10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinions
Opinions published during the week of March 25

by Tony Flesor
court opinions

Editor’s Note: Court opinions are summarized by Law Week Colorado

U.S. v. Chica-Orellana

This matter is before the court on the government’s motion to enforce the appeal waiver in Jose Chica-Orellana’s plea agreement pursuant to U.S. v. Hahn. Chica-Orellana opposed the motion on the grounds that the government breached the plea agreement and that the agreement was based on a mutual mistake about sentencing. A panel of judges of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the motion and dismissed the appeal.

U.S. v. Nixon

This appeal grew out of dual prosecutions of Keon Nixon. In state court, he was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault and use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. After these charges were led, federal authorities indicted Nixon for possessing a rearm after a felony conviction. But federal authorities then waited almost a year to arraign Nixon.

After Nixon was eventually arraigned, he moved to dismiss the federal indictment, contending that the delay in the federal case violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The district court denied the motion, concluding that federal authorities had a valid reason for the delay, Nixon had waited too long to invoke his right to a speedy trial after learning of the federal charge and the delay had not created prejudice.

The court agreed with these conclusions and affirmed the denial of Nixon’s motion to dismiss.

Teets v. Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company

Great-West Life Annuity and Insurance Company manages an investment fund that guarantees investors will never lose their principal or the interest they accrue. It offers the fund to employers as an investment option for their employees’ retirement savings plans, which are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

John Teets — a participant in an employer retirement plan — invested money in Great-West’s fund. He later sued Great-West under ERISA, alleging Great-West breached a duciary duty to participants in the fund or that Great-West was a non duciary party in interest that bene fitted from prohibited transactions with his plan’s assets. After certifying a class of 270,000 plan participants like Teets, the district court granted summary judgment for Great-West, holding that Great-West was not a duciary and Teets had not adduced sufficient evidence to impose liability on Great-West as a non-duciary party in interest. The court affirmed.

Alfaro v. Arapahoe County

Danielle Alfaro, led a complaint in federal district court alleging various constitutional violations in connection with her state-court divorce and child-custody proceedings. Alfaro asked for monetary and injunctive relief. Acting sua sponte, the magistrate judge issued a show-cause order to Alfaro, asking her to articulate the basis for the court’s subject-matter juris- diction. Alfaro led a response, which the magistrate judge found unpersuasive. The magistrate judge recommended dismissing Alfaro’s complaint without prejudice for lack of subject- matter jurisdiction.

The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendation over Alfaro’s objections. It first noted that federal courts lack jurisdiction over domestic-relations cases. The district court then rejected Alfaro’s contention that she was not directly litigating the prior divorce and child-custody decree, but instead, was pursuing independent federal and state constitutional and statutory claims that merely happen to involve the state-court judge’s conduct during those proceedings. The district court determined that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the domestic-relations exception.

Alfaro, proceeding pro se, appealed the district court’s order dismissing her complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. A panel of judges of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

U.S. v. Wietecha

This matter is before the court on the government’s motion to enforce the appeal waiver contained in Frank Steven Wietecha Jr.’s plea agreement. A panel of judges from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted defense counsel’s motion to withdraw, grant the government’s motion to enforce Wietecha’s appeal waiver and dis- missed the appeal.

Wietecha pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. The statutory maximum penalty for this offense is 20 years’ imprisonment. After finding that the applicable advisory guide- lines sentencing range was 130 to 162 months’ imprisonment the district court sentenced Wietecha at the bottom of the range to 130 months.