Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Mindy Armstrong was employed by The Arcanum Group, Inc., which served as a placement agency to staff federal-government positions. She was placed with the Real Estate Leasing Services Department of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). After she complained that BLM employees were falsifying lease-related records, the BLM demanded that Arcanum remove her from the placement. Her Arcanum supervisor could not find an alternative placement for Armstrong and accordingly terminated her employment. Armstrong sued Arcanum in federal district court, claiming Arcanum retaliated against her for her falsification complaints, in violation of the antiretaliation provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA) and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The district court granted Arcanum summary judgment, and Armstrong appealed. Finding that Armstrong did not produce sufficient evidence that her supervisor had knowledge of her complaints before he terminated her, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer. View "Armstrong v. The Arcanum Group" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Marcia Eisenhour worked for 24 years as a court administrator for the Weber County Justice Court. In 2008, she complained to the county attorney about sexual harassment by Judge Craig Storey, the only judge of that court. The matter was referred to Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, which found no misconduct. Eisenhour then went public in 2009, and the press reported her allegations. Several months later, three Weber County Commissioners, defendants Craig Deardon, Kenneth Bischoff, and Jan Zogmaister, voted to close the Justice Court and merge it with a similar court in another county. This eventually left Eisenhour without a job. Eisenhour sued Storey, Weber County, and the three commissioners who voted to close the Justice Court, raising a variety of claims. The district court granted summary judgment against Eisenhour on all claims, and she appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part. At the trial on the remanded claims, the jury rendered verdicts for Eisenhour on the equal-protection harassment claim against Storey and the whistleblower claim against the County but found against her on the First Amendment retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. The district court then granted a motion by the County for a new trial on the whistleblower claim, and it sua sponte ordered a new trial on the retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. At the retrial on those claims the court granted the commissioners’ motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) on the retaliation claim against them, and the jury found for the County on the whistleblower and retaliation claims against it. Storey raised two issues on appeal: (1) the denial of his motion for judgment as a matter of law because the evidence against him was insufficient; and (2) the admission into evidence of a poem he had written concerning Eisenhour. Eisenhour raised three issues: (1) the judge who presided at the first trial should have recused himself after the jury rendered its verdict in that trial; (2) her second trial was unfair because of the district court’s evidentiary rulings; and (3) at the second trial the district court should not have granted the commissioners a judgment as a matter of law but should have let the claim go to the jury. The Tenth Circuit rejected all challenges by both parties except dismissal of a punitive-damages claim. View "Eisenhour v. Weber County" on Justia Law

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Jake’s Fireworks, Inc. (“Jake’s”), a fireworks importer and distributor, assigned two employees to clean out its old facility. A fire broke out, injuring one employee and killing the other. After an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) inspection, the Secretary of Labor (the “Secretary”) cited Jake’s for violating OSHA safety and health standards. Jake’s contested the citation before an Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“OSHRC”) Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who affirmed in full. Jake’s sought review from the OSHRC’s discretionary review panel (the “Commission”), but it declined, finalizing the ALJ’s decision. Jake’s then filed a petition to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, contesting violations of: (1) 29 C.F.R. 1910.109(b)(1), improper storage and handling of explosives; (2) 29 C.F.R. 1910.178(c)(2)(vii), improper use of a liquidpropane (“LP”) forklift around combustible dust; and (3) 29 C.F.R. 1910.1200(e)(1), lack of a written hazard communication program. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit denied the petition for review. View "Jake's Fireworks v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Correct Care Solutions, LLC (CCS) terminated Alena Fassbender’s employment for violating CCS policy. Fassbender, who was pregnant at the time of her termination, argued she was terminated because CCS had one too many pregnant workers in Fassbender’s unit, which posed a problem for her supervisor. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded a reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s version of events. Accordingly, the Court reversed the portion of the district court’s order granting CCS summary judgment on Fassbender’s pregnancy discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. secs. 2000e–2000e-17. However, the Court affirmed in part, finding no reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s alternative claim that CCS terminated her in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. View "Fassbender v. Correct Care Solutions" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Market Synergy Group appeals from the district court’s judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee United States Department of Labor. This case stemmed from the Department of Labor’s (DOL) final regulatory action on April 8, 2016, as it applied to fixed indexed annuity (FIA) sales. Plaintiff-Appellant Market Synergy Group (MSG) was a licensed insurance agency that works with insurers to develop specialized, proprietary FIAs and other insurance products for exclusive distribution. It partnered with independent marketing organizations (IMOs) to distribute these products. MSG did not directly sell FIAs but conducted market research and provided training and products for IMO member networks and the independent insurance agents that IMOs recruit. In April 2015, the DOL issued a proposed rule redefining who is a “fiduciary” of an employee benefit plan under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, which would “update existing rules to distinguish more appropriately between the sorts of advice relationships that should be treated as fiduciary in nature and those that should not.” The final rule contained two changes important to this case: (1) it created a new exemption, with added regulatory requirements, the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE), which imposed a more stringent set of requirements on prohibited transactions than those required under PTE 84-24; and (2) the DOL removed FIAs (as well as variable annuities) from the PTE 84- 24 exemption and placed them in the newly created BICE. MSG filed this suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claiming the DOL violated the APA: (1) by failing to provide adequate notice of its intention to exclude transactions involving FIAs from PTE 84-24; (2) arbitrarily treated FIAs differently from other fixed annuities by excluding FIAs from PTE 84-24; and (3) by not adequately considering the detrimental economic impact of its exclusion of FIAs from PTE 84-24. MSG alleged that it would lose 80% of its revenue if the new regulation were to be enforced and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the DOL from implementing the new regulation. The district court denied the preliminary injunction. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of the DOL, finding that there was adequate notice, no arbitrary treatment of FIAs as compared to other fixed annuities, and an adequate economic impact analysis. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Market Synergy Group v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a 2007 injunction, which prohibited Paragon Contractors Corporation and its president, Brian Jessop, from engaging in oppressive child labor. The Department of Labor procured a contempt citation, with the district court finding that Paragon and Jessop had violated the injunction by employing children to harvest pecans. For this violation, the district court sanctioned Paragon and Jessop by: (1) appointing a special master to monitor Paragon’s ongoing compliance with the injunction; and (2) ordering Paragon and Jessop to pay $200,000 into a fund to compensate the children. Paragon and Jessop appealed the contempt finding and the sanctions. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err in (1) finding that Paragon and Jessop had violated the injunction by oppressively employing children; and (2) ordering Paragon and Jessop to pay $200,000. But the Court reversed the district court’s appointment of a special master. View "Acosta v. Paragon Contractors" on Justia Law

