December 12, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Fault-Based Grounds for Dependency and Neglect Must Be Proved as to Each Parent

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of M.M. and P.M. III on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—No Fault—Summary Judgment.

The Fremont County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a dependency and neglect petition concerning M.M. and P.M. III. Mother admitted that the children were dependent and neglected. Although father did not dispute that the children were in an injurious environment and were without proper parental care through no fault of a parent, he denied the allegations in the petition against him and requested an adjudicatory trial before a jury. The Department moved to adjudicate the children dependent and neglected by summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment and adjudicated the children dependent and neglected.

On appeal, father asserted that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. He contended that the facts concerning him were disputed, the remaining undisputed facts concerned only mother, and the children could not be adjudicated dependent and neglected simply because the Department established that mother was a danger to the children. There are four statutory grounds for adjudication, two of which require a showing of fault as to each parent. The undisputed facts established that, with respect to the “no-fault” grounds, C.R.S. § 19-3-102(1)(c) and (e), the children were dependent and neglected and the trial court properly granted summary judgment on those statutory grounds. With respect to C.R.S. § 19-3-102(1)(a) and (b), however, the material facts concerning father’s conduct were disputed and thus the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on those grounds.

The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part. The case was remanded for the trial court to amend the order of adjudication to reflect that the children were adjudicated dependent and neglected only under C.R.S. § 19-3-102(1)(c) and (e).

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Managers Acted in Bad Faith by Painting Grim Financial Picture to Valuation Firms

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Leone v. Owsley on Wednesday, November 25, 2015.

Charles Leone was a principal of Madison Street Partners, LLP (MSP). In 2012, he resigned his position, and fellow principals Stephen Owsley and Drew Hayworth (Managers) elected to buy Leone’s interest in MSP. The Operating Agreement required the purchase price to be set at fair market value, and the Managers received two independent valuations from St. Charles Capital, LLC, and INTRINSIC. Although it was not used in calculating the offer to Leone, in 2009 Duff & Phelps had valued MSP at between $50 and 65 million. The Managers reluctantly gave the Duff & Phelps report to St. Charles and INTRINSIC, but urged them to ignore it, arguing it was not relevant. The Managers characterized MSP as having poor performance and did not give the valuation firms MSP’s newsletters or other relevant information.

St. Charles valued MSP with a total 2011 revenue of $5.892 million and total net income of $2.21 million. MSPs internal profit and loss statement listed total 2011 revenue as $7.289 million and net income of $3.398 income. INTRINSIC prepared a less detailed report without an opinion as to MSP’s value. Based on the two reports, the Managers offered Leone a purchase price of $135,850. Leone rejected the offer and retained his own expert to value his interest. Leone’s expert calculated his interest as of August 2012 at $1.5 million. Around the same time, Owsley sent his father an email expressing an interest in buying out Leone, remarking that MSP was stable.

In November 2012, Leone brought suit against the managers in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, alleging that they had breached Article 10, Section 10.2(d) of the Operating Agreement by failing to act in good faith in valuing his interest in MSP. Leone also argued the Managers breached the implied covenant of good faith by unreasonably attempting to force him to sell his interest for a price far below fair market value. Managers claimed Leone’s claims were barred because of their “good faith reliance on the advice of one or more third parties.” They moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted their motion. The district court ruled that the valuation firms were qualified to provide expert reports and there was no evidence Managers relied blindly on the reports. As to Leone’s claim that the Managers improperly influenced the valuation firms in order to receive more favorable numbers, the district court found that he had failed to raise a dispute of material fact about the procedural integrity of the valuation.

On appeal, Leone argued that the district court erred in its interpretation of Delaware law by (1) conflating express and implied contractual obligations of good faith, (2) holding that bad faith requires a tortious state of mind, and (3) refusing to consider the substantive unreasonableness of the offered purchase price. He also argued that the district court erred in granting summary judgment because he raised genuine issues of material fact. The Tenth Circuit first evaluated Leone’s argument that the district court erred in conflating express and implied bad faith. The Tenth Circuit noted that under either standard, a good faith evaluation of the ownership interests would require the Managers to refrain from taking action that would result in a lower valuation.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed Leone’s contention that the district court erred in finding that a tortious state of mind is required for bad faith. Analyzing the district court’s opinion as a whole, the Tenth Circuit found it properly stated the Delaware requirements for bad faith. The Tenth Circuit next addressed Leone’s argument that Delaware’s safe harbor provision does not immunize the Managers because they acted in bad faith by wrongfully influencing the valuation firms and relying on valuation figures that were clearly erroneous. The district court concluded it should refrain from considering the substantive accuracy of the valuation reports absence a finding of wrongdoing, then held that no reasonable juror could find that the Managers did anything that affected the procedural integrity of the valuation. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s conclusion, noting that when taken in the light most favorable to Leone, a reasonable jury could conclude that the Managers did not rely in good faith on the valuation firms.

