Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Unable to win the consent of all necessary landowners, a public utility company contended it had a statutory right to condemn a right-of-way on two parcels of land in New Mexico. Because federal law did not permit condemnation of tribal land, the Navajo Nation’s ownership of undivided fractional interests in the parcels presented a problem for the company. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the condemnation action against the two land parcels in which the Navajo Nation held an interest. View "Public Service Company of NM v. Barboan" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute over the ownership of mineral rights appurtenant to several tracts of land located in Haskell County, Kansas. Michael Leathers and his brother Ronald Leathers each inherited half of these mineral rights from their mother. But an error in a quit claim deed subsequently executed between the brothers left it unclear whether Ronald’s one-half interest in the mineral estate had been conveyed to Michael. In a series of orders spanning several years, the district court (1) reformed the quit claim deed to reflect that Ronald had reserved his one-half interest in the mineral estate; (2) awarded half of Ronald’s one-half interest to Ronald’s wife Theresa (pursuant to Ronald and Theresa’s divorce decree); and (3) held that Ronald owed approximately $1.5 million to the IRS and that the IRS’s tax liens had first priority to any present and future royalties due to Ronald from his remaining one-quarter mineral interest. Ronald appealed, but finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment with respect to the reformation and the interests, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court on all grounds. View "Leathers v. Leathers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants, a certified class of Osage tribal members who owned headrights, appealed the district court’s accounting order. Plaintiffs alleged that the government was improperly distributing royalties to non-Osage tribal members, which diluted the royalties for the Osage tribal members, the rightful headright owners. The complaint attributed this misdistribution to the government’s mismanagement of the trust assets and the government’s failure to perform an accounting. Thus, Plaintiffs sought to compel the government to perform an accounting and to prospectively restrict royalty payments to Osage tribal members and their heirs. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ accounting claim because it found that the applicable statute only required the government to account for deposits, not withdrawals, and that such an accounting would not support Plaintiffs’ misdistribution claim. After review, the Tenth Circuit could not say the district court abused its discretion. "The accounting the district court fashioned will certainly inform Plaintiffs of the trust receipts and disbursements and to whom those disbursements were made." View "Fletcher v. United States" on Justia Law

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VR Acquisitions, LLC (VRA) owned a roughly 6,700-acre property in Utah’s Jordanelle Basin. VRA brought this action in 2015, asserting three federal constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and five state-law claims. All claims rested, to some degree, on VRA’s assertion that an invalid assessment lien was recorded against the property three years before VRA bought the property. The district court dismissed all eight claims with prejudice under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), and VRA appealed. Because the district court properly dismissed VRA’s section 1983 claims for lack of prudential standing, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims with prejudice. But because the district court should have declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over VRA’s state-law claims, the Tenth Circuit reversed its dismissal with prejudice of those claims and remanded with directions for the district court to dismiss those claims without prejudice. View "VR Acquisitions v. Wasatch County" on Justia Law

