Articles Posted in U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

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The dispute between the parties in this case centered over mineral rights. Stull Ranches, LLC operated a grouse hunting business on its surface estate in rural Colorado. Entek GRB, LLC leased the right to explore and develop the minerals under much of Stull’s surface and adjoining surface estates from the federal government. This dispute arose when Entek asked permission to enter Stull’s surface estate (both to develop new oil well sites on Stull’s land and to get at one of its existing wells located on an adjacent surface estate owned by the Bureau of Land Management). Along the way, Entek pointed out that the only available road to the well on BLM’s estate crossed Stull’s land. Concerned that Entek’s presence would unsettle its grouse, Stull refused access. Entek sued to gain access. The district court held that Entek was entitled to access portions of Stull’s surface to mine certain leases lying below. But the court also held that Entek was entitled to no more than this - in particular, Entek could not cross Stull’s surface to service the well on the adjacent BLM land. Entek appealed, arguing to the Tenth Circuit that the district court erred by not granting it access to BLM lands. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit agreed that the district court in not granting Entek the relief it originally requested. The Court therefore vacated the grant of summary judgment in favor of Stull and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Entek GRB, LLC v. Stull Ranches, LLC" on Justia Law

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I&W, Inc. owned a mining operation in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Excavation on its property created a cavern, which grew so large it infringed upon the subsurface property of the nearby Circle S Feed Store, LLC. This cavern, in turn, caused subsidence and damages to Circle S’s surface property. A New Mexico state court found I&W negligent and liable for damages its solution mining operations caused to Circle S’s property. I&W sought indemnification for the damages under its commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policies, which had been issued by Mid-Continent Casualty Company. Mid-Continent, in turn, sought a declaratory judgment in federal court that it was not required to indemnify I&W for damages awarded in the state court action. The district court granted summary judgment for Mid-Continent, holding that a provision of the policies’ Oil Industries Limitation Endorsement (Oil Endorsement) excluded coverage of the damages awarded in state court. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit agreed that the Oil Endorsement excluded coverage under the excess/umbrella policies issued to I&W, but held the Endorsement did not affect coverage under the primary policies. View "Mid-Continent Casualty Co. v. Circle S. Feed Store, et al" on Justia Law

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Salt Creek Road is an unimproved 12.3-mile road intertwined with the creek bed in Salt Creek Canyon. The state and county wanted to use their claimed right-of-way to prevent the United States from closing the Salt Creek Road to vehicle traffic. The road is the primary way for tourists to reach several scenic sites within the Canyonlands National Park, including Angel Arch. Without vehicle access, the only way to access Angel Arch is to make the nine-mile trek by foot. The state and county based their claim on Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477: "[T]he right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted." Congress enacted R.S. 2477 in 1866, and it remained in effect until 1976. Even then, however, Congress preserved the rights-of-way established under the statute. This Quiet Title Act case presented to the Tenth Circuit the issue of whether the district court erred in rejecting the claims of San Juan County and the State of Utah to Salt Creek Road. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "San Juan County, Utah v. United States " on Justia Law

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Petitioners-Appellants Esgar Corporation, George and Georgetta Tempel, and Delmar and Patricia Holmes appealed two United States Tax Court decisions, arguing that the Tax Court erred in valuing conservation easements they claimed as charitable deductions and in determining the holding period of state tax credits they sold. Upon careful consideration of the facts of this case and the Tax Court's decision, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed that court's decision. View "Esgar Corporation, et al v. Comm'r of Internal Rev." on Justia Law

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A bank purchased insurance on a commercial property mortgaged to it by a borrower. The policy prohibited an assignment "of this Policy" without the insurer's consent. After the property was damaged, the bank assigned its loss claim to the borrower. The insurer refused to pay the borrower's claim because of the nonassignment provision, and the borrower sued. The district court held that the suit was barred and awarded judgment for the insurer. The issue before the Tenth Circuit in this case centered on whether the nonassignment provision was enforceable. The Court concluded, after review of the provision in question, that the provision did not apply to the assignment of a postloss claim, so the Court did not determine the enforceability of a provision prohibiting such assignments. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "City Center West v. American Modern Home Insurance" on Justia Law

