U.S. Tenth Circuit

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

Snowboarders Cry Foul but Lose Equal Protection Lawsuit

In what has got to be this years' most finicky, hair-splitting case, the Tenth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit by a group of snowboarders who claimed equal protection violations by the U.S. Forest Service whose special-use permit excluded snowboarders but allowed skiers.

In the opinion of U.S. Judge Dee Benson, "the equal protection clause is not a general fairness law that allows anyone who feels discriminated against to bring an action in federal court."

Former Oklahoma Senate Leader Must Be Resentenced, 10th Circuit Orders

Michael Morgan, an Oklahoma attorney and former leader of the Oklahoma Senate was sentenced in 2012 to probation arising out of a charge bribery. Since the Tenth Circuit found that the punishment was "grossly at odds" with sentencing guidelines, he will now be resentenced. Basically, the Tenth Circuit determined that the lower court gave the defendant an easy pass.

When Michael Morgan was convicted for bribery, the jury acquitted him of about 60 other criminal counts. Morgan asked for a new trial alleging that the prosecution failed to disclose "tacit agreements" with a witness, insufficiency of evidence and failure to properly instruct the jury. Unfortunately for him, the 3 judge-panel disagreed and found that the jury's conviction of Morgan was based on sufficient factual evidence and further described the trial court's order of Morgan's probation as "little more than a slap on the wrist."

10th Circuit Says 'So, What?' to Whistleblowing Doctor

When Dr. Mark Troxler sued the clinic where he worked for fraud on behalf of the United States, it's doubtful his lawyers anticipated the speed at which his claims would be dismissed.

When the case got to the doorstep of the district court, defendants filed the legal world's equivalent of a "yeah, so?": 12(b)(6). Upon appeal, here's what the Circuit Court had to say: "I second that motion!" Who knew that whistleblowing would be so thankless?

Timothy Tymkovich became the new Chief Judge of the Tenth Circuit last week, replacing Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, whose five year term as chief ended in September. As a judge and former Colorado solicitor general, Tymkovich has been involved in a number of notable cases, dealing with everything from gay rights to gun rights, freedom of speech to freedom of religion.

But his first week as chief hasn't brought any headline making decisions just yet. Rather, the new Chief Judge's docket has been full of child porn and bicycle accidents, according to The Colorado Statesman.

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."