Addressing Leone’s claim that the district court erred in granting summary judgment, the Tenth Circuit agreed. Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to Leone, the Tenth Circuit found the district court erred in rejecting that an inference of bad faith could be drawn by the Managers’ actions. The Tenth Circuit noted that a reasonable jury could find that the Managers engaged in conscious wrongdoing based on inaccurate statements to the valuation firms. The Tenth Circuit noted that a reasonable jury could disagree with the district court’s conclusion that the Managers’ false statements did not materially influence the valuation firms’ reports.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Officer Lacked Reasonable Basis to Effect Felony Stop Based on Mistaken Information

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Maresca v. Bernalillo County on Thursday, October 22, 2015.

Stephen Maresca, a former police officer, and his family were returning from a family hike when they were pulled over by Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputies J. Fuentes, G. Grundhoffer, and four other officers. Officer Fuentes, who had completed her training as a new officer approximately two months earlier, initiated the stop. Mr. Maresca waved to Officers Fuentes and Grundhoffer as he drove by, and Officer Fuentes randomly decided to follow the Marescas’ truck—a red 2004 Ford F-150 pickup. She attempted to type their license plate number into her onboard computer, but got a digit wrong and received a message that the vehicle, a maroon 2009 Chevrolet four-door sedan, had been stolen.

Without double-checking the license plate number or verifying that the information on her screen matched the Marescas’ vehicle, she initiated a “felony stop.” She called the Marescas actual license plate number into dispatch, stating that the vehicle was stolen, but did not wait for dispatch to verify the information before initiating the felony stop. As a result of this call, other officers were dispatched to assist. For the felony stop, she and Officer Grundhoffer, who was following her in a different vehicle, stood behind the open doors of their vehicles with weapons drawn and shouted orders at the Marescas. She ordered Mr. Maresca to turn off the truck, throw his keys out of the window, exit the truck with his hands in the air, lift his shirt above his waistband so she could check for weapons, and lay on the highway on his stomach. She repeated this procedure with Mrs. Maresca. The Marescas complied fully with Officer Fuentes’ commands. While they were laying on the ground, Mrs. Maresca informed the officers that there were children and a dog in the truck. Mr. Maresca also told them that there had to be a mistake and to check everything again. The officers ignored the Marescas.

The officers ordered the boys out of the car the same way as Mr. and Mrs. Maresca, and ordered 9-year-old M.M. to exit the vehicle and lift her shirt. The evidence is disputed whether they forced her to lay on her stomach or sternly told her to stay at the side. After all the Marescas were out of the truck, the dog became upset and jumped out of the vehicle, running into the highway. Mr. Maresca called the dog and the officers allowed him to hold onto her. Two more deputies arrived and one began directing traffic around the “felony stop.” Two additional deputies arrived next, and the Marescas presented disputed evidence that one of them pointed his gun directly at 14-year-old C.M.’s head, leading C.M. to freak out and start crying to his mom that they were going to kill him. There was also disputed evidence that an officer stood over Mrs. Maresca with his gun cocked in a sideways gangster-style hold. Mrs. Maresca began to panic, and the children and Mrs. Maresca were all crying.

Finally, between seven and fifteen minutes after initiating the stop, Officer Fuentes returned to her vehicle and re-ran the Marescas’ plate, at which point she discovered her error. Fuentes asked one of the other deputies whether she was going to get into trouble. The deputy told her to uncuff the Marescas, let them return to their vehicle, and call a sergeant. Sergeant Bartholf explained to the Marescas that Fuentes was a new officer. The parties dispute whether he ever apologized. Mrs. Maresca asked Officer Quintana why he thought it necessary to point his gun at her when she was already laying on the ground, at which point Quintana smiled and walked away.