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Ute Mesa, a Colorado real estate developer, received a multi-million dollar loan to construct a single family home on property it owned in Aspen. To secure the loan, United Western Bank prepared a deed of trust incorrectly identifying Ute Mesa's sole member as the owner rather than Ute Mesa. The Bank filed suit seeking a reformation of the deed of trust and a declaration that it had a first priority lien on the property. Days later, the Bank filed notice of lis pendens in the county real property records. Ute Mesa filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief, and continued as debtor-in-possession of the property. Ute Mesa then filed an adversary proceeding against the Bank to avoid the lis pendens as a preferential transfer. The bankruptcy court granted the Bank's motion to dismiss, and the federal district court affirmed. Ute Mesa argued on appeal that a "transfer of an interest in property" occurs when a bona fide purchaser cannot acquire an interest superior to that of a creditor. According to Ute Mesa, because the lis pendens prevented a bona fide purchaser from acquiring an interest in the property superior to the Bank’s interest, the lis pendens qualified as a transfer of an interest in the property. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, finding that a lis pendens is "merely a notice" and does not constitute a lien, therefore, no transfer occurred. View "Ute Mesa Lot 1, LLC v. First Citizens Bank & Trust, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee John Niemi and several investors intended to build a large luxury ski condominium complex. Niemi was unable to find traditional financing for the project, and turned to Florida businessman, Defendant Michael Burgess. Burgess claimed to represent a European investor, Defendant-Appellee Erwin Lasshofer. As part of the funding scheme, plaintiff had to pay certain fees and pledge a collateral deposit before $250 million dollars would be loaned to him (and his business partners/investors) for the condo project. For his part, Burgess was eventually convicted and sentenced to federal prison for fraud and money laundering. Plaintiffs sued seeking return of the money they pledged, alleging the lost loan irreparably damaged its business, caused millions in lost profits, and sent its other real properties into foreclosure. Burgess maintained he took direction from Lasshofer; Lasshofer claimed he unwittingly did business with a con man. The district court granted plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction effectively freezing Lasshofer's worldwide assets pending final judgment. Lasshofer appealed the grant of the preliminary injunction. Upon careful review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs, Niemi and individual investors in his condo project, lacked standing to bring suit. Therefore the district court erred in granting the injunction. The injunction was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Niemi, et al v. Burgess, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit in state court, alleging that the defendants had conducted non-judicial foreclosure sales that did not comply with Utah law. After removal, the district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, concluding that whether federal law “incorporates Utah or Texas law, Recon[Trust] had not operated beyond the law by acting as a foreclosure trustee in Utah.” On the limited record presented on appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in determining it had jurisdiction to hear this case. View "Dutcher, et al v. Matheson, et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-Appellant Western Watersheds Project (WWP) challenged a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to grant a 10-year grazing permit to LHS Split Rock Ranch, LLC for four federal public land allotments in central Wyoming. WWP asserted that BLM?s decision to grant the grazing permit was arbitrary and capricious because BLM had previously concluded that past grazing was a substantial cause of serious environmental degradation on the allotments. The district court granted summary judgment to BLM. WWP appealed. Finding that the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Western Watersheds Project v. BLM" on Justia Law

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The Government filed an interlocutory appeal in an action brought against Defendants Kelly Armstrong, Debbie Cantrup, Richard Cook, Shirley Cook and Copar Pumice Company, Inc. for trespass, conversion, and unjust enrichment. The claims were based on allegations that the Cooks and Copar removed and used undersized pumice from their mine in violation of their settlement agreement with the United States, the Jemez National Recreation Area Act ("JNRAA"), and other applicable regulations. Although the case was pending in district court, the Cooks and Copar filed an interlocutory appeal from discovery orders requiring their former and present law firms to produce documents containing legal advice counsel gave to them regarding the legality of mining, transporting, processing, and marketing pumice from their mine. Specifically, the Cooks and Copar appealed the denial of their motion for protective order and their motion to quash subpoenas, contending that the Tenth Circuit had appellate jurisdiction under the collateral order, "Perlman," and "pragmatic finality" doctrines. The United States filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Finding that jurisdiction did not arise under any of the cited doctrines, the Tenth Circuit granted the Government's motion to dismiss. View "United States v. Copar Pumice Company, et al" on Justia Law