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

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Plaintiffs in this case are owners of "chat" restricted by virtue of plaintiffs' membership in the Quapaw Tribe. They alleged that Bingham Sand and Gravel Company, Inc., owner of unrestricted chat, had been removing tailings from one of two piles of co-mingled chat without compensating the restricted owners. Under plaintiffs’ theory of the case, federal law prohibits the sale or removal of any chat from commingled piles without the approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”). Despite numerous informal requests that the BIA halt chat removal by Bingham and the Estate of Joseph Mountford (another owner of unrestricted chat), the agency has not done so. Seeking to stop chat removal and obtain an accounting for the chat that has already been removed, plaintiffs sued the Secretary of the Interior and several BIA officials. The district court dismissed these claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Although it assumed that plaintiffs could plead a common law accounting claim outside the ambit of the APA, the court nonetheless required exhaustion as a matter of judicial discretion. As to the private defendants, plaintiffs asserted claims for conversion and an accounting. Following dismissal of the federal defendants, the district court concluded it lacked jurisdiction over these claims. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies; the Court reversed the district court's conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction over the conversion and accounting claims. View "Gilmore, et al v. Weatherford, et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Tina Marie Somerlott appealed a district court's dismissal of her claims against Cherokee Nation Distributors, Inc and CND, LLC ("CND") for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Petitioner brought federal employment discrimination claims against CND, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. After allowing discovery by both parties, the district court concluded CND was immune from suit under the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity and, therefore, dismissed Petitioner's complaint in its entirety. Upon review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the court's reasoning and affirmed its decision. View "Somerlott v. Cherokee Nation Distributors, et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Frances Leon Harvey's appeal before the Tenth Circuit stemmed from a Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA")lawsuit that he brought against the United States government for complications arising from an injury to his hand. Petitioner claimed that government employees injured him by: (1) misdiagnosing and delaying treatment of his hand fracture; and (2) performing negligent surgery on his hand. He argued that the district court erred in holding the misdiagnosis/delay-in treatment claim to be time-barred and in granting summary judgment on the negligent surgery claim for failure to produce expert evidence. Furthermore, Petitioner argued because Navajo law was the substantive law of this case, the district court failed to follow Navajo law when it dismissed his negligent surgery claim. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court properly denied Petitioner's motion for default judgment. Although the Court disagreed with the district court's conclusion that the misdiagnosis claim was time-barred, the Court concluded that Petitioner's failure to provide expert evidence doomed both his misdiagnosis and surgical malpractice claims. Finally, although the parties disagreed about whether Arizona law or Navajo law applied, the Court did not reach the issue because the outcome would have been the same under both. View "Harvey v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Plaintiffs-Appellants in this case challenged the Federal Highway Administration's selection of a route for the proposed South Lawrence Trafficway project in the city of Lawrence, Kansas. Appellants claimed two aspects of the Highway Administration's decision rendered it arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. Appellants claimed the environmental impact statement supporting the decision violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Department of Transportation noise analysis regulations. Furthermore, Appellants claimed the Highway Administration's analysis under the section of the Department of Transportation Act that protects historic sites, including property associated with Haskell Indian Nations University, improperly concluded there was no "feasible and prudent alternative" to the selected route. Finding "no fatal flaws" in the environmental impact statement or the prudence analysis, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Prairie Band Pottawatomie v. Federal Highway Admin." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Michael Turner, a member of the Kiowa Tribe, was charged by Oklahoma state authorities with instituting or encouraging cockfighting. The state court rejected his argument that the crime took place in Indian Country. While state prosecution was ongoing, Plaintiff requested that the Court of Indian Offenses for the Kiowa Tribe enjoin the state proceeding. That court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff was subsequently convicted in state court. Plaintiff then sued the judges of the Court of Indian Offenses in federal district court. The district court denied relief, concluding that the defendants were entitled to sovereign immunity as tribal officials. After its review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that Plaintiff lacked standing because he could not establish redressability. Given the procedural posture of this case, it was unclear what, if any, action the district court could have taken to undermine Plaintiff's conviction. View "Turner v. McGee, et al" on Justia Law