The Marescas filed suit in New Mexico state court, alleging the officers violated their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 rights to be free from unlawful arrest and excessive force. The Marescas also asserted state law claims against the officers for assault, false imprisonment, battery, and negligence, and asserted claims against Bernalillo County for negligent training. Defendants removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico. The Marescas filed a motion for summary judgment on their federal claims, and the defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. The district court denied the Marescas’ motion, granted defendants’ motion, and dismissed the Marescas’ state law claims without prejudice. The Marescas appealed.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed qualified immunity and found it inapplicable to Officer Fuentes. The Marescas argued Officer Fuentes violated their Fourth Amendment rights by arresting them without probable cause and by using excessive force. The officers argued that they did not arrest the Marescas, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding the duration of the stop, the use of firearms, and rough treatment to which they subjected the Marescas indicated that the stop was an arrest. The Tenth Circuit further concluded the arrest was not supported by probable cause because the officers lacked an objectively reasonable basis to believe the truck was stolen. The Tenth Circuit noted that the sole basis for the arrest was Officer Fuentes’ “mistaken and unreasonable belief” that the truck was stolen. The Tenth Circuit clarified that it was not holding that a mere typing error deprives officers of a reasonable basis to effect an arrest, but rather based the holding in this case on all the facts taken together. However, in this case, the undisputed facts established that Fuentes violated the Marescas’ Fourth Amendment rights. The Tenth Circuit held that Officer Fuentes was not entitled to qualified immunity, and in fact that the Marescas were entitled to summary judgment against Officer Fuentes.

Turning to Officer Grundhoffer’s role, the Tenth Circuit concluded it was reasonable for him to rely on the information he was given by Officer Fuentes in assisting with the felony stop. The Tenth Circuit found no evidence that Officer Grundhoffer’s conduct was in bad faith or unreasonable under the circumstances. It therefore upheld qualified immunity as to Officer Grundhoffer.

Turning to the excessive force claim, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the Marescas were entitled to have their claims evaluated by a jury. The Tenth Circuit reiterated that although it granted summary judgment to the Marescas on their Fourth Amendment claims against Officer Fuentes, there were still questions of fact regarding whether the officers used force that was unreasonable under the circumstances. The Tenth Circuit reminded the officers that the use of force must be justified under the circumstances, especially when directed at children as it was here. The Tenth Circuit also found that the Marescas presented evidence of more than de minimus injury.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Officer Fuentes based on qualified immunity, and also reversed the court’s denial of summary judgment to the Marescas as related to Officer Fuentes. It remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment as to Officer Grundhoffer’s qualified immunity. On the excessive force claims, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial of summary judgment to the Marescas and remanded for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Junk Fax Claims Against Commercial Insurer Barred by Policy Language

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Emcasco Insurance Co. v. CE Design, Ltd. on Monday, May 4, 2015.

In April 2008, Custom Mechanical Equipment, Inc., an Oklahoma company, faxed an unsolicited advertisement to CE Design, Inc. in Illinois. Rather than simply throw the fax away, CE Design sued Custom in Illinois state court and sought to certify a class of others who had received unsolicited faxes from Custom. CE Design alleged Custom breached the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which provides $500 in damages for each violation, as well as alleging common law conversion based on the use of paper, toner, the fax machine, and CE Design staff time. Custom submitted the claim to its insurer, Emcasco, which denied coverage and declined to defend Custom. In June 2011, CE Design and Custom settled, entering into an agreement for $1,276,000 in damages ($500 for each of the 2,552 junk faxes Custom sent) whereby CE Design agreed to enforce the judgment only against Emcasco. The Illinois trial court approved the settlement in September 2011.

CE Design brought suit against Emcasco in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, seeking a declaratory judgment that Emcasco’s policy legally obligated it to pay the CE Design’s judgment. Emcasco then filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeking a declaratory judgment that it was not liable. Upon CE Design’s motion, the Illinois district court transferred the case to Oklahoma. In June 2013, both parties moved for summary judgment. Emcasco argued it had properly denied coverage and refused to defend because Custom’s fax was neither an “occurrence” causing property damage nor a “personal and advertising injury,” and alternatively argued that three policy exclusions barred coverage. CE Design responded that the policy covered Custom and no exclusion applied. After hearing arguments, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Emcasco and denied CE Design’s motion. CE Design appealed.

