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

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Defendants–Appellants Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., and J.M. Hollister LLC, d/b/a Hollister Co. (collectively, Abercrombie) appealed several district court orders holding that Hollister clothing stores violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff–Appellee Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) is a disability advocacy organization in Colorado. In 2009, CCDC notified Abercrombie that Hollister stores at two malls in Colorado violated the ADA. Initial attempts to settle the matter were unsuccessful, and this litigation followed. Abercrombie took it upon itself to correct some barriers plaintiff complained of: it modified Hollister stores by lowering sales counters, rearranging merchandise to ensure an unimpeded path of travel for customers in wheelchairs, adding additional buttons to open the adjacent side doors, and ensuring that the side doors were not blocked or locked. However, one thing remained unchanged: a stepped, porch-like structure served as the center entrance at many Hollister stores which gave the stores the look and feel of a Southern California surf shack. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment: affirming the court's denial of Abercrombie's summary judgment motion and certification of a class. However, the Court reversed the district court's partial grant, and later full grant of summary judgment to plaintiffs, and vacated the court's permanent injunction: "each of the district court’s grounds for awarding the Plaintiffs summary judgment [were] unsupportable. It was error to impose liability on the design of Hollister stores based on 'overarching aims' of the ADA. It was also error to impose liability based on the holding that the porch as a 'space' must be accessible. Finally, it was error to hold that the porch must be accessible because it is the entrance used by a 'majority of people.'" View "CO Cross-Disability Coalition, et al v. Abercrombie & Fitch, et al" on Justia Law

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Legina and Todd Thomas, parents of M.T., a twelve-year-old girl at the time of the events at issue in this case, placed M.T. in the University of New Mexico Children's Psychiatric Center after she revealed suicidal tendencies during a police investigation of a potential sexual assault. Doctors diagnosed her as exhibiting several serious psychiatric problems and recommended a prescription of psychotropic drugs. The Thomases resisted the doctors' diagnoses and recommendations. M.T. was evaluated for several weeks until Mrs. Thomas decided to remove her from the hospital. Concerned about her safety, M.T.'s doctors and therapist placed M.T. on a medical hold and pursued an involuntary residential treatment petition in state court. After a seven-day hold, M.T. was released before the involuntary commitment proceedings began. The Thomases claimed the doctors and the hospital violated their constitutional right to direct M.T.'s medical care and their right to familial association when they placed a medical hold on M.T. and when they filed the petition for involuntary residential treatment in state court. The defendants moved to dismiss, asserting absolute and qualified immunity. The district court granted the motion on qualified immunity grounds, and the Thomases appealed. The Court of Appeal agreed with the district court that the Thomases did not stated a claim for a violation of their right to direct M.T.'s medical care. But the Court held that the Thomases stated a claim for a violation of the right to familial association for the defendants' placing a medical hold on M.T. and seeking an order for involuntary residential treatment in state court. The Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Thomas, et al v. Kaven, et al" on Justia Law

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This case was an interlocutory appeal from the district court’s denial of qualified immunity in an Eighth Amendment case brought by a Colorado state prisoner. Plaintiff Homaidan Al-Turki filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against several prison officials, including Defendant Mary Robinson (a prison nurse) based on these officials’ failure to provide him with any type of medical evaluation or treatment while he was suffering through several hours of severe abdominal pain from what turned out to be kidney stones. The district court granted qualified immunity to the other prison officials, none of whom were medical professionals, but denied Defendant Robinson’s summary judgment motion for qualified immunity. Defendant then filed this interlocutory appeal. On appeal, the issues this case presented to the Tenth Circuit were: (1) whether the hours of severe pain Plaintiff experienced constituted a sufficiently serious medical need to satisfy the objective prong of the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference test; and (2) whether Defendant’s alleged actions violated clearly established law. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court on both issues. View "Al-Turki v. Robinson, et al" on Justia Law

