing and the challenged regulation is Constitutional. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court on the issue of standing, but concluded that the district court erred in its conclusion that the regulation was not authorized by the Commerce Clause. The court did not address whether the regulation was not authorized by Necessary and Proper Clause.

The Tenth Circuit first considered the issue of standing de novo. The parties disagreed whether the PETPO had sufficient standing for the summary judgment stage. The parties agreed that PETPO suffered an injury in fact that was traceable to the actions of defendant, but disagreed about whether PETPO’s injury would be redressable. PETPO claimed that the regulation was unduly burdensome and requested declaratory and injunctive relief, which “pertain to any federal prohibition on the take of Utah prairie dogs on nonfederal land.” The Tenth Circuit found that PETPO had standing, since the Necessary and Proper and Commerce clauses allow Congress to regulate the take.

The Tenth Circuit found that the district court erred in holding that the challenged regulation was not permissible under the Commerce Clause. The court held that “[R]egulation on nonfederal land of take of a purely intrastate species, like the Utah prairie dog, under the ESA is a constitutional exercise of congressional authority under the Commerce Clause.” The court applied the framework established by the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Raich and found (1) the ESA to be a comprehensive regulatory scheme substantially affecting commerce; and (2) Congress had a rational basis to believe that the regulation at issue is an essential part of that scheme.

Here, the “[R]egulation of take of endangered and threatened species is directly related to—indeed, arguably inversely correlated with—economic development and commercial activity.” This is because Congress intended the ESA to conserve species, restrict commerce, and thereby promote long-term commerce. Further, the Commerce Clause authorizes Congress to regulate commerce, which includes “the power to prohibit commerce.”

Remaining was the question of whether regulation of a purely intrastate species, such as the Utah prairie dog, is authorized within the Raich framework. Here, the court reasoned that the majority of species protected by the ESA are intrastate. If this particular regulation is viewed in isolation as PETPO proposed, the “[p]iecemeal excision of purely intrastate species would severely undercut the ESA’s conservation purposes.” Further, this approach was foreclosed by Raich because it “[w]ould lead to just such a lingering death for the ESA—and likely for other regulatory schemes—insofar as every individual regulation passed within a larger regulatory scheme would be subject to a narrowly applied substantial effects test.” Therefore, “[C]ongress had a rational basis to conclude that providing for the protection of purely intrastate species is essential to the ESA’s comprehensive regulatory scheme.”

The court REVERSED and REMANDED with instructions to enter judgment in favor FWS and FoA.