January 17, 2018

Tenth Circuit: Case Properly Remanded to State Court Under the Class Action Fairness Act

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Speed v. JMA Energy Company, LLC on Monday, October 2, 2017.

Plaintiff Speed filed a petition in the District Court of Hughes County, Oklahoma, asserting a class action against JMA Energy Company, alleging that JMA had willfully violated an Oklahoma statute that requires interest payments of revenue from oil and gas production. Speed further asserted that JMA fraudulently concealed from mineral-interest owners that JMA owed interest to the owners, intending to pay only those who requested the interest.

JMA removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, asserting that the district court had jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Speed then filed an amended motion to remand the case to state court. The district court granted this motion, relying on an exception to CAFA that permits a district court to decline to exercise jurisdiction over a class action meeting certain prerequisites based on consideration of certain factors.

JMA appealed, challenging the district court’s remand order. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found the district court properly considered the statutory factors and did not abuse its discretion by remanding to state court.

CAFA permits a class action to be brought in or removed to federal court if: (1) the proposed class includes at least 100 persons with claims; (2) the aggregate amount in controversy on all claims exceeds $5 million; (3) at least one proposed plaintiff and one defendant have diverse citizenship; and (4) the primary defendants are not governmental entities or officials against whom a federal court cannot order relief.

CAFA also recognizes three statutory exceptions. The exception at issue in this case is the discretionary exception. This exception allows a federal court to decline to exercise jurisdiction over a class action that is otherwise covered by CAFA based on six enumerated factors. The Tenth Circuit considered each factor in turn to determine if there was a legal error or other abuse of discretion by the district court.

The first factor is whether the claims asserted involve a matter of national or interstate interest. The Tenth Circuit found that JMA failed to explain how there could be a significant national interest in the mere allocation of interest between producers and royalty owners. The only thing national or interstate about this case is that some of the owners of Oklahoma property, who are basing their claims on alleged violations of an Oklahoma statute, happen to live in other states and receive their royalty checks there. The Tenth Circuit determined that was not enough to reverse the district court’s finding.

The second factor was whether the claims asserted would be governed by Oklahoma law or the laws of other states. The district court found JMA’s argument that a fraud claim against Oklahoma may be governed by the law of a different state unpersuasive and concluded that this factor weighed in favor of Speed’s motion to remand. The Tenth Circuit concluded that Oklahoma law controlled.

The third factor was whether the class action had been pleaded in order to avoid federal jurisdiction. JMA asserted that Speed attempted to avoid federal jurisdiction by excluding from the class any publicly traded companies and affiliated entities that produced, gathered, processed, or marketed oil and gas. The district court found this argument unpersuasive, reasoning that Speed had proposed a class that encompassed all the people and claims that one would expect to include in a class action. The Tenth Circuit agreed.

The fourth factor was whether the action was brought in a forum with a distinct nexus with the class members, the alleged harm, or the defendants. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion by the district court, as the factors of this case demonstrated the required nexus between Oklahoma and the class members, the alleged harms, and the defendant, including that the action was related to real-property interests in Oklahoma, the class members owned royalty interests in Oklahoma property, JMA is a citizen of Oklahoma, and the underlying alleged actions that gave rise to this suit took place in Oklahoma.

The fifth factor was whether the number of citizens of the state in which the action was originally filed is substantially larger than the number of citizens from any other state for plaintiffs in the class, and whether the citizenship of the other members of the proposed class was dispersed among a substantial number of states. The Tenth Circuit found the district court correctly determined that this factor weighed in favor of remand, as the number of Oklahoma citizens was about 2.5 times the number of citizens from any other state.

The sixth, and last, factor was whether, during the three-year period preceding the filing of the class action, one or more other class actions asserting the same or similar claims on behalf of the same or other persons had been filed. No other actions have been filed; therefore, this factor favors remand.

