December 17, 2017

Tenth Circuit: Chicken Farmer Prejudiced by District Court’s Judgment on Basis Not Raised by Either Party

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Oldham v. O.K. Farms, Inc. on Monday, September 25, 2017.

Plaintiff, Earl Oldham, had entered into a contract with O.K. Farms (O.K.), which contract is at issue in this case. Under the contract, O.K. would provide Oldham with chickens to raise, the chickens would remain O.K.’s property, and Oldham would be paid for providing their care. Although the contract had a three-year duration, O.K. retained the right to terminate the contract for certain specified reasons, including breach of any term or condition of the contract, abandonment or neglect of a flock, and failure to care for or causing damage to O.K.’s equipment or property.

Early one morning, Oldham discovered one of his three chicken houses had flooded and contacted O.K. requesting help. Oldham then briefly left the farm to open his tire shop, and when he returned, he was informed by an O.K. field technician that it was his problem, not O.K.’s, and Oldham would have to deal with it. Oldham began complaining at the lack of help provided by O.K. and requested they come and get all of the chickens.

An O.K. crew arrived at Oldham’s farm, removed the live chickens, and brought them to a nearby farm to be raised by a different farmer. Oldham was paid for the work he had done raising the chickens to that point, reduced by the cost of catching and moving the chickens. O.K. subsequently sent Oldham a letter, providing him with a ninety-day notice of contract termination. O.K. provided its reasoning behind termination of the contract: (1) Oldham breached the terms and conditions of the contract by failing to adequately provide for the animal welfare of the chickens in his care; (2) Oldham abandoned and neglected the flock to open his tire shop when the chickens were encountering a threat to their welfare; and (3) the flooding in the henhouse damaged O.K.’s property, the chickens.

In response to these allegations, Oldham contended the flooding was the result of an act of God, not neglect. As for the abandonment argument, Oldham argued that he did not abandon the chickens by leaving for fifteen to twenty minutes while an O.K. field technician was at the scene telephoning his supervisor to determine what they should do about the situation.

This appeal follows the district court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of O.K. on the premise that Oldham abandoned the flock when he requested O.K. come pick up all of the chickens, not just the ones in the flooded henhouse.

After carefully reviewing the summary judgment record and the parties’ arguments, the court determined that the district court granted judgment on a basis that was not raised by O.K. or briefed by either party. The only argument regarding abandonment that O.K. raised in its brief was the argument that Oldham abandoned the flock by leaving to open his tire shop. O.K. never raised any argument that Oldham abandoned his flock by telling O.K. to come get all of the birds.

The rules of civil procedure permit a district court to grant summary judgment on grounds not raised by a party, but only after giving notice and a reasonable time to respond. The district court gave no notice that it intended to grant summary judgment on a basis that was not raised by O.K., nor did the district court give Oldham any time to respond to this decision, much less reasonable time to consider the new theory and develop the arguments to dispute it. The court found that Oldham was prejudiced by this lack of notice and opportunity to respond.

In order to establish the requisite prejudice, the losing party must identify what additional arguments he could have made or evidence he could have produced or relied on to undermine the district court’s ruling. In this case, Oldham evidenced that he was motivated by concern for all of the other chickens’ welfare in telling O.K. to pick up all of the chickens, as there was more rain forecasted and he did not want another henhouse to be flooded. This concern for the chicken’s welfare might have been relevant to the district court’s holding that Oldham legally abandoned the chickens. The court found that this information was enough to show prejudice.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Social Worker Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity after Violating Defendant’s Constitutional Rights

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued is opinion in T.D. v. Patton on Monday, August 28, 2017.

