April 21, 2019

Archives for February 5, 2015

Nominations Now Being Accepted for Denver Business Journal’s Outstanding Women in Business Award

The Denver Business Journal is seeking nominations for its 2015 Outstanding Women in Business special section. Nominations can be in multiple categories, such as law, government and nonprofits, small and large business owner, lifetime achievement award, and Mile High leaders. Nominees will be evaluated on innovation, entrepreneurship, professional accomplishment, and community leadership.

The special section will run August 21, 2015, and women selected as Outstanding Women in Business will also be honored at an awards event. Nominations must be submitted via the Denver Business Journal’s online form and must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, April 24, 2015.

For more information about eligibility requirements and the nomination process, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Plain Language of Regulation Requires Mortgage Subordination at Date of Conservation Easement Donation

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mitchell v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue on Tuesday, January 6, 2015.

Ms. Mitchell and her late husband purchased property from Mr. Sheek subject an agreement to pay the balance to Mr. Sheek in yearly installments. In 2003, they granted a conservation easement on part of their property to the Montezuma Land Conservancy. At the time of the donation, the Mitchells did not obtain a mortgage subordination agreement from Mr. Sheek, but they did obtain one in 2005. The Mitchells claimed a charitable contribution deduction on their 2003 tax return.

In 2010, the Commissioner of the IRS mailed a notice of deficiency to Ms. Mitchell disallowing the charitable contribution for failure to meet certain Code requirements, specifically for not obtaining a mortgage subordination agreement at the time of the donation. Ms. Mitchell challenged the Commissioner’s determination in Tax Court, but the Tax Court denied the claimed charitable contribution, concluding the Code and its implementing regulations mandated that the mortgage be subordinated on the date of the donation. Ms. Mitchell appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit first analyzed the applicable Code provisions, in particular noting the Code mandates that a contribution shall not be treated as exclusively for contribution purposes unless the contribution is protected in perpetuity. The Commissioner developed the mortgage subordination provision as a means to protect the conservation in perpetuity. The Tenth Circuit accordingly focused its inquiry on whether the regulations can be interpreted to entitle Ms. Mitchell to the deduction despite the undisputed fact that the mortgage was not subordinated on the date of the donation.

The Tenth Circuit first turned to Ms. Mitchell’s claim that, because the regulations are silent on the date of subordination, she is entitled to the deduction because the mortgage was eventually subordinated. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding the plain language of the regulation precluded her interpretation, and even if they were to view the regulation as ambiguous, they would defer to the Commissioner’s reasonable interpretation.

Ms. Mitchell next argues that strict compliance with the regulation was unnecessary because the risk of foreclosure was so remote as to be negligible, and because of a Deed provision that allegedly protected the property in perpetuity. The Tenth Circuit found that the plain language of the regulation required it to reject Ms. Mitchell’s arguments.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court’s decision.

Tenth Circuit: Burden Shifts to Plaintiff to Rebut Defendant’s Claim of Termination for Misconduct

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Estate of Bassatt v. School District No. 1 in the City & County of Denver on Wednesday, December 31, 2014.

In 2007, Carlos Bassatt was student teaching at West High School in Denver while he pursued a Masters of Education degree from Regis University. On September 14, 2007, Bassatt left the school building, got into his Ford Focus, and reclined the seat. Maria Iams, a district employee, parked next to him, and when she bent to retrieve something in her car, she saw a man masturbating in the Ford Focus. She did not know Bassatt and did not know he worked at West. She reported the incident to school officials, and it was then relayed to West’s resource officer. After reviewing security videos, Iams was able to identify the car but not the person who left the car to enter the school building. The Dean of Students, Dan Trujillo, identified the man as Bassatt.

On the morning of September 17, 2007, Trujillo and West’s principal, Patrick Sanchez, had a meeting with Bassatt and informed him that he had been accused of masturbating in his car in the West parking lot. Bassatt was placed on administrative leave. He was summoned to the Denver Police Department, but ultimately no charges were filed against him. Sanchez sent Bassatt an email on September 19 saying that he was clear to return to West, but later spoke to the district’s Director of Labor Relations, who advised Sanchez that the District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute did not stop the district from taking action against Bassatt.

Sanchez and the Director of Labor Relations met with Bassatt and his wife, who was a teacher at West, on September 26. Bassatt declared that the accusation was racially motivated and the decision to end his placement at West was discriminatory. He was terminated from his placement on September 27, 2007.

Bassatt filed charges with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC), alleging discrimination and retaliation by the district. After a two-day hearing, an ALJ concluded Bassatt had failed to prove either discrimination or retaliation. Bassatt appealed to the CCRC, which reversed the ALJ’s determination on the retaliation claim, finding that Bassatt had established a prima facie case of retaliation and the district’s termination was pretextual. The district appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which affirmed the CCRC’s finding that Bassatt had established a prima facie case of retaliation. However, the court remanded to the CCRC to consider the ultimate issue of retaliation.

Before the CCRC could issue its opinion on remand, Bassatt filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, raising a number of issues, including retaliation in violation of Title VII and in breach of his student teacher agreement. The CCRC then issued its final order on remand, concluding that the district had terminated him in retaliation for his accusations of discrimination, and the district had not provided a non-discriminatory reason for its actions. In August 2012, Bassatt died, and his estate was substituted as plaintiff in the district court action.

The district court granted summary judgment to the district, concluding the estate had failed to make a sufficient showing of pretext to defeat summary judgment on its Title VII claim. It also dismissed his §§ 1981 and 1983 claims, because Bassatt did not have a contract to student teach. The estate appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first noted that it was not bound by the administrative agency’s findings, but the state court’s factual and legal determinations had a preclusive effect as to the Tenth Circuit’s review. The Colorado Court of Appeals’ opinion that the Estate made a prima facie case of retaliation was thus binding on the Tenth Circuit. The Circuit noted that it need only find whether (1) the district provided a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its decision, and (2) the estate was able to demonstrate that the reason was mere pretext. The Tenth Circuit found the incident in the parking lot to be a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason for the employment decision and turned to the pretext question.

The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the estate failed to provide sufficient evidence to create a triable issue on pretext. The estate argued that the district court impermissibly shifted the burden of proof, but the Tenth Circuit noted that in employment discrimination actions, the plaintiff must rebut the employer’s claim of misconduct, which the plaintiff here did not do. Next, the estate argued the district court erred in finding Sanchez made a sincere credibility determination in believing Iams, contending insufficient evidence supported her credibility. However, in this case, Sanchez had no direct evidence either way, heard stories from both sides, and decided ultimately to believe Iams. The estate also argued that Sanchez’s first email inviting Bassatt back to work was evidence that he believed Bassatt, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding it was bound by the court of appeals’ decision that specifically reviewed and rejected that position. The Tenth Circuit found no evidence of pretext.

The estate also argued that the CCRC’s second order provided evidence of pretext. However, the Tenth Circuit is not bound by administrative opinions, and found it unpersuasive on review. Turning then to the §§ 1981 and 1983 claims, the Tenth Circuit found again that the estate could not show pretext, and also that there was no employment contract between Bassatt and the district. The estate argued that Bassatt’s student teacher agreement qualified as a contract, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding it did not create a contract.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 2/5/2015

On Thursday, February 5, 2015, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 33 unpublished opinions.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinion, 2/5/2015

On Thursday, February 5, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and one unpublished opinion.

United States v. Garcia-Salas

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