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (“PETPO”) challenged a regulation promulgated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The challenged regulation prohibited the “take” of the Utah prairie dog, a purely intrastate species, on nonfederal land. The ESA defined “take” as meaning “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.” The district court granted summary judgment for PETPO on the ground that neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution authorized Congress to regulate take of the Utah prairie dog on nonfederal land. FWS and intervenor-defendant Friends of Animals (“FoA”) appealed the grant of summary judgment, arguing that the challenged regulation was authorized by both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, and that PETPO lacked standing. After its review, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court correctly concluded that PETPO had standing, but erred in concluding that Congress lacked authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate (and authorize the Service to regulate) the take of the Utah prairie dog. View "People for Ethical Treatment v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owned property traversed by Red Hill Road, which was used by the public to access White Peak, a popular hunting and wildlife area in northern New Mexico. Believing the road to be private, Plaintiff installed a cattle guard, locked gate, and barbed-wire fence to prevent access to his land. Believing the road to be a public right-of-way, Defendant (a district attorney) wrote to Plaintiff on August 3, 2011, demanding that the gate be removed. The next week Plaintiff filed a still-pending quiet-title action in state court to determine whether the road is private or public. After three weeks with no response from Plaintiff, Defendant took matters into his own hands. Accompanied by a former president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, four deputy sheriffs, and 18 private persons, Defendant cut the lock on the gate and, with the help of others, removed the barbed wire and T-posts from the road. When Defendant learned a few weeks later that Plaintiff had locked the gate a second time, Defendant directed the local sheriff to cut the lock and chain on the gate. This case presented an issue of first impression in the Tenth Circuit. The violation of federal law was not clearly established, but under state law, the action was unauthorized. A question of whether a public officer loses the protection of qualified immunity when he acts outside the scope of his authority was presented by the facts of this case: is there any justification for granting immunity in that context? The district court endorsed a “scope-of-authority” exception to qualified immunity and ruled that Defendant Donald Gallegos, a district attorney, had clearly acted without state-law authority in forcibly removing a barrier that Plaintiff David Stanley had placed on a road to prevent traffic through his property. It therefore held that Defendant could not invoke the protection of qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for the district court to consider whether Defendant violated clearly established federal law or was instead entitled to qualified immunity. View "Stanley v. Gallegos" on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of a battle over Winter, a horse that belonged to Summer Colby. Colby and her mother grew estranged and argued over who owned Winter. The mother allegedly complained to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which responded by sending someone from the Brand Inspection Division to investigate. After investigating, the inspector seized the horse, prompting Colby and her mother to take the matter to court over ownership. After almost three years, Colby prevailed and got her horse back. When the horse was returned to Colby, she and her husband sued the Division and two of its officers, but the district court dismissed the action. The Colbys appealed, raising issues involving the Eleventh Amendment and the statute of limitations. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court properly dismissed all of the claims. View "Colby v. Herrick" on Justia Law

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The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes jointly inhabited the Wind River Reservation. The State of Wyoming and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation challenged a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency granting the Tribes’ application for joint authority to administer certain non-regulatory programs under the Clean Air Act on the Reservation. As part of their application, the Tribes were required to show they possessed jurisdiction over the relevant land. The Tribes described the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation and asserted that most of the land within the original 1868 boundaries fell within their jurisdiction. Wyoming and others submitted comments to the EPA arguing the Reservation had been diminished in 1905 by act of Congress, and that some land described in the application was no longer within tribal jurisdiction. After review, the EPA determined the Reservation had not been diminished in 1905 and the Tribes retained jurisdiction over the land at issue. Because the EPA decided the Tribes otherwise satisfied Clean Air Act program requirements, it granted their application. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether Congress diminished the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in 1905. the Court found that it did. The Court therefore granted Wyoming's petition for review, vacated the EPA's order and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "State of Wyoming v. Environ. Protect. Ag'y" on Justia Law

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Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company (“Philadelphia”) and Lexington Insurance Company (“Lexington”) insured the same school building that suffered fire damage. In a declaratory judgment action, they disputed their relative responsibilities to pay for the loss. The district court ordered Philadelphia to pay 54 percent and Lexington to pay 46 percent of the approximately $6 million loss. Lexington appealed, arguing it should have no obligation to pay. Philadelphia cross-appealed, arguing Lexington should have paid more. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's allocation between the insurers. View "Philadelphia Indemnity v. Lexington Insurance" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a property damage claim filed by the Hayes Family Trust with its insurer, State Farm Fire & Casualty. When the parties could not agree on the amount of loss, Hayes invoked an appraisal process provided by the policy to calculate the loss incurred. After Hayes sought the district court's assistance with the appointment of an umpire, the parties participated in the appraisal process, which resulted in a unanimous award. State Farm paid the balance of that award, and Hayes accepted payment. But despite State Farm's payment, at Hayes's request, the district court confirmed the award and entered judgment in favor of Hayes. Hayes promptly moved for an award of prejudgment interest, attorney's fees, and costs under a prevailing party statute. In response, State Farm moved to vacate or amend the judgment. Finding that the parties settled any dispute over the amount of loss, the court agreed with State Farm and vacated its order confirming the appraisal award and the judgment. Hayes appealed the order vacating judgment in an attempt to recover prejudgment interest, fees, and costs. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "In re: Hayes Family Trust" on Justia Law