Ms. Patton is a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (DDHS) and was responsible for removing T.D., a minor, from his mother’s home, and recommending T.D. remain in the temporary custody of his father, Duerson. T.D. was removed from Duerson’s home after DDHS made a determination that T.D. had suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. This case concerns Ms. Patton’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that she is entitled to qualified immunity.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Ms. Patton violated T.D.’s clearly established substantive due process constitutional right to be free of a state official’s creation of danger from a private actor under a danger-creation theory. The court found that Ms. Patton violated T.D.’s substantive due process right by knowingly placing T.D. in a position of danger by recommending that T.D. be placed in Duerson’s custody despite admitted concerns about T.D.’s safety, her knowledge of Duerson’s criminal history and conviction for attempted sexual assault against a minor, and failure to investigate whether Duerson was abusing T.D. despite her awareness of evidence of potential abuse. The court found that Ms. Patton acted recklessly and in conscious disregard of a known and substantial risk that T.D. would suffer serious, immediate, and proximate harm in his father’s home.

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a person acting under color of state law who subjects any citizen of the United States to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution shall be liable to the injured party. However, a defendant in an action may raise a defense of qualified immunity, which shields public officials from damages unless their conduct was unreasonable in light of law. Once a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff has the burden to show that the defendant’s actions violated a federal constitutional or statutory right and that the right was clearly established at the time of the defendant’s unlawful conduct.

The court first evaluated whether the facts satisfied T.D.’s claim of danger-creation. The court considered whether Ms. Patton created or increased the danger posed to T.D. The court concluded that Ms. Patton’s actions amounted to a failure to investigate evidence that Duerson was abusing T.D., satisfying the first element. The second element is whether T.D. was a member of a limited and specifically definable group. The court held that because the state removed T.D. from his natural parent and took him into state custody, T.D. fell within a limited and specifically definable group of children.

Third, Ms. Patton’s conduct put T.D. at substantial risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm. This is evidenced by Ms. Patton withholding relevant information and recommending T.D. be placed with his father, by failing to investigate evidence of potential abuse, and by continuing to recommend T.D. remain with his father.

The court discussed the fourth and fifth elements simultaneously. Ms. Patton acted recklessly and in conscious disregard of a risk (element 4) that was obvious or known (element 5). Ms. Patton knew of Duerson’s criminal history, but deleted those concerns for fear of being fired. She further withheld concerns of T.D.’s safety and concerns, stemming from her professional judgment, that T.D. should be removed from the home. Her intentional exclusion of her knowledge and concerns from her hearing report showed she acted recklessly and in conscious disregard of an obvious or known risk that Duerson posed to T.D.

The last element is satisfied by Ms. Patton’s conscience-shocking conduct. Ms. Patton’s conduct was held to significantly exceed ordinary negligence or permitting unreasonable risk and rose to a degree of outrageousness and a magnitude of potential or actual harm that is truly conscience shocking.

In sum, Ms. Patton’s conduct violated T.D.’s substantive due process right by creating or increasing T.D.’s vulnerability to the danger of private violence by Duerson.

The court found that the law was clearly established at the time of Ms. Patton’s misconduct. The court held that a reasonable official in Ms. Patton’s shoes would have understood that she was violating T.D.’s constitutional right by creating or increasing T.D.’s vulnerability to the danger posed by Duerson.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the district court’s DENIAL of summary judgment.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 11/9/2017

On Thursday, November 9, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

United States v. Lilak

United States v. Grigsby

United States v. Morris

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 11/8/2017

On Wednesday, November 8, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and one unpublished opinion.

United States v. Lugo-Tovar

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 11/7/2017

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued four published opinions and seven unpublished opinions.

Dodd v. McCollum

Mitchell v. Kansas City Kansas School District

United States v. Valdez-Borja

Rael v. Smith’s Food and Drug Centers, Inc.

Burnett v. Allbaugh

Donner v. Nicklaus

United States v. Withrow

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 11/6/2017

On Monday, November 6, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Weldon v. Pacheco

Phan v. Cross

Utter v. Colclazier

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

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid Appointed to Tenth Circuit

On Friday, November 3, 2017, the U.S. Senate confirmed former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Eid will fill a vacancy created by the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Eid submitted her resignation from the Colorado Supreme Court upon her confirmation, effective immediately.