The Tenth Circuit determined that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that each factor supported remand.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the decision remanding the case to state court.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Juvenile Court Magistrate Has Jurisdiction to Consider Motion to Withdraw Previous Guilty Plea

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of J.D. on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

Juvenile Delinquency—Plea Agreement—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Withdrawal of Plea—Magistrate—Jurisdiction.

J.D. appeared before a magistrate in a delinquency case. He was represented by counsel and signed an “advisement of rights in a juvenile delinquency proceeding” and pleaded guilty to acts that if committed by an adult would have constituted second degree criminal trespass. The magistrate accepted the plea and entered a one-year deferred adjudication. After the prosecution sought restitution and J.D. failed to file an objection within the deadline, the magistrate ordered restitution. Four months later and through new counsel, J.D. moved to withdraw his guilty plea under Crim. P. 32(d) based on ineffective assistance of plea counsel for improperly advising J.D. as to the likely restitution amount and the bankruptcy consequences of restitution, as well as failing to formally withdraw as J.D.’s counsel. The magistrate granted the motion and vacated the plea. On review, the district court judge held that the magistrate lacked jurisdiction to hear J.D.’s motion and vacated the order.

On appeal, J.D. argued that the magistrate had authority to enter the order withdrawing his guilty plea and the district court erred in vacating that order. Because the issue of which judicial officers have authority in particular cases is substantive, not procedural, the Children’s Code prevails over any conflicting provisions in the Colorado Rules for Magistrates. The Children’s Code authorizes the juvenile court to appoint magistrates “to hear any case or matter under the court’s jurisdiction, except where a jury trial has been requested . . . .” The magistrate had jurisdiction to consider J.D.’s Crim. P. 32(d) motion.

The district court’s order was reversed and the magistrate’s order vacating the plea was reinstated. The case was remanded to the district court to address the merits of the People’s petition to review the magistrate’s order under C.R.S. § 19-1-108(5.5).

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Plaintiff Established Sufficient Contacts Under Stream of Commerce Doctrine to Withstand Motion to Dismiss

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Align Corp. Ltd. v. Boustred on Monday, November 13, 2017.

Stream of Commerce Doctrine—Personal Jurisdiction

In this case, the supreme court considers the stream of commerce doctrine to determine the prerequisites for a state to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. The court concludes that World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980), sets out the controlling stream of commerce doctrine. That doctrine establishes that a forum state may assert jurisdiction where a plaintiff shows that a defendant placed goods into the stream of commerce with the expectation that the goods will be purchased in the forum state. Applying that doctrine to this case, the court then concludes that the plaintiff made a sufficient showing under that doctrine to withstand a motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the supreme court affirms the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Jurisdiction Over Crimes Committed in Indian Country is Properly Under the Federal Government

The Tenth Circuit of Appeals issued its opinion in Murphy v. Royal on Tuesday, August 8, 2017.

Petitioner-Appellant Murphy challenged the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma state court in which he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He contended he should have been tried in federal court because he is an Indian and the offense occurred in Indian country. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and remanded to the district court to issue a writ of habeas corpus vacating his conviction and sentence.

The Tenth Circuit addressed four issues in determining whether the state court had jurisdiction: (1) federal habeas corpus review; (2) Indian county jurisdiction generally; (3) Indian reservations; and (4) how a reservation can be disestablished or diminished.

The court found that Murphy’s crime occurred on the Indian Reservation, and therefore, the Oklahoma court lacked jurisdiction. The court reviewed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Section 2254(d) provides three ways to overcome AEDPA deference. The court focused on §2254(d)(1), which states that a state prisoner can qualify for habeas relief by showing a state court decision was “contrary to” federal law that was clearly established by the Supreme Court.

