U.S. Tenth Circuit

U.S. Tenth Circuit - The FindLaw 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Marijuana-related businesses who go belly up shouldn't expect any relief from federal bankruptcy courts, a bankruptcy appellate panel in the Tenth Circuit announced late August. Marijuana businesses, even if they're allowed by state laws in Colorado, are still viewed as illegal in the federal government's eyes and can't get relief from the federal bankruptcy system, the panel ruled.

The marijuana industry has boomed in Colorado since the state legalized recreational weed in 2013. Recreational marijuana sales reached $700 million during the first full year of legalization. But should those budding businesses stumble, they'll be barred from bankruptcy court as a result of federal laws criminalizing marijuana.

The God-fearing people of Oklahoma can breathe a sigh of relief today, safe in the knowledge that their car license plates do not require them to endorse pantheistic, pagan beliefs -- at least according to the Tenth Circuit. Those Oklahoma plates declare the state, once largely set aside as a tribal reservation, as "Native America" and depict a native man shooting an arrow into the sky.

One Oklahoman Christian took offense at the image, claiming it forced him to communicate a pantheistic message in violation of his free speech and free exercise of religion. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, holding that, while the image does have connections to certain Native American religious beliefs, no reasonable person would think the plate, or those driving the car, were endorsing pantheism.

Obamacare's contraception mandate has been upheld, once again. The Affordable Care Act, which allows religious nonprofits to opt out of directly covering contraceptive services, does not substantially burden religious non-profits, the Tenth Circuit ruled on Tuesday.

Under the Affordable Care Act, if a religious non-profit objects to providing contraception coverage to their employees, they must notify their plan administrator of this objection, who then covers the contraception costs.

Colorado's Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns devoted to serving the elderly, objected to this opt out process. Even sending in a letter triggered their participation in birth control in violation of their religious beliefs, the nuns argued. The Tenth Circuit, like all others to hear the argument, rejected the nuns' claims.

When we think of free speech in schools, it's often student speech that comes to mind. However, plenty of free speech disputes arise from school employees' public disagreements with their administration. Those cases often involve the balancing of a state employee's interest in participating in public debate against a government employer's interest in an efficient work force.

Last week, the Tenth Circuit ruled that the government's interest outweighs a principal's right to speak out against the closing of a school. In that case, Joyce Rock, a principal in New Mexico, sued after she was fired for publicly opposing the closing of her alternative high school. Her termination was justified, the Tenth said, given the school district's need to speak in a uniform voice on the closing.

Two Colorado residents felt cheated when Bank of America tried to sell their condominium that was in foreclosure. Bringing an appeal to the Tenth Circuit, their primary arguments were based on due process rights and a violation of the Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (CFDCPA).

None of the plaintiff's arguments stuck. Finding that their claims were either off base or speculative, the Tenth agreed with the lower court and dismissed the complaint.

Convicted for child pornography charges, Timothy Vanderwerff wanted to make a plea agreement. The prosecution was on board with the deal. Everything was fine until the trial court decided to use this case to make a point about the evils of plea bargains. And so the court flat-out denied the agreement, emphasizing its distaste for plea bargains in general.

Why did the district court hate plea bargains so much? It offered a few reasons. For example, the court noted that unfortunate circumstance of too many guilty pleas and not enough trials. Also, it cited the Supreme Court case in Lafler v. Cooper, which "suggested that a sentencing court should be a participant in the plea-bargaining process."

The separation of powers is good for everyone -- unless you're a state governor with a political agenda you want to implement quickly. Then you might find the judiciary, for instance, to be a bit of a nuisance.

Gov. Sam Brownback wouldn't be the first governor to confront this issue, but he may be one of the first to tackle the issue by attempting to replace Kansas judges. At least, that's how Brownback's critics interpret his latest proposals concerning constitutional amendments.

10th Cir. Upholds Bank Robbery Conviction

People still rob banks? You bet they do -- and they get caught. Police in Tulsa, Oklahoma were confronted with a spate of bank robberies they linked to the Hoover Crips, a franchise of the Crips street gang. They also had reason to believe the appellant in this case, Dejuan Hill, was involved.

A federal grand jury indicted Dejuan on 10 counts, including robbery and conspiracy, for a series of bank robberies that occurred between 2009 and 2011.

An Air Force Captain and her family cannot plead their way around hurdles to suing the federal government, the Tenth Circuit reluctantly found last week. After Captain Heather Ortiz suffered negligent treatment at a military hospital during her pregnancy, her husband and child sued. However, the government cannot be sued for that negligence, the court found.

Under a 1950 Supreme Court decision, Feres v. United States, military service members are barred from suing the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. That Heather Ortiz was not named as a plaintiff made no difference, since the in utero injuries claimed were to her. The court made it clear that it disagreed with the precedent, describing it as overbroad and unfair, but had no choice except to uphold it.

After Miguel Gutierrez-Carranza pleaded guilty to reentering the U.S. following a prior deportation, the district court sentenced him to three years of supervised release. Gutierrez-Carranza appealed, making the fairly straightforward argument that, since he was bound to be deported anyway, the supervised release was unreasonable. After all, he won't be in the country to be supervised.

That's not unreasonable enough for the Tenth Circuit, though. The court found that supervised release could provide deterrence against Gutierrez-Carranza illegally returning to see his family and children.