On appeal, the parties agreed that Oklahoma law regarding insurance contracts governed the dispute. At oral argument, CE Design conceded the statutory violation language in the policy removed Emcasco’s duty to defend the TCPA claim. The Tenth Circuit agreed. Turning next to the conversion claim, the Tenth Circuit found that CE Design sufficiently pleaded conversion, but in doing so defeated policy coverage, since by pleading conversion CE Design acknowledged that the fax was not an “accident” for policy purposes. The Tenth Circuit next turned to CE Design’s “negligent conversion” claim, alleging conversion under a mistaken belief of right to appropriation of the property. The Tenth Circuit agreed that such “negligent conversion” could qualify as an “accident” under the policy, but CE Design’s bare allegations of mistake were not supported by anything in the record, noting that “[i]f this sufficed as an accident, it is hard to imagine what would not.” The Tenth Circuit found Emcasco had no duty to defend under the “negligent conversion” theory. Tenth Circuit similarly rejected CE Design’s Illinois Consumer Fraud Act (ICFA) claim, finding CE Design was required to prove the defendant intended the plaintiff to rely on a deceptive act in order to further an ICFA claim, and further finding such a deceptive act would trigger all of the same exceptions from Emcasco’s coverage.

The Tenth Circuit next analyzed Emcasco’s argument that its statutory violation exclusion barred coverage under all three of CE Design’s claims. The Tenth Circuit, looking at the plain language of the insurance policy, agreed that coverage would have been barred, since all of CE Design’s claims relied at their core on violations of the TCPA. Because TCPA claims were barred by the contract, all of CE Design’s claims failed.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Emcasco.

Tenth Circuit: Qualified Immunity Improperly Denied to Officers Whose Conduct Not Clearly Prohibited by Established Law

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Quinn v. Young on Friday, March 13, 2015.

Plaintiffs John Quinn and Lavern Gonzalez were arrested after a sting operation. The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) had organized a sting (called the “Tact Plan”) in which they left a backpack containing alcohol, cigarettes, and a laptop next to an ATM and waited to see who would take it. Quinn, Gonzalez, and their child approached the backpack and conversed. The child took the backpack and the three went to a local diner. The police followed. At the diner, Gonzalez opened the backpack and examined its contents. When she opened the laptop, the APD logo appeared and officers arrested Quinn and Gonzalez. They were detained for approximately two days.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint in New Mexico’s federal district court against the officers, Sergeant Armijo, the APD chief, the APD, four APD supervisors, and the City of Albuquerque (collectively, defendants). Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants’ conduct, as well as the Tact Plan, violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful seizure under § 1983. Plaintiffs also alleged entrapment and violation of their substantive due process rights by causing them embarrassment and humiliation. Defendants responded with a summary judgment motion, arguing the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, Plaintiffs had stated no constitutional violation by a municipal employee, and Plaintiffs had stated no actionable claim against the police chief or APD.

The district court granted Defendants’ motion in part and denied it in part, finding Plaintiffs had established a genuine issue of material fact as to whether there was probable cause for their arrest. The district court ruled that the officers should have been on notice that they could not arrest for larceny without probable cause and denied qualified immunity on Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment claim. Without making requisite findings, the district court denied qualified immunity on all Plaintiffs’ claims, and it did not articulate a basis for ruling on the entrapment claim. The officers timely appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed the Fourth Amendment claim, evaluating whether the officers had probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs for larceny following the sting operation and whether clearly established law at the time of the offense would have placed a reasonable, similarly situated police officer on notice that no probable cause existed. Addressing the second question first, the Tenth Circuit found that any constitutional violation would not have been apparent based on the clearly established law existing at the time of the arrest, and the officers should have been granted qualified immunity. Finding the lack of on-point caselaw significant, the Tenth Circuit evaluated jurisprudence on non-sting larceny cases and found the officers would not have had fair warning that their arrests lacked probable cause. Additionally, two cases decided in 2013—three years after the arrests in issue here—also determined there was a lack of caselaw regarding the constitutionality of sting operations, supporting the Tenth Circuit’s position that the officers would not have had fair warning about the constitutionality of their arrests.