Applications are now being accepted for the vacancy on the Colorado Supreme Court. Eligible applicants must have been admitted to practice law in Colorado for five years and must be a qualified elector of the State of Colorado. Application forms are available on the State Judicial website or from the ex officio chair of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, Chief Justice Nancy Rice. Applications must be received no later than 4 p.m. on November 20, 2017, to be considered. Anyone wishing to nominate another must do so no later than 4 p.m. on November 13, 2017. Applicants should be advised that telephone calls informing candidates of interviews will likely occur on Friday, November 24, 2017, and they must be available by telephone on that date.

For more information about the vacancy and application procedure, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Mandatory Minimum Sentence Provision in Child Pornography Statute Unconstitutional

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Haymond on Thursday, August 31, 2017.

This appeal comes from the district court’s decision to revoke Andre Haymond’s supervised release based, in part, on a finding that Haymond knowingly possessed thirteen images of child pornography, which were found on his phone by his probation officer. On appeal, Haymond argued that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that he knowingly possessed child pornography, and he argued that the sentence imposed upon him is unconstitutional because it violates his right to due process. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s revocation of Haymond’s supervised release, but holds that the sentencing was unconstitutional.

In regards to Haymond’s sufficiency of the evidence argument, the Tenth Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion by relying on a clearly erroneous finding of fact that Haymond knowingly took some act related to the images that resulted in the images being on his phone in a manner consistent with knowing possession, as testimony supports only a finding that the images were accessible on Haymond’s phone, not that Haymond necessarily saved, downloaded, or otherwise placed them there. Nonetheless, the court found that the remaining evidence in the record was sufficient to support a finding that Haymond knowingly possessed the child pornography. The information the court relied on was (1) Haymond had nearly exclusive use and possession of his password-protected phone; (2) at some point, thirteen images of child pornography were accessible somewhere on Haymond’s phone; and (3) the sexual acts depicted in the images are consistent with the images forming the basis of Haymond’s original conviction. The court found the evidence supported a finding that it is more likely than not that Haymond downloaded the images and knowingly possessed child pornography, in violation of his release.

The Circuit then moved on to the constitutional question. Haymond’s original conviction, a class C felony, included a supervised release statute that requires a mandatory term of supervised release of five years to life under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k), which may be revoked if a court later finds that the defendant has violated the conditions of that release. If not for the mandatory sentence required by § 3583(k), the sentence Haymond would have received following revocation of his release would have been significantly lower — two years at the most. The Circuit concluded that § 3583(k) violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments because (1) it strips the sentencing judge of discretion to impose punishment within the statutorily prescribed range; and (2) it imposes heightened punishment on sex offenders, expressly based not on their original crimes of conviction, but on new conduct for which they have not been convicted by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt and for which they may be separately charged, convicted, and punished. The Circuit found that § 3583(k) violates the Sixth Amendment because it punishes the defendant with reincarceration for conduct of which he or she has not been found guilty by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and it raises the possibility that a defendant would be charged and punished twice for the same conduct, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The Circuit noted that the court must refrain from invalidating more of the statute than is necessary. There are two sentences under § 3583(k) that the court found to violate the Constitution by increasing the term of imprisonment authorized by statute based on facts found by a judge, not by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and by tying the available punishment to subsequent conduct, rather than the original crime of conviction. The court concluded that without the unconstitutional provision, all violations of the conditions of supervised release would be governed by a different statute, which the court finds to be more appropriate. The sentences at issue under § 3583(k) are found to be unconstitutional and, therefore, unenforceable.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the revocation of Haymond’s supervised release, VACATED his sentence following that revocation, and REMANDED for resentencing without consideration of § 3583(k)’s mandatory minimum sentence provision or its increased penalties for certain subsequent conduct.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 11/2/2017

On Thursday, November 2, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Ryan v. Corrections Corp. of America

United States v. Cano-Bahena

Johnston v. Hunter Douglas Window Fashions, Inc.

