Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Defendant appealed his convictions for aggravated identity theft under 18 U.S.C. 1028A, for knowingly possessing and using the name, birth date, and social security number of another person when he applied to renew a Nevada driver’s license and when he submitted a Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form to his employer. The court addressed an issue of first impression and held that evidence of a defendant’s repeated submission of false identifying information as part of successful applications to a government agency is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to find that the defendant knew that the information belonged to a real person. Therefore, defendant's convictions were based upon sufficient evidence. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing defendant to a substantively reasonable sentence of 78-months in prison. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Doe" on Justia Law
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Timothy Blixseth and his wife, Edra, developed the Yellowstone Mountain Club, an exclusive ski and golf resort in Montana that caters to the “ultra-wealthy.” Edra subsequently filed for bankruptcy on behalf of the Yellowstone entities, and the U.S. Trustee appointed nine individuals to serve as the Unsecured Creditors' Committee (UCC). Blixseth suspected that his attorney, Stephen Brown, used confidential information to Blixseth’s detriment in the bankruptcy proceedings. Brown was one of the UCC members. Blixseth filed suit against Brown, but the district court held that it lacked jurisdiction because Blixseth did not first obtain the bankruptcy court’s permission to sue, as required by Barton v. Barbour. No court of appeals has held that Barton applies to suits against UCC members, but some have extended Barton to actors who are not bankruptcy trustees or receivers. Because creditors have interests that are closely aligned with those of a bankruptcy trustee, the court explained that there is good reason to treat the two the same for purposes of the Barton doctrine. Therefore, the court concluded that Barton applies to UCC members like Brown who are sued for acts performed in their official capacities. The court also concluded that Blixseth does not need permission from the bankruptcy court before bringing his pre-petition claims in district court. In this case, Blixseth's claims of misconduct are so intertwined with and dependent upon Brown's actions as a member of the UCC that it is impossible to separate the pre-petition claims from Brown’s activities on the UCC. However, the court concluded that Blixseth needed the bankruptcy court’s permission before bringing claims challenging conduct related to Brown's actions after he was appointed UCC chair in district court. Finally, the court concluded that the district court’s order did not afford Blixseth anything close to an independent decision by an Article III adjudicator; Stern v. Marshall does not preclude bankruptcy courts from adjudicating Barton claims; and the court remanded for the bankruptcy court to consider whether Brown is entitled to derived judicial immunity for Blixseth’s post-petition claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part. View "Blixseth v. Brown" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that officers used excessive force in violation of her constitutional rights. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Corporal Kisela, concluding that his actions were reasonable and that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The court concluded that, when viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the record does not support Corporal Kisela’s perception of an immediate threat. In this case, plaintiff did not raise the knife she was holding and did not make any aggressive or threatening actions toward another woman, Sharon Chadwick. Ms. Chadwick describes plaintiff as having been composed and non-threatening immediately prior to the shooting. The court concluded that material questions of fact, such as the severity of the threat, the adequacy of police warnings, and the potential for less intrusive means are plainly in dispute. Therefore, Corporal Kisela was not entitled to summary judgment with respect to the reasonableness of his actions. The court also concluded that Corporal Kisela is not entitled to qualified immunity where the facts present the police shooting a woman who was committing no crime and holding a kitchen knife. While the woman with the knife may have been acting erratically, was approaching a third party, and did not immediately comply with orders to drop the knife, a rational jury—accepting the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff—could find that she had a constitutional right to walk down her driveway holding a knife without being shot. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Hughes v. Kisela" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a native and citizen of Peru, seeks review of the BIA's refusal to consider his application for adjustment of status in proceedings limited to consideration of relief related to asylum. Petitioner fraudulently entered the United States under an Italian passport in order to gain the benefits of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The court joined its sister circuits and held that an ineligible alien who fraudulently enters under the VWP is bound by the VWP’s limitations, including its waiver of any challenge to deportation other than asylum. The court also concluded that the lack of a nexus to a protected ground is dispositive of petitioner's asylum and withholding of removal claims. Finally, with respect to the CAT claim, the court found nothing in the record compelling a contrary conclusion to that of the IJ. Accordingly, the court denied the petition. View "Riera-Riera v. Lynch" on Justia Law
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Oregon Coast is a non-profit corporation that operates tourist trains on a portion of track in Oregon that is owned by the Port of Tillamook Bay, a federally regulated railroad authorized by the Board. In 2014, the State sent Oregon Coast a cease and desist order, alleging that Oregon Coast’s repair work was violating a state “removal-fill law,” which, among other things, requires a state permit for the removal of any amount of material from waters designated as Essential Salmonid Habitat. Oregon Coast filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the removal-fill law is preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10101 et seq., which governs federal regulation of railroads. The court concluded that the repair work done by Oregon Coast under its agreement with the Port falls under the Board’s jurisdiction because the work is done under the auspices of a federally regulated rail carrier and is sufficiently related to the provision of transportation over the interstate rail network. The State’s removal-fill law is preempted as applied to this work, and the district court erred in concluding otherwise. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings because the district court’s rulings on the preliminary injunction, permanent injunction, and declaratory relief were all premised on this incorrect legal determination. View "Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, LLC v. State of Oregon Department of State Lands" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff, the developer of the computer code for the original John Madden Football game for the Apple II computer, filed a diversity action against EA, seeking contract damages in the form of unpaid royalties for Sega Madden and Super Nintendo Madden. The court concluded that the district court properly granted judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) to EA under the "intrinsic test" because the jury had no evidence of Apple II Madden or Sega Madden as a whole to enable it to make a subjective comparison. In this case, plaintiff's claims rest on the contention that the source code of the Sega Madden games infringed on the source code for Apple II Madden. But, none of the source code was in evidence. The jury therefore could not compare the works to determine substantial similarity. The court rejected plaintiff's argument that EA’s post-verdict Rule 50(b) motion for JMOL regarding the intrinsic test should not have been considered. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in dismissing the Super Nintendo derivative work claims where the Apple II and Super Nintendo processors have different instruction sizes and data word sizes; the court agreed with the district court that the jury could not have determined plaintiff's damages from the alleged breach to a reasonable certainty; and even if the district court erred, there was no harm because plaintiff's failure to introduce any source code precluded a finding that Super Nintendo Madden was a Derivative Work. Finally, the court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed the claim that EA used development aids to create non-derivative works because the claim is unsubstantiated. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Antonick v. Electronic Arts, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Jacob Newmaker was fatally shot by Officer Maxwell Soeth, Newmaker's parents filed suit against the City of Fortuna, Officer Soeth, and Fortuna Police Sergeant Ellebrecht. Plaintiffs alleged that Soeth used unconstitutionally excessive force by striking Newmaker multiple times with his police baton and then fatally shooting him. The district court granted summary judgment to Officer Soeth based on qualified immunity. The court held that the district court erred in granting qualified immunity to Officer Soeth. The court explained that summary judgment is not appropriate in 42 U.S.C. 1983 deadly force cases that turn on the officer’s credibility that is genuinely in doubt. In this case, a reasonable jury could conclude that Soeth and Ellebrecht were wrong when they claimed that Newmaker grabbed the baton. In the alternative, a reasonable jury could conclude, given the trajectory of the bullets through Newmaker’s body, that even if Newmaker had grabbed the baton Officer Soeth could not have fired his first shot while Newmaker was standing up and swinging the baton. Because this case requires a jury to sift through disputed factual contentions, the court concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Newmaker v. City of Fortuna" on Justia Law

