Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Objector-Appellant Dale Hefner appeals from the district court’s denial of his motion for settlement-related discovery, approval of the settlement agreement, and order regarding attorneys’ fees. This case concerns the settlement agreement and attorneys’ fees related to two separate shareholder derivative suits on behalf of SandRidge Energy Inc. (“SandRidge”) against its directors. The first of those actions was filed in federal district court in January 2013. The federal derivative suit alleged self-dealing, usurpation of corporate opportunities, and misappropriation by Tom Ward, SandRidge’s founding CEO, and entities affiliated with him. Hefner filed the second derivative suit was filed in Oklahoma state court in 2013. The director-defendants moved the state court to stay the action pending a resolution in the federal case, or in the alternative to dismiss the suit entirely. Hefner objected, and the state court stayed the action but denied the motion to dismiss. In 2014, the state court entered a stipulated and agreed to order granting SandRidge’s motion to stay. Then in 2015, the federal district court granted a preliminary approval of a partial settlement in the federal suit. Hefner (1) filed a contingent motion for attorneys’ fees and reimbursement of expenses, (2) objected to the settlement, and (3) requested additional settlement-related discovery. The district court denied Hefner’s motion for additional discovery and, after a hearing on the other matters, entered a final order and judgment approving the proposed partial settlement and denying the request for attorneys’ fees. While the appeal was pending before the Tenth Circuit, SandRidge filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. SandRidge gave notice of the bankruptcy court’s approval of the company’s plan of reorganization and filed a contemporaneous motion to dismiss the appeal as moot, contending that because company stock was cancelled as part of the bankruptcy, Hefner did not have standing to pursue a shareholder derivative claim; the relevant derivative claims were released and discharged as part of the reorganization, and the right to pursue derivative litigation vested in reorganized SandRidge. The Tenth Circuit agreed that Hefner's claims were moot, and finding no other reversible error, it appealed. View "Elliot v. Ward" on Justia Law

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First Western Capital Management (“FWCM”), and its parent company First Western Financial, Inc. (collectively, “First Western”), sought a preliminary injunction against former employee Kenneth Malamed for misappropriating trade secrets. In 2008, FWCM acquired Financial Management Advisors, LLC (“FMA”), an investment firm Malamed founded in 1985 primarily to serve high net worth individuals and entities such as trusts and foundations. After selling FMA, Malamed worked for FWCM from 2008 until FWCM terminated him on September 1, 2016. In early 2016, a committee of FWCM directors began discussing the possibility of selling FWCM to another company. Although Malamed was not involved in these discussions, he learned about the potential sale and, in a meeting with other FWCM officers, expressed his displeasure with the buyer under consideration. Following the meeting, Malamed emailed his assistant asking her to print three copies of his client book, which contained the names and contact information for approximately 5,000 FWCM contacts. Of these contacts, 331 were current FWCM clients and roughly half of those had been clients of FMA before First Western acquired it. The printout also contained spreadsheets that included, among other information, client names, the total market value of their holdings under management, and the fees being charged by FWCM. On September 1, 2016, shortly after Malamed’s employment contract expired, First Western fired him. That same day, First Western served him with a complaint it had filed in federal court a month earlier, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (“DTSA”), and the Colorado Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“CUTSA”), breach of employment contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. First Western moved for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prevent Malamed from soliciting FWCM’s clients. The district court excused First Western from demonstrating irreparable harm (one of the four elements a party seeking injunctive relief is typically required to prove) and granted the injunction. As applied here, the Tenth Circuit determined that if First Western could not show irreparable harm, it cannot obtain injunctive relief. The district court should not have entered the preliminary injunction here. View "First Western Capital v. Malamed" on Justia Law

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The Santa Cruz Operation, Inc. (Santa Cruz) entered into a business arrangement with International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) to develop a new operating system that would run on a more advanced processor manufactured by Intel Corporation (Intel). The parties signed an agreement memorializing this relationship, calling it “Project Monterey.” Another technology company, The SCO Group, Inc. (SCO), then acquired Santa Cruz’s intellectual property assets and filed this lawsuit for IBM’s alleged misconduct during and immediately after Project Monterey. SCO accused IBM of stealing and improperly using source code developed as part of the Project to strengthen its own operating system, thereby committing the tort of unfair competition by means of misappropriation. The district court awarded summary judgment to IBM on this claim based on the independent tort doctrine, which barred a separate tort action where there was no violation of a duty independent of a party’s contractual obligations. SCO also accused IBM of disclosing Santa Cruz’s proprietary materials to the computer programming community for inclusion in its Linux open-source operating system. In a separate order, finding insufficient evidence of actionable interference by IBM, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of IBM on these tortious interference claims. Finally, after the deadline for amended pleadings in this case, SCO sought leave to add a new claim for copyright infringement based on the allegedly stolen source code from Project Monterey. SCO claimed it had only discovered the essential facts to support this claim in IBM’s most recent discovery disclosures. The district court rejected SCO’s proposed amendment for failure to show good cause. SCO appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s order awarding IBM summary judgment on the misappropriation claim, and affirmed as to all other issues. View "SCO Group v. IBM" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Tenth Circuit in this case was whether an arbitrator exceeded his authority under section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and whether he manifestly disregarded the law in awarding certain costs and fees to the prevailing party. Under its restrictive standard of review, the Court concluded the arbitrator did not exceed his authority or manifestly disregard the law. View "THI of New Mexico at Vida Enca v. Lovato" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Corner Credit Union applied for a master account from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The Reserve Bank denied the application, effectively crippling the Credit Union’s business operations. The Credit Union sought an injunction requiring the Reserve Bank to issue it a master account. The district court dismissed the action, ruling that the Credit Union’s stated purpose, providing banking services to marijuana-related businesses, violated the Controlled Substances Act. The Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s order and remanded with instructions to dismiss the amended complaint without prejudice. By remanding with instructions to dismiss the amended complaint without prejudice, the Court’s disposition effectuated the judgment of two of three panel members who would allow the Fourth Corner Credit Union to proceed with its claims. The Court denied the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s motion to strike the Fourth Corner Credit Union’s reply-brief addenda. View "Fourth Corner Credit Union v. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas" on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of an employer whose employee sued for discrimination. The employer showed at trial that it fired the employee due to financial issues and the employee's performance issues. The employee could not rebut these reasons or otherwise show they were pretextual. View "DePaula v. Easter Seals El Mirador" on Justia Law