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Date: 09-15-2017

Case Style:

Theresia Renee Breen v. Jamie Black; Allyson Black

United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Denver, Colorado

Case Number: 16-8105

Judge: Terren L. O'Brien

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on appeal from the District of Wyoming (Laramie County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

Defendant's Attorney:

Description: After contentious divorce and child custody proceedings, Theresia Renee
Breen filed this lawsuit against her ex-husband, Jamie Black, and his wife, Allyson
Black. She raised a variety of claims, including civil stalking, tortious interference
with existing business relations, slander, and libel. The district court entered a
summary judgment in favor of the Blacks on all claims, citing Breen’s failure to
provide sufficient admissible evidence to support her allegations. We affirm.
We review the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, applying
the same legal standard as the district court. Cillo v. City of Greenwood Vill.,
739 F.3d 451, 461 (10th Cir. 2013). Summary judgment must be granted if “there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Conversely, “[t]o avoid summary judgment,
the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Vitkus v. Beatrice Co., 11 F.3d 1535, 1539 (10th Cir. 1993). The
nonmovant must identify sufficient evidence pertinent to the material issues of the
case; “[c]onclusory allegations . . . will not suffice.” Diaz v. Paul J. Kennedy Law
Firm, 289 F.3d 671, 675 (10th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). A
motion for summary judgment improvidently denied is equally inappropriate as one
improvidently granted.
Breen makes three arguments on appeal. She first tells us the Blacks did not
meet their initial burden to make “a prima facie demonstration of the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.” Adler
v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670-71 (10th Cir. 1998). We see it
differently. Because the Blacks will not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, they
can meet their initial burden “simply by pointing out to the court a lack of evidence
for the nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant’s claim.” See id. at 671.
The Blacks satisfied this standard by delineating the elements of the claims in their
summary judgment motion and asserting a lack of admissible evidence to support
those elements. The burden then shifted to Breen to go beyond her pleadings by
setting forth facts, in the form of affidavits, deposition transcripts, or other
documents listed in Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. See Adler, 144 F.3d at 671. Those facts must
not only be admissible as evidence, but must reveal a genuine dispute as to a material
fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
In her second argument, Breen contests the fairness of the summary judgment
hearing. After she filed an opposition brief, the district judge allowed both sides to
present further arguments at a motions hearing. There, the Blacks challenged the
admissibility of Breen’s evidence (which consisted largely of her own affidavit) on
hearsay and foundational grounds. Feeling “sandbagged,” Aplt. Corrected Opening
Br. at 10, Breen contends the Blacks should have raised this challenge in their
opening brief; she also faults the district judge for not giving her an adequate
opportunity to respond. Her first contention is a non-starter—the Blacks could not
have challenged the admissibility of the affidavit’s contents in their opening brief
because Breen’s affidavit was not then available; it appeared only after the Blacks’
brief was filed. Moreover, the admissibility of Breen’s “evidence” was a legitimate
topic: affidavits used to oppose summary judgment must “be made on personal
knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the
affiant . . . is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4).
With respect to the second contention, the hearing transcript shows Breen was
afforded an adequate opportunity to present and support her claims and even to
correct numerous citation deficiencies in her opposition brief.
Finally, Breen insists she established genuine issues of material fact sufficient
to preclude summary judgment. That is hardly the case. In its summary judgment
order, the district judge went through the elements of each claim and carefully
explained why Breen had not provided sufficient admissible evidence to support any
claim or to create a genuine dispute of material fact, taking into account the
applicable statutes of limitation. We have nothing to add to that thorough and cogent
We affirm the summary judgment on all claims. In addition, we deny Breen’s
motion to supplement the appellate record with deposition excerpts not included in
the district court record. “[W]e conduct [our] review from the perspective of the
district court at the time it made its ruling,” reviewing only those materials
adequately brought to the judge’s attention. Adler, 144 F.3d at 671; see, e.g., Allen v.
Minnstar, Inc., 8 F.3d 1470, 1474-76 & n.4 (10th Cir. 1993) (declining to consider
deposition transcripts because they were not before the district judge who made the
summary judgment ruling). We have “an inherent equitable power to supplement the
record on appeal with matters that were not before the district court,” United States v.
Balderama-Iribe, 490 F.3d 1199, 1202 n.4 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks
omitted), but Breen has not persuaded us such a “rare exception” to Federal Rule of
Appellate Procedure 10(e) is appropriate here, see United States v. Kennedy,
225 F.3d 1187, 1192 (10th Cir. 2000).

Outcome: Affirmed

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:


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