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The Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN) sued the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC), three commissioners and the Oklahoma Attorney General (collectively, State), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief based on numerous claims challenging three Oklahoma statutes that tax and regulate the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products as a violative of federal law and tribal sovereignty. The OTC and the Attorney General brought motions to dismiss. The district court dismissed MCN's claims against all Defendant's based on the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity, or alternatively, for failing to state a claim under Fed. R.Civ. P. 12(b)(6). On appeal, the Tenth Circuit found that the Eleventh Amendment did not preclude MCN's suit, but that in its complaint, the Nation failed to state a claim. View "Muscogee (Creek) v. Henry, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Ute Indian Tribe challenged three amendments to the articles of incorporation of Defendant Ute Distribution Corporation (UDC). UDC represents former members of the tribe and jointly manages assets with the Tribe's leadership. Perceiving a takeover threat from the Tribe, the UDC board of directors proposed (and the shareholders adopted) the amendments in question, which prohibited persons affiliated with the Tribe from serving on the board. The Tribe sued, arguing the amendments violated Utah state law. The district court granted summary judgment to the UDC. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit held that the amendments were reasonable as a matter of law, and that the UDC board of directors did not violate the covenant of good faith and fair dealing in proposing the amendments or adopting them. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's grant of UDC's motion for summary judgment. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. Ute Distribution Corp." on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Kerry Raina Bryant appealed her conviction for theft by an officer or employee of a gaming establishment on Choctaw Indian lands. She entered a conditional plea, reserving the right to appeal the denial of her motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. She was sentenced to a two-year probation, and ordered to pay restitution. On appeal, Defendant argued that the statute under which she was charged (18 U.S.C. 1168) did not apply to her because she was not a casino employee, and that 18 U.S.C. 2 did not apply because it punishes illegal acts against the "United States," and the Choctaw tribe is "not the United States." Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found that Defendant committed her crime with her sister, who was a casino employee, and the applicable statute declares Defendant a "principal" for aiding and abetting theft by a casino employee. Furthermore, the Court found Defendant's crime was against a "a gaming establishment licensed by the National Indian Gaming Association that sits on territory subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Plainly, there was a crime against the United States." The Court affirmed Defendant's conviction. View "United States v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Defendants-Appellants Patrick Talk and Kenneth Martinez, both enrolled members of the Navajo Tribe, challenged the procedural reasonableness of their sixty-month sentences of imprisonment. The district court imposed the sentences after Defendants pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Indian Country in the death of Shawn Begay, also an enrolled member of the Navajo Tribe. Mr. Talk argued that the district court procedurally erred in finding that he did not fully accept responsibility for Mr. Begay's death, and by failing to adequately explain his sentence, because it explained neither why he received the same sentence as Mr. Martinez nor why his sentence was longer than the Sentencing Guidelines' range for aggravated assault. Mr. Martinez argued that the district court procedurally erred by enhancing his sentence pursuant to U.S.S.G. 3A1.1 because Mr. Begay was not a "vulnerable victim" and, even if he was, Mr. Martinez neither knew nor should have known that he was. Finding that Mr. Talk's challenge was "misguided" and that the district court "did not commit procedural error in explaining its upward variance," the Tenth Circuit affirmed his sentence. Because Mr. Begay was heavily intoxicated at the time of his death, the Tenth Circuit found that he was unable to protect himself, and was therefore "unusually vulnerable." The Court found that the district court did not err in finding Mr. Begay was a vulnerable victim, and that Mr. Martinez's challenge to the district court's ruling that he knew or should have known of Mr. Begay's vulnerability "[could not] succeed under plain-error review, regardless of whether his argument [was] framed as a factual or legal one." The Court affirmed Mr. Martinez's sentence. View "United States v. Talk" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Christopher Yancey filed an action in district court contending that Oklahoma state-court rulings terminating his parental rights over his Indian child were invalid under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The district court dismissed his action, determining that either federal abstention was mandated, or the action was barred by the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution. Tiffany Leatherman and Petitioner are the natural parents of Baby Boy L. Petitioner was a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Indian Nation of Oklahoma, but Leatherman was not a member of any Native American tribe. Petitioner and Leatherman were teenagers when the child was conceived, and they never married. Before the child was born, Leatherman decided to place him for adoption, and she located Timothy and Tammy Thomas who were interested in adopting him. In December 2002, Leatherman brought an action in Oklahoma state court to terminate Petitioner's parental rights and to determine the child’s eligibility for adoption without Petitioner's consent. Leatherman appeared in court, relinquished her parental rights, and consented to the adoption. Petitioner appeared in the proceedings and objected to the adoption. On May 18, 2010, the Oklahoma trial court entered an order terminating Petitioner's parental rights. The court found that the ICWA had been complied with and that the Thomases had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Petitioner's custody of Baby Boy L. would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child. There was no indication in the record that Petitioner appealed that order. On the day after the Oklahoma trial court entered its order, Petitioner filed this action against the Thomases. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not err in dismissing Yancey’s federal-court action because it was barred by res judicata. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's decision terminating Appellant's parental rights. View "Yancey v. Thomas" on Justia Law