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Chris Hogan lost his job with the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency("UTOPIA"). Claiming he was fired for revealing a conflict of interest in contract awards, he threatened to sue the agency for wrongful termination. Shortly after making this threat, he was subject to several unflattering media articles about his job performance and his termination dispute with the agency’s leaders. Several of the stories claimed his threats to sue the agency amounted to extortion or blackmail. One of the stories was written pseudonymously by Michael Winder, the mayor of West Valley City where UTOPIA did much of its business. Hogan sued UTOPIA, the mayor, the City, and a number of other people he believed were involved in the publication of the articles. He claimed the articles were defamatory, portrayed him in a false light, invaded his privacy, were an intentional infliction of emotional distress, a deprivation of his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983, and a civil conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. 1985. He also sued UTOPIA for First Amendment violations, breach of contract, wrongful termination, and other violations of state law in a separate lawsuit. The district court dismissed all of the claims, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: "because the articles' critical statements are explained by their context, we agree with the district court's conclusion that the articles were neither defamatory nor otherwise tortiously offensive. And we further agree that Hogan's federal law claims cannot go forward because he has insufficiently pleaded that the defendants' actions were exercises of their power under state law and that the defendants conspired to punish Hogan for bringing his claims to court." View "Hogan v. Winder, et al" on Justia Law

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Brooklyn Coons (called "Brook" by her estate) died from being shaken and possibly struck on the head while in the care of her father's girlfriend. Her estate, the remaining plaintiff in this case, alleged that Defendant Linda Gillen, a social worker, knew that Brook was in danger and subject to abuse but did not respond to reports of the abuse, increasing Brook's vulnerability to danger. The estate sued Defendant under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating Brook's right to substantive due process. The district court granted Defendant summary judgment, holding that she was entitled to qualified immunity because she did not take any affirmative action that increased the child's vulnerability to danger and because there was no clearly established law that her alleged conduct violated Brook's due-process rights. Finding that Defendant’s conduct was not a violation of clearly established law, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Estate of B.I.C., et al v. Gillen" on Justia Law

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This appeal was brought by the Court Clerk for Tulsa County, Oklahoma, asking the Tenth Circuit to overturn a decision by the district court declaring unenforceable the Oklahoma state constitutional prohibition on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The issues presented to the Tenth Circuit in this appeal were: (1) whether plaintiffs could attack state constitutional provisions without simultaneously attacking state statutes to the same effect; and (2) whether the Court Clerk was a proper defendant as to the non-recognition portion of the Oklahoma constitutional prohibition. The Tenth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to directly attack the constitutionality under the United States Constitution of Oklahoma's same-sex marriage ban even though their claim did not reach Oklahoma's statutory prohibitions on such marriages. Under Oklahoma law, a constitutional amendment "takes the place of all the former laws existing upon the subject with which it deals." Because the statutory prohibitions were subsumed in the challenged constitutional provision, an injunction against the latter's enforcement will redress the claimed injury. An earlier appeal of this same case involving the standing inquiry led to a decision by a panel of the Tenth Circuit that dismissed proceedings brought against the Governor and Attorney General of Oklahoma. That panel ruled that "recognition of marriages is within the administration of the judiciary." ("Bishop I"). The Tenth Circuit concluded that the law of the case doctrine applied to Bishop I, but that the doctrine was overcome by new evidence demonstrating that the Tulsa County Court Clerk could not redress the non-recognition injury, thereby depriving Gay Phillips and Susan Barton of standing to sue. The Court affirmed the district court's ruling. View "Bishop, et al v. Smith, et al" on Justia Law

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Lisa Knitter worked as a "handyman" for Lewis General Contracting, Inc. (LGC) from March to October 2010. During this time, LGC's sole client was Picerne Military Housing, LLC (Picerne), now known as Corvias Military Living, LLC. Knitter performed handyman services exclusively on Picerne properties. She sued Picerne under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging: (1) she was paid lower wages than her male counterparts; (2) Picerne effectively fired her in retaliation for her complaints of sexual harassment and wage discrimination; and (3) after she was fired, Picerne denied her application for vendor status in retaliation for her prior complaints of discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment to Picerne, dismissing Knitter's Title VII action because Picerne was not her employer. The district court also dismissed her claim for retaliatory denial of vendor status because Knitter did not apply for employment with Picerne when she applied to be a vendor. Knitter appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Finding no reversible error, however, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Knitter v. Picerne Military Housing" on Justia Law