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 11/1/2017

On Wednesday, November 1, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

United States v. Ballard

United States v. Foy

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

Tenth Circuit: Attorney General’s Interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s Reinstatement Provision is Reasonable

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in R-S-C v. Sessions on Wednesday, September 6, 2017.

This case presents a conflict between the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The asylum section of the INA states that any alien, irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum. By contrast, the reinstatement provision mandates that a previously deported alien who illegally reenters the United States will have his prior removal order reinstated and is not eligible and may not apply for any relief. The Attorney General has determined that the latter subsection prevails and an illegal reentrant with a reinstated removal order is not eligible for asylum relief.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was asked to decide whether the Attorney General’s interpretation of the INA is a reasonable interpretation of the statutory scheme.

The background of this case involves R-S-C, a woman originally from Guatemala, who had come to the United States without inspection three times to escape threats and extortion against her in Guatemala. The Tenth Circuit found no merit in the argument that she did not illegally reenter the United States, as she expressly declined to contest the determination that she reentered the United States illegally, and there is no evidence in the record suggesting that she presented herself at the border in search of an immigration officer to file an asylum application, as she had previously claimed.

The Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the Attorney General’s interpretation was reasonable. The court determined this through a two-step framework. First, the Court examined whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. The court concluded that the statutory command is ambiguous, as there is conflict between the asylum and reinstatement provisions. The Circuit found that Congress did not clearly resolve the question.

Second, because the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the Circuit is whether the Attorney General’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute. If so, the court must accept the Attorney General’s construction of the statute. The Circuit rejected an argument that the Attorney General failed to perceive the ambiguity in the statute and felt compelled by Congress when interpreting the statute. The court found that the Attorney General’s silence on the statutory interplay does not mean the Attorney General missed the ambiguity. In rejecting this argument, the court considered whether the interpretation was reasonable, and determined it was, offering five reasons.

First, it is reasonable for the Attorney General to conclude that the reinstatement provision means what it says: that certain aliens are not eligible for “any relief.” It is also reasonable to conclude that the reference to “any relief” naturally means all forms of relief, including asylum.

Second, it is not unreasonable for the Attorney General to decide that the reinstatement provision is more specific than the asylum provision, as the Attorney General focused on the section of the INA that carves out a subset of persons for special treatment, rather than another section that establishes rules for a particular kind of relief that apply across the board.

Third, the Attorney General could reasonably conclude that the reinstatement provision operates with stronger force than the asylum section, as it speaks in mandatory terms, requiring the Attorney General to deny relief to aliens with reinstated removal orders.

Fourth, the asylum provision expressly authorizes the Attorney General to establish additional limitations and conditions, under which an alien shall be ineligible for asylum. By contrast, the Attorney General had no discretion to decide that some kinds of relief are immune from the eligibility bar after a removal order is reinstated. Thus, the Attorney General could have reasonably concluded that the reinstatement provision reflects a stronger congressional command than the asylum section.

Fifth, the Attorney General’s determination reasonably furthers the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act’s (IIRIRA) purpose in strengthening the reinstatement provision. Congress passed IIRIRA to replace a previous, more lenient, regime. IIRIRA foreclosed discretionary relief from the terms of the reinstated order. This suggests that Congress intended to fortify the effect of the reinstatement provision, and the Attorney General’s interpretation is faithful to that purpose.

In conclusion, the Circuit found that the INA does not clearly answer the question of whether an illegal reentrant with a reinstated removal order may apply for asylum. The Attorney General, however, has reasonably interpreted the ambiguous statutory scheme in concluding that such an alien is not eligible for asylum relief. The court, therefore, defers to the Attorney General’s interpretation.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals DENIED the petition for review.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 10/31/2017

On Tuesday, October 31, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and seven unpublished opinions.

United States v. Lemon

Harrold v. Berryhill

United States v. Westover

Alvarado v. Smith

United States v. Renteria

Weaver v. Bear

Cornforth v. Fidelity Investments

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