When a state court adjudicates a prisoner’s federal claim on the merits, review under § 2254(d)(1)’s contrary to clause proceeds in three steps: (1) whether there is clearly established federal law that applies to the claim; (2) whether the state court’s decision was contrary to that law; and (3) if the state court rendered a decision that was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent by applying the wrong legal test, applying the correct law. The Circuit assumed that AEDPA supplied the standard of review, therefore the substantive law governing Indian country jurisdiction applies to these claims.

The Major Crimes Act is the jurisdictional statute at the heart of this case and applies to enumerated crimes committed by Indians in Indian country. The jurisdiction is exclusively federal, meaning the State of Oklahoma does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed by or against an Indian in Indian Country.

Congress has provided that “Indian Country” includes all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and, including rights-of-way running through the reservation. Therefore, all lands within the boundaries of a reservation have Indian country status.

Only Congress can disestablish or diminish a reservation. As Congress possesses plenary power over Indian affairs, including the power to modify or eliminate tribal rights, Congress also has the power to eliminate or reduce a reservation against a tribe’s wishes and without consent. Having recognized this power, the Supreme Court has developed a framework to determine whether Congress has exercised its power with respect to a given reservation.

First, there is a presumption against disestablishment and diminishment, and courts do not lightly infer that Congress has exercised this power. The Supreme Court has required that the congressional determination to terminate be expressed on the face of the Act or be clear from the surrounding circumstances and legislative history.

Next is Congress’s pursuit of a policy called allotment and its relationship to reservation borders. Congress has historically adopted the view that the Indians tribes should abandon their nomadic lives on the communal reservations and settle into an agrarian economy on privately-owned parcels of land. This policy involved Congress dividing, or “allotting,” communal Indian lands into individualized parcels for private ownership by tribal members. Allotment on its own, however, does not disestablish or diminish a reservation, but may alter the boundaries of some reservations.

To distinguish congressional acts that changed a reservation’s borders from those that simply offered non-Indians the opportunity to purchase land within established reservation boundaries, the Supreme Court has developed a three-part framework:

  1. Courts must examine the text of the statute purportedly disestablishing or diminishing the reservation. No particular form of words, however, is necessary to diminish a reservation.
  2. Courts must consider events surrounding the passage of the statute. Courts have found that Congress altered the borders if evidence at step two unequivocally reveals a widely-held understanding that the affected reservation would shrink as a result of the proposed legislation.
  3. Courts must consider events that occurred after the passage of the statute. Evidence to be considered can include Congress’s own treatment of the affected areas, as well as the manner in which the Bureau of Indian Affairs and local judicial authorities dealt with unallotted open lands.

The Tenth Circuit applied the three-part framework described above and concluded that Congress did not disestablish the Reservation at issue in this case. The court found that the most important evidence, the statutory text, failed to reveal disestablishment at step one. Instead, the relevant statutes contain language affirmatively recognizing the Reservation’s borders. The evidence of contemporaneous understanding and later history, which was considered at steps two and three, is mixed and falls far short of unequivocally revealing a congressional intent to disestablish. Because the application of the framework shows Congress has not disestablished the Reservation, the crime in this case occurred within the Reservation’s boundaries. The State of Oklahoma accordingly lacked jurisdiction to prosecute Murphy.

After applying the three-part framework, the court concluded that Congress has not disestablished the Indian Reservation at issue in this case. The crime in this case occurred in Indian country, Murphy is an Indian, and the federal court has exclusive jurisdiction, not Oklahoma. Murphy’s state conviction and death sentence are thus invalid. The decision whether to prosecute Murphy in federal court rests with the United States and decisions about the borders of the Indian Reservation remain with Congress.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals REVERSED the district court’s judgement and REMANDED with instructions to grant Murphy’s application for writ of habeas corpus.

Colorado Court of Appeals: UCCJEA Required Trial Court to Conduct Further Inquiries Before Assuming Jurisdiction

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.L.T. on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Termination of Parental Rights—Dependency and Neglect—Jurisdiction—Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act—Emergency Jurisdiction.