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Paul Knopf, the former Director of the Planning and Development Department (“City Planner”) in Evanston, Wyoming (“City”), sued Mayor Kent Williams under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Knopf claimed Mayor Williams did not reappoint him to his position as City Planner because he had sent an email to the City Attorney raising concerns about impropriety relating to a City project. Thus, Knopf alleged that Mayor Williams retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. Mayor Williams moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which the court denied. In this interlocutory appeal, the Mayor asked the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse that denial, arguing that a reasonable person in his position would not have understood Knopf to have spoken outside of his official duties, and that a “reasonable official: would have believed the email at issue here exceeded the scope of Knopf’s official duties. A split panel concluded Knopf failed to show a violation of clearly established federal law on an essential element of his claim, thus the Court reversed the district court’s denial of sovereign immunity to Mayor Williams. View "Knopf v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Paul Knopf, the former Director of the Planning and Development Department (“City Planner”) in Evanston, Wyoming (“City”), sued Mayor Kent Williams under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Knopf claimed Mayor Williams did not reappoint him to his position as City Planner because he had sent an email to the City Attorney raising concerns about impropriety relating to a City project. Thus, Knopf alleged that Mayor Williams retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. Mayor Williams moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which the court denied. In this interlocutory appeal, the Mayor asked the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse that denial, arguing that a reasonable person in his position would not have understood Knopf to have spoken outside of his official duties, and that a “reasonable official: would have believed the email at issue here exceeded the scope of Knopf’s official duties. A split panel concluded Knopf failed to show a violation of clearly established federal law on an essential element of his claim, thus the Court reversed the district court’s denial of sovereign immunity to Mayor Williams. View "Knopf v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Maria Fernandez and Laura Chacon’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claims against Defendants Clean House and Cesar Barrida were dismissed. On appeal, Plaintiffs alleged Defendants failed to properly compensate them as employees. The general limitations period under the FLSA was two years, but that period is expanded to three years for willful violations. Plaintiffs’ employment ended between two and three years before they filed suit. Although the complaint alleged that Defendants’ violations had been willful, Defendants moved to dismiss the claims as untimely on the ground that Plaintiffs had not supported their allegation of willfulness with sufficiently specific facts. The district court agreed with Defendants and dismissed the claims with prejudice. Plaintiffs argued the statute of limitations was an affirmative defense which they did not need to anticipate in their complaint by alleging willfulness, and, in any event, their allegation of willfulness was adequate. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with this contention and reversed the district court’s dismissal of their claims. View "Fernandez v. Clean House" on Justia Law

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Carl Genberg was an executive for Ceragenix Corporation when he suspected misconduct by the Company's Board of Directors. When he acted on these alleged suspicions, he was fired. He sued Ceragenix's Chief Executive Officer for retaliation under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and defamation under Nevada law. The district court granted summary judgment to the CEO on both claims. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court concluded a reasonable factfinder could have concluded two emails at the heart of this case could have been viewed as protected activities that had contributed to Genberg’s termination, or the absence of which would not have lead to his termination. Either way, the Court concluded the CEO was not entitled to summary judgment based on the same-action defense with respect to these emails. Because the district court found otherwise, the Court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the CEO on the Sarbanes-Oxley claim. Regarding the defamation claim, the Court affirmed the district court’s award of summary judgment: the CEO's statements fell under the common-interest privilege, and Genberg did not present evidence of an abuse of the privilege. View "Genberg v. Porter" on Justia Law