Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Defendants Orlando Cortez-Nieto and Jesus Cervantes-Aguilar were convicted by a jury of four methamphetamine offenses committed within 1,000 feet of a playground. After their convictions Defendants moved for judgment of acquittal. The district court granted the motions in part, setting aside the convictions on the ground that there was insufficient evidence that any of the offenses of conviction occurred within 1,000 feet of a playground, but entering judgments of conviction on lesser-included offenses (the four offenses without the proximity element). In their consolidated appeal, Defendants argued: (1) that a jury instruction stating that the jury should not consider the guilt of any persons other than Defendants improperly precluded the jury from considering that two government witnesses were motivated to lie about Defendants to reduce or eliminate their own guilt, and the prosecutor improperly magnified this error by explicitly arguing that the jurors could not consider the witnesses’ guilt in assessing their credibility; (2) the district court should not have imposed judgments of conviction on the lesser-included offenses after determining that the original charges had not been proved because the jury had not been instructed on the lesser-included offenses; and (3) remand was necessary to correct a clerical error in the judgment forms. The Tenth Circuit determined only that the clerical error warranted correction. The Court affirmed the district court in all other respects. View "United States v. Cortez-Nieto" on Justia Law

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Michael Cruz sued defendant insurance companies alleging they terminated his contract, under which he sold defendants’ insurance products, on the basis of race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. In support, Cruz relied on a statement allegedly made by his district manager, which Cruz argued represented direct evidence of discrimination, as well as circumstantial evidence. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants, ruling that the district manager’s statement was inadmissible hearsay and that Cruz’s circumstantial evidence did not otherwise demonstrate discriminatory intent. Without considering Cruz’s circumstantial evidence, the Tenth Circuit reversed because the district manager’s alleged comment was not inadmissible hearsay; it was admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(D) as a party-opponent admission made by an agent within the scope of the agency relationship. And because that admission constituted direct evidence of discrimination, the grant of summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Cruz v. Farmers Insurance, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kelly Dansie sued Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company for terminating his employment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant on Plaintiff’s ADA claim but allowed the case to proceed to trial on Plaintiff’s FMLA claim. The jury then returned a verdict in Defendant’s favor. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part, finding plaintiff presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find that defendant failed to engage in the ADA mandated good-faith communications with respect to reasonable accommodations of plaintiff's disability. Given that evidence, summary judgment for Defendant was reversed on plaintiff’s ADA claim, and the issue was remanded to the district court for a trial. But the Tenth Circuit affirmed the verdict for defendant on plaintiff’s FMLA claim. View "Dansie v. Union Pacific Railroad" on Justia Law

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As Plaintiff William Frey proceeded through the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) checkpoint at Jackson Hole Airport in Teton County, Wyoming, the body scanner alerted TSA screeners to a potentially suspicious area on Plaintiff’s person. When the security screeners informed Plaintiff that they would have to conduct a pat down, Plaintiff became agitated and repeatedly refused to cooperate. So the security screeners summoned a police officer, Defendant Nathan Karnes, who arrested Plaintiff. After being transported to the Teton County Jail for booking, Plaintiff continued his noncooperation, refusing to participate in the booking process and demanding that jail officials allow him to have an attorney present. Jail officials detained Plaintiff for about three hours before releasing him. Plaintiff sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, alleging many violations of his rights. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s federal claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, denied leave to file a second amended complaint, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims, awarded attorney’s fees to the Municipal Defendants, and sanctioned Plaintiff’s attorneys. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that some of his claims should have survived dismissal, that the district court should have permitted him to add some of his new proposed claims in a second amended complaint, and that the district court should not have awarded any attorney’s fees. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Frey v. Town of Jackson, WY, et al." on Justia Law