C.L.T., a child, was adjudicated dependent and neglected. Thereafter, the Denver Department of Health and Human Services moved to terminate the parental rights of mother and father, alleging that they had not complied with their treatment plans and that both of them were unfit parents. The trial court found that although reasonable efforts had been made to rehabilitate mother, her treatment plan had not been successful, she was not fit to parent the child, and she was not likely to become fit within a reasonable period of time. The court made similar findings regarding father. Then it terminated the parental rights of both mother and father.

On appeal, mother contended that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to terminate her parental rights because it failed to comply with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). She argued that because a child welfare case remained open in Texas when the Colorado case was filed, the Colorado court could exercise only emergency jurisdiction unless and until it acquired ongoing jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. The information in the record, which was limited but contained at least some indication that the court may not have had the requisite jurisdiction, was insufficient to establish whether the trial court had jurisdiction to enter any order beyond the temporary emergency order.

The judgment was vacated, and the case was remanded for the trial court to undertake further inquiries about proceedings concerning the child in other states, confer with courts in other states as appropriate, and make express findings about its UCCJEA jurisdiction.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Withdrawal of Charge by DHS Does Not Constitute Final, Appealable Order

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.S. on Thursday, July 13, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—Expungement—Lack of Jurisdiction.

The Weld County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a motion with the juvenile court to dismiss a dependency and neglect petition involving C.S. Father agreed to the dismissal but requested expungement of administrative findings of child abuse made against him by the Department. The court dismissed the case and denied father’s request, finding that father could obtain due process through an administrative hearing.

On appeal, father argued that the juvenile court denied him a fundamentally fair proceeding when it dismissed the case without also ensuring the expungement of the administrative child abuse filing that led to the filing of the case. The court of appeals concluded that the juvenile court lacks authority to order expungement of child abuse and neglect records and reports, and the court’s order granting the parties’ voluntary dismissal of the petition is not final and appealable. The court does not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

The appeal was dismissed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: No Appellate Jurisdiction Where Qualified Immunity Denial Not Timely Appealed

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.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Double Recovery Not Considered in Forum Non Conveniens Determination

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Cox v. Sage Hospitality Resources, LLC on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Forum Non Conveniens—Judicial Inefficiency—Double Recovery.

Cox, a Colorado resident, stayed at a hotel in California owned by defendant Sage Hospitality Resources, LLC. Sage’s members are Colorado residents, and its principal place of business is in Denver. WS HDM, LLC, incorporated in Delaware and licensed to do business in California, owns and operates the hotel. Cox fell on the hotel property and fractured his femur. Cox sued Sage in Denver District Court and WS HDM in California state court. Sage’s motion to dismiss the action in Denver District Court under the doctrine of forum non conveniens was granted.

On appeal, Cox argued that the Denver District Court erred in granting Sage’s motion to dismiss because there were no unusual circumstances sufficient to overcome the strong presumption in favor of Colorado courts hearing cases brought by Colorado residents. Colorado law is clear that the doctrine of forum non conveniens has “only the most limited application in Colorado courts.” Thus, unless there are “most unusual circumstances,” a Colorado resident’s choice of a Colorado forum will not be disturbed. Cox is a Colorado resident and claims to prefer to sue Sage in Colorado. Even though Cox filed a related suit in California state court, the existence of that lawsuit does not trump Cox’s choice of forum in Colorado. Further, the California state court suit is against a different defendant, and the record does not indicate that the joinder of Sage in Cox’s California state court suit is mandatory. Nor does the risk of double recovery overcome the presumption in favor of Colorado courts hearing suits filed by Colorado resident plaintiffs. The Denver District Court erred in dismissing Cox’s action.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: UCCJEA Vests Issuing State with Exclusive Jurisdiction to Modify Custody Order

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of M.S. on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Dependency and NeglectAllocation of Parental ResponsibilitiesSubject Matter JurisdictionUniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

The Mesa County Department of Human Services (Department) assumed temporary custody of 8-year-old M.S. and initiated a dependency and neglect proceeding. Mother lived in Texas.

