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

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The United States Supreme Court held in Riley v. California, that the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before they may search an arrestee’s cell phone. The court held that binding appellate precedent at the time of the searches in defendant's case, which was two years before the Riley decision, provided a reasonable basis to believe the searches were constitutional. Therefore, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies to the evidence obtained from those searches. The court adopted its sister circuits’ test for evaluating harmlessness in the context of a conditional guilty plea and concluded that defendant must be given an opportunity to vacate his guilty plea if he so wishes because the Government has not met its burden of establishing harmlessness under that test. The court held that the standard that governs harmless error review in Rule 11(a)(2) appeals is whether the government has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the erroneously denied suppression motion did not contribute to the defendant’s decision to plead guilty. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "United States v. Lustig" on Justia Law
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Defendant appealed his conviction for various drug trafficking and money laundering offenses. The court joined its sister circuits in holding explicitly that Luce applies to in limine rulings under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b). That is, in order to appeal a Rule 404(b) pretrial ruling, the evidence subject to that ruling must be presented at trial. In this case, defendant's prior conviction was never introduced at trial because he chose not to testify. Therefore, the court held that Luce barred defendant's claim on appeal and affirmed the district court's judgment as to this issue. The court also affirmed the district court’s denial of defendant's motion to sever counts because he has failed to show any prejudice from joinder. View "United States v. Prigge" on Justia Law
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Defendant, then a 67-year-old retired engineer turned tax preparer, was convicted of 32 federal offenses arising from a tax fraud scheme. Defendant was sentenced to fifteen years in prison and ordered to pay just over $500,000 in restitution. The court held that 18 U.S.C. 1546(a) does not apply to U.S. passports or U.S. passport cards. Thus, the district court erred by denying defendant’s motion for judgment of acquittal as to Counts 33 and 34. The court concluded that the district court clearly erred in holding that the conduct at issue in the second case, where defendant was not convicted, was sufficiently “related” to the conduct at issue in the first case to warrant inclusion of losses in the second case in the order for restitution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3663A(a)(2). Consequently, the court concluded that although ordering restitution for related conduct that did not result in a conviction was within “statutory bounds,” the order for restitution, here, was an abuse of discretion. The United States concedes, and the court agreed, that the wrong version of USSG 2B1.1(b)(2)(C) was used and that this error requires remand to resolve the determination of the number of victims; the primary flaw with the “intended loss” finding, here, is that the district court improperly considered the intended loss from the second case, even though the second case did not involve “relevant conduct,” under USSG 1B1.3(a)(2); the United States nowhere identifies evidence establishing - or identified by the district court as the basis for a finding - that specific challenged amounts of intended loss in the first case were, in fact, actual or intended losses; the district court erroneously applied the identity theft specific offense characteristic under USSG 2B1.1(b)(11)(C); the district court properly imposed the “sophisticated means” enhancement under USSG 2B1.1(b)(9)(C); because the court vacated defendant's conviction on Count 33, no cross-reference is applicable and the district court must recalculate the sentence on remand; the district court properly applied the enhancement for “abuse of trust” under USSG 3B1.3; and the district court properly applied an "obstruction of justice" enhancement under USSG 3C1.1. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. View "United States v. Thomsen" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs' fouth amended complaint alleged that, in addition to dumping hazardous substances into the Columbia River, Teck also emitted hazardous substances into the air, in violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9607(a)(3). The Ninth Circuit issued Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice v. BNSF Railway Co., which held that emitting diesel particulate matter into the air and allowing it to be “transported by wind and air currents onto the land and water” did not constitute “disposal” of waste within the meaning of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq. The court held that the owner-operator of the smelter can not be held liable for cleanup costs and natural resource damages under CERCLA. The court concluded that, while plaintiffs present an arguably plausible construction of “deposit” and “disposal,” Carson Harbor Vill Ltd. v. Unocal Corp., compels the court to hold otherwise, and while Center for Community Action does not totally foreclose plaintiffs’ interpretation of CERCLA, its textual analysis of 42 U.S.C. 6903(3) is persuasive. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's orders denying Teck’s motion to strike and/or dismiss and motion for reconsideration, and remanded for the processing of plaintiffs’ remaining claims. View "Pakootas v. Teck Cominco Metals" on Justia Law
