Anna Reeves Olson Sara E. Hurst, et al. v. Metropolitan Property & Casualty Ins. Co. 2017 WY 104 S-17-0082 September 12, 2017 In 2014, Larry and Sara Hurst were riding their bicycles when a car, driven by Hannah Terry, suddenly struck them. Larry was killed and Sara was seriously injured. As Terry was uninsured, the Hursts filed a claim with their UIM carrier, MetLife. The MetLife Policy provided UIM coverage for “$300,000 each person/$300,000 each accident.” MetLife contended that the Hursts’ injuries resulted from one accident, so there was a maximum of $300,000 in coverage. The Hursts argued that their injuries were the result of two accidents, warranting $600,000 in coverage. After cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court applied a legal doctrine known as the “cause theory” and concluded that only one accident had occurred and, thus, MetLife’s policy limit was $300,000. On appeal, the Supreme Court noted that under the “cause theory,” the number of accidents is determined by the court asking whether there was but one proximate, uninterrupted, and continuing cause which resulted in all of the injuries. However, more than one accident occurs when an intervening cause demarcates the collisions. For instance, if the driver maintained or regained control of his or her vehicle before going on to hit a second car, the collisions can be deemed separate accidents. The Supreme Court determined that while the district court correctly applied the cause theory to the case, there were issues of material fact as to whether Terry regained control of her vehicle during her collisions with the Hursts. The Court reasoned that the district court did not give much, if any, consideration to the notion of Terry’s control of her vehicle, and the stipulated facts revealed that the collisions with Larry and Sara could be separate incidents. There was no chain reaction or causal connection between the impact with Larry’s bicycle and Sara’s bicycle and nothing that necessitated an impact of the latter by virtue of the impact with the former. As there were issues of material fact regarding whether Terry regained control of her vehicle between crashes, the case was reversed and remanded. Lon V. Smith Foundation v. Devon Energy Corporation, et al. 2017 WY 121 S-17-0021 October 10, 2017 Thirty-four years ago, a California court issued a probate order distributing the estate of Lon V. Smith. A couple of years later, a Wyoming court entered an ancillary probate order to distribute Mr. Smith’s Wyoming property, including a Carbon County overriding royalty interest (ORRI). It is undisputed that Smith’s intent, as expressed in his will, was for the ORRI to be distributed to his wife, Marguerite B. Smith, for her life, and then to be distributed to the Lon V. Smith Foundation. That is not, however, what the courts ordered in the California and Wyoming probates. Consequently, the Foundation sued Devon Energy Corporation, which was the lessee and operator of the oil and gas lease at issue, claiming the ORRI payments should have been made to the Foundation. The district court found that regardless of Smith’s intent, the probate orders governed, and those orders distributed the ORRI to Mrs. Smith. The district court also denied requests from both the Foundation and Devon for attorney fees and costs pursuant to the Wyoming Royalty Payment Act’s (WRPA) fee provision. On appeal, the Supreme Court noted that while the California probate order specifically listed each of the oil and gas interests to be passed to Mrs. Smith as life estates, the ORRI was not included on that list. The California probate order also distributed the “rest, residue and remainder of said Estate, both real and personal, and wherever situated . . . whether described herein or not” to Mrs. Smith. The Court held that as the California order did not distribute the ORRI, it fell into the residuary clause and passed to Mrs. Smith and not the Foundation. The Court recognized that Smith’s intent as set forth in his will was that Mrs. Smith was to receive a life estate in the ORRI, and that after she died, it was to go to the Foundation. However, because there was no appeal from the California order, it was a final judgment, regardless of the terms in Smith’s will. The Court finally held that the WRPA was inapplicable because neither Devon nor the Foundation had a pre-existing legal relationship that required Devon to pay the royalties to the Foundation, thus neither party was entitled to attorney fees. Kindred Healthcare Operating, Inc. v. Susan Boyd 2017 WY 122 S-17-0068 October 12, 2017 Aletha Boyd died following her discharge from Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation. Her daughter, Susan Boyd, filed a wrongful death action against Kindred alleging that its negligence in caring for her mother caused her death. Kindred moved to compel arbitration pursuant to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) agreement signed by Leanna Putnam, Boyd’s other daughter and power of attorney at the time of her admission into Kindred. The ADR agreement provided that the arbitration provision was optional, but if signed, the parties would agree that any disputes between them would be resolved by ADR. The district court denied Kindred’s motion. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded with instructions for the district court to order arbitration. The Supreme Court determined that Putnam had authority to sign the ADR agreement and the ADR agreement was not unconscionable simply because Kindred included it among the packet of documents that Putnam was required to sign in order to obtain medical care for Boyd. Clearly, Kindred and Putnam mutually agreed that an ADR process would resolve any disputes arising from Boyd’s care at the facility. They further agreed that by entering into the ADR agreement, they were giving up their constitutional right to have disputes decided by a court of law. Accordingly, the case was remanded with instructions to order arbitration as required by the agreement. Bear Peak Resources, LLC v. Peak Powder River Resources, LLC 2017 WY 124 October 13, 2017 S-16-0268 Bear Peak Resources, LLC (“Bear”) and Peak Powder River Resources, LLC (“Peak”) agreed to work together in acquiring mineral interests for development. The two entered into a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) wherein Peak agreed to purchase certain oil and gas interests owned by Bear. The PSA included a section that outlined the parties’ agreement for procurement of additional mineral interests within an Area of Mutual Interest (AMI). The contract provided that it was intended that Bear primarily be the acquiring party in the AMI; however, if Peak felt that Bear was not performing as expected (such expectations to be on the basis of reasonable industry standards), Peak was to notify Bear of such lack of performance and the specific details regarding what is expected. Thereafter, the parties were to meet to attempt to resolve any issues, but if after the meeting the performance was not to Peak’s satisfaction, Peak could terminate the contract. In May 2013, Peak sent a Notice of Non-Performance to Bear, wherein Peak notified Bear it was not performing its obligations under the PSA based on reasonable industry standards and Peak ultimately terminated the contract. Bear filed suit and raised numerous claims including breach of contract. Peak moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the district court. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the order of summary judgment on the breach of contract claim. The Court noted that the AMI explicitly stated that Peak’s satisfaction must be reasonable according to industry standards. However, proper termination of the AMI depended, in part, on whether Peak’s expectations were reasonable based on industry standards. The question of what constitutes reasonable industry standards was a material fact that could establish or refute whether the termination was proper. As Peak did not present any evidence on that material fact, the burden never shifted to Bear to refute it and the case was reversed. T.D. v. Kelcey Patton and The Denver Dept. of Human Services, 868 F.3d 1209 (Tenth Cir. 2017) T.D. sued Kelcey Patton under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his right to substantive due process. He relied on a “danger-creation theory,” which provides that “state officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials created the danger that caused the harm.” Patton, a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (“DDHS”), was one of those responsible for removing T.D., a minor at the time, from his mother’s home, placing him into DDHS’s custody, and recommending T.D. be placed and remain in the temporary custody of his father, Tiercel Duerson. T.D. eventually was removed from his father’s home after DDHS received reports that T.D. had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. Patton moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, but the district court denied the motion. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit held that Patton violated T.D.’s clearly established substantive due process constitutional right to be free of a state official’s creation of danger from a private actor. The Court agreed that Patton had violated T.D.’s substantive due process right by knowingly placing T.D. in a position of danger and knowingly increasing T.D.’s vulnerability to danger. She recommended to the juvenile court that T.D. be placed and remain in Duerson’s temporary custody despite her admitted concerns about T.D.’s safety in the home, her knowledge of Duerson’s criminal history that included a conviction for attempted sexual assault against a minor in his care, and notice of evidence that Duerson was potentially abusing T.D. Patton failed to inform the juvenile court about her concerns and knowledge of Duerson’s criminal history and made her affirmative recommendations out of fear of being fired. She also failed to investigate whether Duerson was abusing T.D. despite her awareness of evidence of abuse. Patton acted recklessly and in conscious disregard of a known and substantial risk that T.D. would suffer serious and immediate harm. As a reasonable official in Patton’s shoes would have understood that she was violating T.D.’s constitutional rights, she was not entitled to qualified immunity. US v. Andre Ralph Haymond, 869 F.3d 1153 (Tenth Cir. 2017) The district court revoked Andre Ralph Haymond’s supervised release based in part on a finding that he had knowingly possessed 13 images of child pornography. The district court imposed the mandatory minimum sentence required by 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k). Haymond appealed and argued that 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) was unconstitutional because it violated his right to due process. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded that 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) is unconstitutional because it strips the sentencing judge of discretion to impose punishment within the statutorily prescribed range, and it imposes heightened punishment on sex offenders based not on their original crimes of conviction but on new conduct for which they have not been convicted by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, which violates the Sixth Amendment. The matter was remanded to the district court with instructions not to consider § 3583(k)’s mandatory minimum sentence provision. Western Watersheds Project et al. v. Peter K. Michael, et al. 869 F.3d 1189 (Tenth Cir. 2017) In 2015, Wyoming enacted two statutes that prohibited individuals from “[c]rossing private land to access adjacent or proximate land . . . for the purpose of collecting resource data” without permission from the owner. See Wyo. Stat. §§ 6-3-414 (2015); 40-27-101 (2015). The statutes were largely identical, with one imposing criminal punishment, § 6-3-414(c) (2015), and the other imposing civil liability, § 40-27-101(c) (2015). The phrase “collects resource data” included numerous activities on public lands, such as writing notes on habitat conditions, photographing wildlife, or taking water samples. The district court ultimately dismissed the case and, on appeal, the Tenth Circuit reversed and concluded that the statutes were invalid because they sought to regulate protected speech under the First Amendment. The Tenth Circuit also held that while trespassing does not enjoy First Amendment protection, these statutes sought to regulate the creation of speech by imposing heightened penalties on those who collect resource data. State of Wyoming, et al. v. Ryan Zinke, Secretary, United States Department of the Interior; U.S. BLM, et al. 871 F.3d 1133 (Tenth Cir. 2017) The issue in this case was whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acted beyond its statutory authority when it promulgated 33 C.F.R. § 3162.3-3 (2015). This statute governed hydraulic fracturing on lands owned or held in trust by the United States. The district court invalidated the regulation and found that it exceeded the BLM’s statutory authority. However, during the appeal to the Tenth Circuit, Mr. Trump was elected President and, at his direction, the BLM began to rescind the regulation voluntarily. Given the changing circumstances, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the appeal was unripe for review and, as a result, the appeal was dismissed.
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