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Several Utah residents and same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in Utah and were denied. They filed suit against the Governor, the Attorney General of Utah and the Clerk of Sale Lake County, all in their official capacities, challenging provisions of Utah law relating to same-sex marriage. Utah Code 30-1-2(5) included among the marriages that were "prohibited and declared void," those "between persons of the same sex." The Legislature referred a proposed constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 3, to Utah's voters (Amendment 3 passed with approximately 66% of the vote and became section 29 of Article I of the Utah Constitution). Plaintiffs alleged that Amendment 3 violated their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving them of the fundamental liberty to marry the person of their choosing and to have such a marriage recognized. They also claimed that Amendment 3 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs raised their claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking both a declaratory judgment that Amendment 3 was unconstitutional and an injunction prohibiting its enforcement. On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, concluding that "[a]ll citizens, regardless of their sexual identity, have a fundamental right to liberty, and this right protects an individual's ability to marry and the intimate choices a person makes about marriage and family." Furthermore, the court held that Amendment 3 denied plaintiffs equal protection because it classified based on sex and sexual orientation without a rational basis. It declared Amendment 3 unconstitutional and permanently enjoined enforcement of the challenged provisions. The Governor and Attorney General filed a timely notice of appeal and moved to stay the district court's decision. Both the district court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a stay. The Supreme Court, however, granted a stay of the district court's injunction pending final disposition of the appeal by the Tenth Circuit. Having heard and carefully considered the argument of the litigants, the Tenth Circuit concluded that, consistent with the United States Constitution, the State of Utah may not deny a citizen benefit of the laws based solely on the sex of the person the citizen chooses to marry. View "Kitchen, et al v. Herbert, et al" on Justia Law

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Salt Lake County employee Michael Barrett helped a colleague pursue a sexual harassment complaint against her boss. According to Barrett, his superiors began a campaign to have him discharged or demoted. After he was demoted Barrett filed suit alleging that the county violated Title VII by retaliating against him for helping a coworker vindicate her civil rights. The jury found for Barrett. At trial the county argued that it disciplined Barrett because he was a poor worker. But the evidence showed that Barrett's fourteen years working for the county were marked only by promotions and positive reviews until he helped draw attention to his colleague's plight. On appeal, the county asks the Tenth Circuit to reverse the jury's verdict, but finding no error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court judgment. View "Barrett v. Salt Lake County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Grace Hwang signed a written one-year contract to teach classes over three academic terms at Kansas State University. But before the fall term began, plaintiff received news that she had cancer and needed treatment. She sought and the University gave her a six-month (paid) leave of absence. As that period drew to a close and the spring term approached plaintiff's doctor advised her to seek more time off. She asked the University to extend her leave through the end of spring semester, promising to return in time for the summer term. But according to plaintiff's complaint, the University refused, explaining that it had an inflexible policy allowing no more than six months' sick leave. The University did arrange for long-term disability benefits, but plaintiff alleged it effectively terminated her employment. In response, she filed suit contending that by denying her more than six months' sick leave the University violated the Rehabilitation Act. The district court dismissed her complaint. Subsequently, plaintiff appealed to the Tenth Circuit. "When it comes to satisfying her elemental obligations, Ms. Hwang's complaint fails early on. . . . there’s also no question she wasn’t able to perform the essential functions of her job even with a reasonable accommodation. . . .It perhaps goes without saying that an employee who isn't capable of working for so long isn't an employee capable of performing a job's essential functions - and that requiring an employer to keep a job open for so long doesn't qualify as a reasonable accommodation. After all, reasonable accommodations . . . are all about enabling employees to work, not to not work." The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's order. View "Hwang v. Kansas State University" on Justia Law