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After petitioner, a lawful permanent resident, was convicted of one count of trafficking in counterfeit goods in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2320(a), USCIS denied petitioner her application for naturalization. USCIS concluded that petitioner had been convicted of an offense involving fraud or deceit with a loss to the victim of over $10,000, an aggravated felony under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(M)(i). The court held that a conviction under section 2320 does not necessarily involve fraud or deceit because a defendant can be convicted of trafficking in counterfeit goods for conduct that is merely likely to cause “mistake” or “confusion.” Therefore, petitioner's conviction was not an aggravated felony under section 1101(a)(43)(M)(i). The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Lifeng Wang v. Rodriquez" on Justia Law
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Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for tax related charges. The court concluded that ample evidence supported the guilty verdicts on the levy counts where the jury found that defendant's partnership draws were remuneration paid for professional services (legal services), defined on a yearly basis (based on the year’s profits), and payable at regular intervals (monthly), rendering them a “salary" under 26 U.S.C. 6331(e); the court rejected defendant's argument that the district court erred in not dismissing the levy counts because they exceeded the three-year statute of limitations, and held that the six-year statute of limitations applies to violations of 26 U.S.C. 7206(4); and the district court properly rejected defendant's res judicata argument that the government should be precluded from pursuing a criminal action concerning the assets and tax liabilities the bankruptcy court already discharged, and the court held that the IRS in a bankruptcy action and the United States government in a criminal action are not in privity. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. The court resolved defendant's other arguments in a concurrently-filed memorandum disposition. View "United States v. Wandland" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff filed a putative class action against her former employer, Dignity Health, alleging that the company has not maintained its pension plan in compliance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. Although Dignity Health concedes it has not complied with ERISA, it contends that the plan qualifies for ERISA’s church-plan exemption. The district court awarded partial summary judgment to plaintiff, ruling that Dignity Health’s pension plan must comply with ERISA. The court agreed with its sister circuits and held that a church plan must be established by a church or by a convention or association of churches, and maintained either by a church or by a principal-purpose organization. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rollins v. Dignity Health" on Justia Law
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In this companion case to Van Dusen v. Swift, No. 15-15257 (“Van Dusen III”), Swift seeks a writ of mandamus ordering the district court to vacate its case management order and decide the petition to compel arbitration without discovery or trial. The court concluded that the Bauman factors weigh against the grant of mandamus relief; Swift has a remedy in urging its position before the district court in dispositive motions and, if the district court is adverse to Swift, in the form of direct appeal following the issuance of a final order; normal litigation expense does not constitute sufficient prejudice to warrant relief, and the discovery cost has already been incurred; and most crucially, in the absence of controlling precedent, the district court order was not clearly erroneous. Accordingly, the court concluded that Swift is not entitled to the extraordinary relief of the issuance of a writ of mandamus. View "In re Swift Transportation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Swift misclassified her and others as independent contractors, as well as alleging violations of federal and state labor laws. On appeal, plaintiff objected that section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1, prevented the district court from compelling arbitration. The district court granted Swift's motion to compel arbitration. The court clarified that the district court - not the arbitrator - must decide the section 1 issue. The district court then set out to determine the section 1 exemption issue. Swift moved for an order to stay proceedings, including discovery, and for an order setting a briefing schedule to determine the section 1 issue without resort to discovery and trial. The district court denied Swift’s motion. It also concluded that the order was not immediately appealable. The court concluded that that, absent statutory authorization, district court certification, or application of the collateral doctrine, the court lacked appellate jurisdiction over the appeal and dismissed. In this case, this is not an appeal from a motion explicitly brought under the FAA or unmistakably invoking its remedies. Because the district court did not deny a petition to order arbitration to proceed, there is no jurisdiction under section 16(a)(1)(B). View "Van Dusen v. Swift Transportation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Leah Manzari, famous under her professional name, Danni Ashe, for her groundbreaking work in monetizing online pornography, filed a defamation suit claiming that the Daily Mail Online, an online news outlet, used a photograph of her to convey the defamatory impression that she had tested positive for HIV. The Daily Mail filed an interlocutory appeal under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 425.15. The court agreed with the district court that, at this stage in the litigation, Manzari has presented sufficient evidence to move forward with her claim that the Daily Mail Online employees acted with actual malice when they published the article implying that Manzari was an HIV-positive sex worker. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the Daily Mail's motion to strike the complaint. View "Manzari v. Associated Newspapers" on Justia Law