The Tenth Circuit next evaluated the officers’ challenge to the district court’s denial of qualified immunity on the entrapment, malicious prosecution, and due process claims. Recognizing that the district court “painted with broad strokes,” the Tenth Circuit addressed these points. The Tenth Circuit concluded that the entrapment claim was not properly before it on appeal, since Plaintiffs only named the government and not the officers in their entrapment claim, and dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit likewise exercised its discretion and declined to address the malicious prosecution and due process claims, opting instead for a limited remand with instructions for the district court to explicitly address whether the officers are entitled to qualified immunity on the malicious prosecution and due process claims and then rule on the claims based on the findings.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the summary judgment on the officers’ qualified immunity claim and directed the district court to enter judgment in favor of the officers, dismissed the appeal related to the entrapment claim for lack of jurisdiction, and remanded the malicious prosecution and due process claims with instructions.

Tenth Circuit: Insurance Exclusions for Broadcasting Applied to Dish Network’s Business

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Dish Network Corp. v. Arrowood Indemnity Co. on Tuesday, November 25, 2014.

Between 2001 and 2004, Dish Network purchased primary and excess commercial general liability insurance policy from five insurers: Arrowood Indemnity Company; Travelers Insurance Company of Illinois; XL Insurance of America, Inc.; National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA; and Arch Specialty Insurance Company. In 2007, Dish was a defendant in a patent infringement suit brought by Ronald A. Katz Technology Licensing, L.P. (RAKTL). Dish requested its five insurers to defend it in the patent infringement action, but they declined. Dish brought suit against the insurers, seeking a judgment that they had a duty to defend and also alleging breach of contract and the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The district court granted summary judgment to the insurers, but on appeal, the Tenth Circuit remanded for further determination of the issues (DISH Network Corp. v. Arch Spec. Ins. Co., 659 F.3d 1010 (10th Cir. 2011) (DISH I)). On remand, the insurers again moved for summary judgment but on different grounds. The district court again granted summary judgment, and Dish appealed.

Dish’s first argument on appeal was that the district court violated the law of the case and exceeded the scope of its jurisdiction by allowing the insurers to present new arguments on remand. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the law of the case doctrine and its prior decision, and determined that the district court was not precluded from allowing additional arguments on remand. The district court properly looked to the Tenth Circuit’s mandate for restrictions on appeal, and exercised its discretion accordingly. The Tenth Circuit did not decide that the insurers had a duty to defend Dish in DISH I. Rather, the Tenth Circuit noted that the district court did not decide several issues regarding the duty to defend. It did not preclude the court from resolving additional duty-to-defend issues on remand.

In its second, third, and fourth points on appeal, Dish challenged the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the insurers. The district court concluded that the policies’ business exclusions for “broadcasting” and “telecasting” precluded coverage. Dish argued that its business did not fall under these terms because Dish provides service only to specific subscribers, not the public at large. The Tenth Circuit looked to the plain meaning of “broadcasting” and “telecasting” and found the definitions to encompass Dish’s business activity. Dish’s attempt to draw a distinction between subscription broadcasting and public broadcasting made no sense in the business exclusion sense, and the Tenth Circuit found that the terms in the policy language encompassed Dish’s business activity. The Tenth Circuit found that coverage for Dish’s business activity was unavailable under the policies at issue.

Next, the Tenth Circuit turned its attention to Dish’s umbrella policies provided by National, Arch, and XL. Because the Tenth Circuit had found that coverage was unavailable under the primary policies, the umbrella policies were not implicated and summary judgment to these three insurers was appropriate. Dish conceded that summary judgment in favor of Arch was appropriate, and the district court noted that even if the National and XL policies were available, the coverage would have been excluded because they contained the same language regarding advertising injuries when engaged in the business of broadcasting.

The district court’s grant of summary judgment was affirmed as to all insurers.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Genuine Issues of Material Fact Precluded Judicial Dissolution of LLC

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Gagne v. Gagne on Thursday, September 25, 2014.

Limited Liability Company—Summary Judgment—Judicial Dissolution—Declaratory Judgment—Notice—Attorney Fees.