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In November 2014, the Voters of Maui County passed a ballot initiative banning the cultivation and testing of genetically engineered (GE) plants. The district court granted the GE Parties’ motion for summary judgment filed in the Robert Ito Farm action and granted the County’s motion to dismiss filed in the Atay action. The district court found the Ordinance unenforceable because it was expressly and impliedly preempted by federal law, impliedly preempted by state law, and in excess of the County’s authority under the Maui County Charter. SHAKA appealed the district court’s judgment in both cases. The court concluded that SHAKA and other appellants have Article III standing based on the allegations of five individual appellants who allege that GE farming operations on Maui threaten economic harm to their organic, non-GE farms. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in denying SHAKA’s motion to remand to state court, and in denying SHAKA’s request for Rule 56(d) discovery. The court held that the Ordinance is expressly preempted by the Plant Protection Act, 7 U.S.C. 7756(b), to the extent that it bans GE plants that the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates as plant pests. The court held that the ban is not impliedly preempted by the Plant Protection Act in its application to GE crops that APHIS has deregulated, but is impliedly preempted in this application by Hawaii’s comprehensive state statutory scheme for the regulation of potentially harmful plants. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and its dismissal in two related actions related to the ordinance. View "Atay v. County of Maui" on Justia Law

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After the County approved a county ordinance prohibiting the growth, testing, and cultivation of genetically engineered crops, plaintiffs filed suit to enjoin and invalidate the Ordinance. Two public-interest citizens’ groups, Shaka and MOM Hui, filed motions to intervene. The magistrate judge granted Shaka’s motion to intervene but denied MOM Hui’s, finding that Shaka would adequately represent MOM Hui’s interests. The district court held that the magistrate judge had jurisdiction to rule on MOM Hui’s motion to intervene; any appeal from the magistrate judge’s order needed to be taken to the Ninth Circuit because the magistrate judge, having obtained the consent of the parties, had authority to enter a final decision under 28 U.S.C. 636(c)(1); and thus the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear MOM Hui’s appeal. The court agreed with the Seventh Circuit that a prospective intervenor is not a "party" as the term is used in section 636(c)(1). The court concluded that, because the magistrate judge had the consent of the parties and did not need the consent of MOM Hui, the magistrate judge had jurisdiction to rule on MOM Hui’s motion to intervene. Effectively presiding as a district judge over the suit, the court explained that the magistrate judge’s intervention order became immediately appealable to this court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Roberto Ito Farm, Inc. v. County of Maui" on Justia Law

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After Kauai County passed Ordinance 960 to regulate pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) plants, plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Ordinance. Plaintiffs are companies that supply seed for GE plants. The Ordinance requires commercial farmers to maintain “buffer zones” between crops to which pesticides are applied and certain surrounding properties, provide notifications before and after applying pesticides, and file annual reports disclosing the cultivation of GE crops. The Hawaii Pesticides Law, HRS Ch. 149A, and its implementing rules also regulate pesticides, including by imposing notification requirements and conditions of use, such as locations of permissible use. The district court held that the Ordinance's pesticide provisions are preempted by Hawaii state law. The court concluded that the Hawaii Pesticides Law preempts Ordinance 960's pesticide provisions because both address the same subject matter, the State's scheme for the regulation of pesticides is comprehensive; and the legislature clearly intended for the State’s regulation of pesticides to be uniform and exclusive. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendants’ motion to certify the preemption issues to the Hawaii Supreme Court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that the Hawaii Pesticides Law impliedly preempts Ordinance 960’s pesticide provisions; affirmed the district court’s conclusion that Hawaii law impliedly preempts Ordinance 960’s GE crop reporting provision in a concurrently filed memorandum disposition; and affirmed the district court’s denial of defendants’ motion to certify. View "Syngenta Seeds, Inc. v. County of Kauai" on Justia Law