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Rolando Cifuentes-Lopez admitted to having commercial sex with two minors and was sentenced to 24 years and 4 months in prison. He claimed that the district court erred in applying certain sentencing enhancements pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines; one enhancement for a pattern of sexual conduct with a minor, and the other for his conviction on multiple counts. He argued that: (1) the application of a pattern of activity enhancement under U.S.S.G § 4B1.5(b)(1) should not apply to him because he engaged in only one prohibited sexual act with each minor; and (2) the application of the pattern of activity enhancement along with a multiple count enhancement, U.S.S.G. § 3D1.4, was impermissible double counting. The Tenth Circuit found the district court correctly applied the enhancements, and thus affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Cifuentes-Lopez" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Robert McCrary challenged his forty-eight-month prison sentence for possessing fentanyl with the intent to distribute it. Although within the twenty-year statutory maximum for that offense, McCrary’s forty-eight-month sentence was four times higher than the high end of the advisory guideline range. The district court varied upward after concluding McCrary’s post-offense rehabilitation did not outweigh the fact that the fentanyl McCrary distributed resulted in another’s death. On appeal, McCrary contended his sentence was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the appeal waiver to which McCrary agreed precluded the Court's review of his procedural arguments and that his sentence was substantively reasonable. View "United States v. McCrary" on Justia Law

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Defendant Zachary Babcock appealed the denial of his motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate and correct his sentence on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel. He argued his counsel failed to object to a sentencing-guidelines enhancement under USSG § 2K2.1(a)(4)(A) based on prior Utah convictions of a “controlled substance offense” as defined by USSG § 4B1.2(b). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had previously held Colorado and Kansas statutes that prohibited a "mere offer" to sell a controlled substance, without requiring proof of intent to actually distribute or complete a sale, did not satisfy the definition of "controlled substance offense." The Tenth Circuit found guideline commentary stated that an attempt to commit a controlled-substance offense was itself a controlled-substance offense, and the Court's opinions left open the possibility that an offer-to-sell statute could satisfy the conditions necessary to be considered an attempt-to-sell statute. Defendant contended his trial counsel should have argued at sentencing: (1) that an offer to sell under the Utah statute was not necessarily an attempt to commit a controlled-substance offense; and (2) that the guideline commentary stating that an attempt to commit a controlled-substance offense was also a controlled-substance offense improperly expanded the text of the guideline.The Tenth Circuit determined defense counsel's failure to make those two arguments did not constitute deficient performance because the first argument lacked merit and the second "would have been a stretch at the time." View "United States v. Babcock" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Briar Adams was convicted of aggravated battery. The district court applied U.S. Sentencing Guideline § 2K2.1(a)(4) to defendant who had a prior conviction in Kansas for aggravated battery. In considering that conviction, the court classified aggravated battery as a crime of violence and sentenced Adams to 51 months’ imprisonment. Adams challenged this classification, arguing that Kansas’s crime of aggravated battery included conduct that wouldn’t create a crime of violence under the sentencing guidelines. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed: "in Kansas an aggravated battery could stem from battery against a fetus, and the guidelines’ definition of a crime of violence wouldn’t cover battery against a fetus. Because the Kansas crime of aggravated battery doesn’t constitute a crime of violence," the Court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Adams" on Justia Law

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A federal district court concluded that a reasonable factfinder could determine that a law-enforcement officer, Officer Michael DiNapoli, had punched, tackled, and used a chokehold on plaintiff-appellee Greg McWilliams. At the time, McWilliams was suspected only of trespassing on a marina by riding in a golf cart. McWilliams sued DiNapoli under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In response, DiNapoli moved for summary judgment, arguing that: (1) his use of force had been reasonable; and (2) he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, DiNapoli argued: (1) a surveillance video blatantly contradictd the district court’s factual determination that McWilliams had not touched DiNapoli’s chest; and (2) even under the district court’s factual determinations, DiNapoli did not commit a constitutional violation because his use of force was reasonable. The Tenth Circuit concluded it was bound by the district court's factual assessment, and the district court did not err in denying qualified immunity. View "McWilliams v. Dinapoli, et al." on Justia Law

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After a jury convicted Jose Hernandez-Calvillo and Mauro Papalotzi (collectively, Appellees) of conspiring to encourage or induce a noncitizen to reside in the United States, they challenged the statute as overbroad under the First Amendment and successfully moved to dismiss the indictment on that basis. The government appealed. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed: 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv)'s plain language targets protected speech, and the government’s proposed limiting construction found support in the statute’s text or surrounding context. "And when properly construed, the statute criminalizes a substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech, creating a real danger that the statute will chill First Amendment expression." The Court thus held the statute was substantially overbroad, and affirmed the district court's dismissal of the indictment. View "United States v. Hernandez-Calvillo" on Justia Law