Paula and Richard Gagne, mother and son, are the sole members of the four limited liability companies (LLCs), each of which owns multi-unit apartment complexes. Richard initiated this action, alleging that he and Paula had been unable to agree on the continued operation and management of the LLCs and had reached an impasse as to an equitable distribution of the LLCs or their assets. Richard requested judicial dissolution of the LLCs, a declaratory judgment regarding their respective rights, and the appointment of a receiver. The district court issued a declaratory judgment, granted partial summary judgment to Paula on Richard’s judicial dissolution claim, denied Richard’s request to require Paula to disgorge the attorney fees that the LLCs paid on her behalf, and denied Richard’s requests for attorney fees.

On appeal, Richard contended that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment to Paula on his claim for judicial dissolution. The Court of Appeals was unable to determine, as a matter of law, whether the LLC Agreements provide an effective means for resolving the disagreements between Paula and Richard. Because there were genuine issues of material fact precluding the entry of partial summary judgment on Richard’s judicial dissolution claim, the partial summary judgment on that claim was reversed.

Paula and Richard both asserted that the district court erred in its resolution of the parties’ declaratory judgment claims regarding the management of the properties. Because the LLC Agreements are ambiguous regarding these issues, the case was remanded for further findings regarding the parties’ intent.

Paula contended that the district court erred in entering a declaratory judgment regarding (and imposing remedies for her conduct as to) an employment contract she entered into with another son, Jay Gagne, and a loan she made to one of the LLCs in which Paula signed the paperwork as both lender and borrower. Because Richard never asserted any such claims for relief, and because the parties have not argued (and the record does not show) that such claims were tried by implied consent, Paula did not have proper notice of these claims and the court erred in entering a declaratory judgment on these claims.

Richard also contended that the district court erred in denying his motion to disgorge the attorney fees that the LLCs paid on Paula’s behalf in this case. Richard’s action represented an attempt to “undo” the LLCs and distribute their assets, and Paula, acting as Chief Executive Manager of the LLCs, defended against Richard’s efforts to do so. In these circumstances, Paula’s using of LLC funds to defend against Richard’s claims was not improper.

Richard further contended that the district court erred in denying his requests for attorney fees based on the dismissal of Paula’s counterclaims. However, Richard failed to establish that he is entitled to recover fees pursuant to CRS §13-17-201 on the facts of this case. The judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated in part, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Question of Prospective Harm Inappropriate for Summary Judgment in Dependency and Neglect

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of S.N. on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Parental Rights—Termination—Dependency and Neglect—Summary Judgment—Prospective Harm.

The Boulder County Department of Human Services (Department) removed S.N. from her parents’ custody at birth because a hearing on termination of parental rights involving the parents’ three older children was pending. The trial court adjudicated S.N. dependent and neglected by summary judgment based entirely on a theory of prospective harm.

On appeal, the parents argued that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment on the Department’s petition for dependency and neglect regarding S.N. There were material facts that could affect the determination of whether S.N. should be adjudicated dependent and neglected. Therefore, the question of prospective harm was inappropriate for summary judgment because the parent’s prior conduct alone can never be sufficiently predictive of future conduct to take the question from a trier of fact by summary judgment. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Significant Evidence of Monopolization Precluded Summary Judgment Against Plaintiff

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Lenox Maclaren Surgical Corp. v. Medtronic, Inc. on Tuesday, August 5, 2014.

Lenox Maclaren Surgical Corp. manufactures bone mills, a type of instrument used in spinal fusion surgery. In 2000, Lenox began to sell bone mills to a Medtronic entity, but that Medtronic entity initiated a recall of Lenox’s products and began selling bone mills produced by a different Medtronic entity. Lenox sued the Medtronic entities for monopolization and attempted monopolization from 2007 through 2010. The district court granted summary judgment to Medtronic, and Lenox appealed on five issues: (1) foreclosure of issues due to res judicata; (2) definition of the product market; (3) Medtronic’s monopoly power; (4) Medtronic’s acquisition of monopoly power through exclusionary practices; and (5) harm to competition from Medtronic’s monopoly powers.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Medtronic’s claim that Lenox’s suit was barred by the doctrine of res judicata, since Lenox could have raised these issues when the parties engaged in arbitration prior to the district court’s grant of summary judgment. In that binding arbitration, a panel found that Medtronic had insufficient proof to justify its recall of the Lenox bone mills and the company had taken action to clear Lenox from the market. In the action before the district court, Medtronic moved for dismissal based on res judicata, but the district court denied the motion. Medtronic did not raise the res judicata claim in its motion for summary judgment. The Tenth Circuit ruled that Lenox had no need to confront an argument not raised in the motion and declined to address the issue.