The court, by stipulation, adjudicated M.S. dependent or neglected. The Department then moved for a permanent allocation of parental responsibilities (APR) for M.S. to mother. The magistrate determined it was in M.S.’s best interests to be placed with mother and issued an order granting permanent APR to mother.

Father appealed, and a court of appeals division dismissed for failure to obtain district court review. Father then filed a petition for district court review, which was denied, and he appealed again.

Initially, the court of appeals addressed the Department’s argument that the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) does not apply to dependency and neglect proceedings once a child has been adjudicated dependent and neglected. The UCCJEA does not exempt any stage of a dependency and neglect proceeding from its purview.

The court, sua sponte, concluded that the magistrate lacked jurisdiction under the UCCJEA to issue the permanent APR order. Under the UCCJEA, the court that makes an initial custody determination generally retains exclusive, continuing jurisdiction. As a result, a Colorado court, absent temporary emergency jurisdiction, may only modify a custody order issued by an out-of-state court under limited circumstances. Here, a California court had issued a custody order before the initiation of the dependency and neglect proceeding. The magistrate did not confer with the California court that issued the custody order or make a determination as to whether the California court had lost exclusive, continuing jurisdiction. Consequently, the magistrate failed to acquire jurisdiction under the UCCJEA before issuing the APR order that effectively modified the California custody order.

The judgment was vacated and the matter was remanded to the district court to direct the magistrate to determine whether it has jurisdiction to issue an APR order that modifies the California custody order.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: No Personal Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Employer in Workers’ Comp Case

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Youngquist v. Miner on Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

Workers’ Compensation—Personal Jurisdiction—Specific Jurisdiction.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether Colorado has jurisdiction to award benefits for out-of-state work-related injuries and impose a statutory penalty on an employer under C.R.S. § 8-41-204 when the employer is not a citizen of Colorado and has no offices or operations in Colorado but hired a Colorado citizen within the state. The court concluded that under the facts of this case, Colorado lacks personal jurisdiction over the employer and therefore the employer cannot be subject to the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado, C.R.S. §§ 8-40-101 to 8-47-209. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Construction Defect Claims Filed Against Subcontractors were Time-Barred

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sopris Lodging, LLC v. Schofeld Excavation, Inc. on Thursday, October 20, 2016.

Construction Defect—Summary Judgment—Time Bar.

TDC was the general contractor for construction of a hotel owned by Sopris Lodging (Sopris). On March 11, 2011, Sopris sent TDC a notice of claim regarding alleged construction defects at the hotel. On May 24, 2013, Sopris filed a complaint in district court asserting construction defect claims against one of the subcontractors of the hotel and against TDC’s individual principals, who had guaranteed TDC’s performance. On the same date, Sopris and TDC entered into an agreement to toll the statute of limitations for Sopris’s claims against TDC.

In 2014, TDC filed third-party claims against several subcontractors including Schofield and CEC for breach of contract, negligence, contribution, and indemnification. CEC and Schofield moved for summary judgment, asserting the claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations in C.R.S. § 13-80-102. TDC did not dispute that the claims accrued on or before March 11, 2011 but argued C.R.S. § 13-80-104(1)(b)(II) tolled the statute of limitations for a defendant’s third-party clams until 90 days after a settlement or final judgment on the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of CEC and Schofield.

On appeal, Sopris (standing in the shoes of TDC following a settlement and assignment of the third-party claims) argued it was error to find the claims time-barred. C.R.S. § 13-80-104(1)(b)(II) gives a contractor the option to bring indemnity or contribution claims against subcontractors in a separate lawsuit after the underlying claims are resolved and tolls the statute of limitations for such claims. But because TDC asserted third-party claims in the original construction defect litigation, the tolling section does not apply. Thus TDC’s third-party claims were time barred.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.