June 16, 2019

Archives for July 3, 2013

Tenth Circuit: Contraceptive Mandate in Affordable Care Act May Substantially Burden For-Profit Companies Under RFRA

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius on Thursday, June 27, 2013.

Hobby Lobby is a craft store chain, and Mardel is a Christian bookstore chain. Both are for-profit companies. Their owners, the Greens, run both companies as closely held family businesses and operate them according to a set of Christian principles. They contended regulations implementing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act force them to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. In particular, the plaintiffs brought an action challenging a regulation that requires them, beginning July 1, 2013, to provide certain contraceptive services as a part of their employer-sponsored health care plan.

In a 165 page opinion, containing six separate opinions, a divided en banc Tenth Circuit decided Hobby Lobby and Mardel were entitled to bring claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), had established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and had established an irreparable harm. The irreparable harm would be the fines the companies would face if they dropped their insurance coverage completely or did not provide the mandated contraceptive coverage. The court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings on two of the remaining factors governing the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction (balance of equities and public interest).

Tenth Circuit: Failure to Make Particularized Findings Required Reversal of Sentence

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Figueroa-Labrada on Friday, June 28, 2013.

A methamphetamine dealer in Oklahoma City and several of his buyers and sellers were indicted for their alleged involvement in a methamphetamine distribution conspiracy. Jesus Figueroa-Labrada, one of the buyers, was convicted of conspiring to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Figueroa was involved in only three of the conspiracy’s eight drug transactions, but his presentence investigation report (“PSR”) calculated his advisory sentencing range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) by attributing to him as relevant conduct all of the methamphetamine distributed through the conspiracy, more than doubling his Guidelines range. The sentencing court adopted the PSR’s Guidelines calculation to determine Figueroa’s sentence but made no particularized findings on his relevant conduct.

Figueroa’s attorney failed to object at sentencing to the lack of particularized findings or the fact that the PSR attributed all the methamphetamine distributed rather than the amount in his three buys, even though it was pointed out to him by the prosecutor. On appeal, he argued plain error. The court found the failure to object constituted forfeiture, not waiver of the issue and found the court’s failure to make particularized findings did constitute plain error. In a drug conspiracy case, a sentencing court “must make particularized findings (or adopt particularized findings made in the PSR) on both jointly undertaken criminal activity and reasonable foreseeability before attributing the actions of coconspirators to a defendant as relevant conduct.”

The court held that the error affected Figueroa’s substantial rights because it likely resulted in a significantly longer sentence than if the court had only attributed to him his relevant conduct of buying a lesser amount of drugs than that involved in the whole conspiracy. Because the error had a serious effect on the fairness and integrity of his judicial proceedings, the court reversed and remanded for resentencing.

Tenth Circuit: Employment Agreement Shortening Time to Bring Suit Violated Public Policy in Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Case

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Pfeifer v. Federal Express Corp. on Monday, July 1, 2013.

Plaintiff Cynthia Pfeifer filed a diversity action against Defendant Federal Express Corporation in the District of Kansas alleging that Defendant retaliated against her for receiving workers’ compensation benefits by terminating her employment. Plaintiff’s employment agreement contained a provision requiring all claims against Defendant to be brought within “the time prescribed by law or 6 months from the date of the event forming the basis of [Plaintiff’s] lawsuit, whichever expires first.” The governing Kansas statute provided a 24 month statute of limitation and Pfeifer filed suit within that time period but after six months. The district court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and the Tenth Circuit certified two questions to the Kansas Supreme Court.

Because the Kansas court held that the contract violated public policy by shortening the time allowed to file suit, which recognizes that injured workers should be protected from retaliation when exercising rights under the Workers Compensation Act, the Tenth Circuit reversed summary judgment and remanded.

Tenth Circuit: Summary Judgment Denial Properly Decided by Tenth Circuit

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Rural Water District No. 4 v. City of Eudora on Monday, July 1, 2013.

This is the second appeal in a dispute involving Rural Water District No. 4 in Douglas County, Kansas and the City of Eudora, Kansas. The water district, Douglas-4, neighbors Eudora and contends Eudora is trying to poach Douglas-4’s customers. Douglas-4 is currently indebted on a USDA-guaranteed loan, so Eudora’s actions potentially violate a federal law that prohibits municipalities from poaching rural water districts’ customers while a USDA-guaranteed loan is in repayment. Douglas-4 therefore sued Eudora under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming Eudora violated Douglas-4’s federal statutory right to be free from poaching. A trial resulted in a jury verdict for Douglas-4. The Tenth Circuit vacated the verdict on the first appeal and remanded for a new trial.

After the first appeal, the state of Kansas amended the statute the first appeal was decided upon. The amendment removed the prohibition on water districts obtaining USDA loan guarantees unless the guarantee was “necessary.” The district court on remand held that the amendment did not apply retroactively and certified the question of retroactivity to the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit agreed that the amendment did not apply retroactively.

The district court had denied summary judgment to both parties and did not certify that decision to the court. In the interests of judicial economy, the court found it had discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) to address whether summary judgment was appropriate. The court affirmed the denial of summary judgment to Douglas-4 but reversed the denial to Eudora.

Tenth Circuit: Board of Immigration Appeals Dismissal of Appeal Under 8 C.F.R. § 1003.4 Not Due Process Violation

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Montano-Vega v. Holder on Monday, July 1, 2013.

Arturo Montano-Vega was in this country unlawfully. When the government charged him with as much, he asked for permission to leave the country voluntarily in order to avoid a congressionally mandated ten-year bar on readmission for aliens who have been “ordered removed.”

The Immigration Judge assigned to Montano-Vega’s case exercised his discretion and refused his request to leave voluntarily because of Montano-Vega’s criminal record. Montano-Vega filed an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals contesting the IJ’s decision. To continue to pursue the appeal, he had to remain in the country. Once Montano-Vega left the country to avoid a separate ten-year bar, the BIA deemed his appeal abandoned as a matter of law under 8 C.F.R. § 1003.4.

Montano-Vega appealed the BIA’s decision, challenging the legality of its application of § 1003.4 to his case. He asserted that the BIA’s application of § 1003.4 to his case infringed his due process rights. The court rejected this argument. “While entitled to ‘minimal procedural due process’ protections, it is settled law that aliens enjoy no constitutionally protected liberty or property interest in obtaining discretionary relief from removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1229c(b)(1).”

The court also rejected his argument that he should not be considered to have abandoned his appeal under § 1003.4 because he had no choice but to leave the country. The plain language of § 1003.4 states that any departure ends an appeal and many circuits have held that even inadvertent, unwanted, or accidental departures can lawfully trigger the regulation. The court denied the § 1003.4 appeal and otherwise dismissed his petition for review for lack of jurisdiction.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/2/13

On Tuesday, July 2, 2013, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued four published opinions and two unpublished opinions.

Prager v. Campbell Cty Memorial Hospital

Garza v. Wyoming State Pen. Warden

No case summaries are provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/1/13

On Monday, July 1, 2013, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued four published opinions and five unpublished opinions.

United States v. Lopez

United States v. Borghee

Whatley v. Colvin

Freppon v. City of Chandler

Harper v. Colvin

No case summaries are provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.