Turning to the monopolization issue, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s grant of summary judgment, ruling that there were genuine issues of disputed fact which precluded summary judgment. In order to prevail on the monopolization claim, Lenox had to prove (1) monopoly power in the relevant market, (2) willful acquisition of this power through exclusionary conduct, and (3) harm to competition. The district court ruled that Lenox had not created a triable issue of fact on the relevant product market, monopoly power, willful acquisition, or harm, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed.

The Tenth Circuit first identified the relevant product market as the market for other bone mills, despite the fact that hand tools can be used to mill bone, because Lenox presented expert testimony regarding surgeons’ preference for bone mills, a substantial price difference exists between bone mills and hand tools, and Medtronic’s market literature identifies its competition as other bone mills. Because of potential factual disputes on this issue, summary judgment is precluded.

Next, the Tenth Circuit addressed Medtronic’s monopoly power in the bone mill market and determined that Lenox showed sufficient evidence of market share and barriers to entrance to infer that Medtronic had monopoly power in the market. Medtronic’s own literature showed that it had a majority share of the bone mill market during the years in question, with its lowest market share at 65% and its highest at 97-98%. Lenox’s expert testified as to barriers to market entrance. The evidence on market share and barriers created reasonable disputes of material fact and precluded summary judgment.

The Tenth Circuit then turned to the issue of Medtronic’s anticompetitive conduct and found that Lenox presented significant evidence from which a fact-finder could infer anticompetitive conduct. Applying the more stringent 6-factor disparagement test, the Tenth Circuit found that Lenox had alleged facts sufficient to infer anticompetitive conduct, including Medtronic’s reasonless recall of Lenox’s products and Medtronic’s statements to hospitals about the recalls, thus inducing consumers to avoid the Lenox product and causing harm to Lenox.

The Tenth Circuit ruled that Lenox presented significant evidence to support a finding on each element of its claim for actual monopolization, and this evidence precluded summary judgment to Medtronic. The district court’s judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for additional proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Summary Judgment for Junior Mark User Affirmed in Lanham Act Trademark Infringement Case

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Hornady Manufacturing Co., Inc. v. DoubleTap, Inc. on Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

Hornady manufactures and sells firearm ammunition and related products. Hornady has sold various products under the name “TAP,” short for “Tactical Application Police.” In 1999, Hornady acquired trademark registration for the nonstylized word mark, “TAP.” DoubleTap was founded in 2002 by Michael McNett. DoubleTap has been described as a “niche” ammunition manufacturer.

In January 2010, Hornady sent DoubleTap a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that DoubleTap discontinue using the word “Tap” on its products, remove “Tap” from its website, and destroy any materials it created bearing “Tap.” Hornady eventually filed suit, alleging trademark infringement under Sections 32 and 43(a) of the Lanham Act, common law trademark infringement, deceptive trade practices under Utah law, and unjust enrichment. Both parties moved for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on whether DoubleTap infringed on Hornady’s TAP mark. The district court denied Hornady’s motion and granted DoubleTap’s.

In deciding whether summary judgment was properly granted, the Tenth Circuit had to determine if DoubleTap’s mark was likely to cause confusion with Hornady’s mark. The court applied “six nonexhaustive factors to evaluate whether there is a likelihood of confusion: (1) the degree of similarity between the competing marks; (2) the intent of the alleged infringer in adopting the contested mark; (3) evidence of actual confusion; (4) the similarity of the parties’ products and the manner in which the parties market them; (5) the degree of care that consumers are likely to exercise in purchasing the parties’ products; and (6) the strength of the contesting mark.”

After applying the six factors in a detailed opinion, the court held that consumers were unlikely to be confused by the marks and affirmed the award of summary judgment to DoubleTap.

Tenth Circuit: Summary Judgment for Prison Officials in RLUIPA Sweat Lodge Case Vacated

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Yellowbear v. Lampert on Thursday, January 23, 2014.

Andrew Yellowbear is in a Wyoming prison for murdering his daughter. He is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and seeks access to the prison’s existing sweat lodge to facilitate his religious exercises. The prison’s sweat lodge is located in the general prison yard and Yellowbear is housed in a special protective unit because of threats against him. Prison officials refused to allow his use of the sweat lodge, saying that the cost of providing the necessary security to take Yellowbear from the special protective unit to the sweat lodge and back is “unduly burdensome.” Yellowbear filed suit against prison officals and sought injunctive relief under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants.

The Tenth Circuit held that Yellowbear had satisfied his burden under RLUIPA to show his use of the sweat lodge would be a religious exercise motivated by sincere religious belief. He also met his summary judgment stage burden of showing the prison substantially burdened that exercise by prohibiting him from any access to the sweat lodge.

For the government to prevail, it had to show prohibiting access serves a compelling state interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest in this case. The court found the government had not met its burden. It did not quantify the costs it would incur in providing security to take Yellowbear to and from the sweat lodge. Additionally, prison lockdowns already occurred daily for nonreligious reasons, such as transporting other specially housed inmates to the medical unit. The defendants did not address this evidence so the inference that the prison would not perform lockdowns for religious exercise because of a discriminatory reason was not countered.

The defendants also argued that granting Yellowbear’s request would lead to a flood of requests from other specially housed inmates but provided no information to back up that speculative claim.

The court held that the prison also failed to meet its burden of showing its policy of prohibiting Yellowbears’s access was the least restrictive means necessary to further its compelling interest. The prison did not demonstrate that Yellowbear’s suggested alternatives were ineffective in meeting the prison’s goals. Showing that he refused the prison’s suggested alternatives was not enough.

The court explained that its decision was made on the basis of absolutes (no access granted) at the summary judgment stage and that the relative strengths of the parties’ positions may change. The court vacated summary judgment for the defendants.

Tenth Circuit: Summary Judgment for Employer Reversed on FMLA and ADA Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Smothers v. Solvay Chemicals, Inc. on Tuesday, January 21, 2014.

Steven Smothers worked for Solvay Chemical, Inc. (“Solvay”) for 18 years until Solvay fired him, ostensibly because of a first-time safety violation and a dispute with a coworker. He sued Solvay, claiming the company’s true motivations were retaliation for taking medical leave from work, in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and discrimination on the basis of his medical disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). He also brought a state law claim for breach of implied contract. The district court granted summary judgment for Solvay on his FMLA and ADA claims and on his state law claim for breach of implied contract.

Smothers sought and was granted FMLA leave from Solvay for intermittent absences caused by severe neck and back pain. Solvay considered him an excellent, reliable mechanic with strong job knowledge, but managers and coworkers complained about his FMLA-protected absences.

The Tenth Circuit held that Smothers met his prima facie burden on his FMLA and ADA claims and presented a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Solvay’s stated purpose for firing him was pretextual. After viewing the evidence in Smothers’ favor, it showed that: (1) Solvay treated Smothers differently from similarly situated employees who committed comparable safety violations; (2) Solvay’s investigation into Smothers’ quarrel with Mahaffey was inadequate; and (3) Solvay managers previously took negative action against Smothers because of his FMLA-protected absences. Together these grounds create a triable issue of fact as to whether Mr. Smothers’ FMLA leave was a substantial motivation in Solvay’s decision to fire him.

The court rejected Solvay’s argument that the group of decision makers who fired Smothers was different from groups that disciplined other employees. The court held that requiring absolute congruence of decision maker members “would too easily enable employers to evade liability for violation of federal employment laws. The district court erroneously rejected Mr. Smothers’ pretext argument by insisting that the composition of the decision maker groups be precisely the same in every relevant disciplinary decision. We disagree because there is more than enough overlap to conclude the employees identified here were similarly situated to Mr. Smothers.”

The court also rejected Solvay’s argument that evidence of previous negative comments and actions about Smother’s FMLA leave were irrelevant to support his FMLA claims as they did not qualify as adverse employment actions. These incidents were relevant to a pretext inquiry, even if they could not be used to directly support a retaliation claim.

The court reversed the grant of summary judgment to Solvay on the FMLA and ADA claims, and affirmed on the state law claim of breach of contract as Smothers failed to show how the decision to discharge him violated the terms of Solvay’s handbook.