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

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Appellant, an Idaho state prisoner, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction and capital sentence for two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder, and one count of grand theft. The district court denied the petition. Appellant subsequently filed a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) and 60(d) for relief from the district court’s judgment, arguing (1) Martinez v. Ryan gives cause for the state-law procedural default of three of the claims he raised in his initial federal habeas petition; and (2) he was entitled to relief under Rules 60(b)(6) and 60(d)(3) because the state’s attorneys perpetrated a fraud on the federal district court. A panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Appellant’s claims related to judicial bias were not the type of claims that could be pursued under Martinez; (2) Appellant’s claim relating to his counsel’s conflict of interest did not satisfy this circuit’s test for establishing cause to excuse procedural default under Martinez; and (3) Appellant failed to establish a factual basis to show that the state Attorney General’s office perpetrated a fraud on the court during Appellant’s federal habeas proceedings. View "Pizzuto v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

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A panel of the Ninth Circuit previously affirmed Barry Bonds’s conviction of one count of obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1503. The conviction arose from Bonds’s testimony before a grand jury about his suspected use of steroids. The conviction was based on Bonds’s rambling, non-responsive answer to a simple question. In this revised opinion, the Ninth Circuit vacated the conviction and sentence for obstruction of justice, holding that because there was insufficient evidence that Bonds’s statement that the jury found to be obstructive was material, his conviction for obstruction of justice was not supported by the record. View "United States v. Bonds" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed this state law negligence action against two park maintenance employees of the City of Portland after she fell and was injured while jogging in one of Portland’s parks. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, concluding (1) Defendants were “owners” of the park for purposes of the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act and were hence entitled to immunity under the Act; and (2) granting Defendants immunity under Act did not violate the remedy clause of the Oregon Constitution. Plaintiff appealed the adverse judgment. The parties subsequently filed a joint motion to certify two questions to the Oregon Supreme Court: (1) whether city maintenance workers are “owners” of the park and therefore entitled to immunity under the Act; and (2) if so, whether the Act violates the remedy clause of the Oregon Constitution. Because there is no controlling precedent on these questions in the decisions of the Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals, the Ninth Circuit certified them to the Oregon Supreme Court. View "Johnson v. Gibson" on Justia Law

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Defendant, who operated as a small-time pimp, was convicted of sex-trafficking offenses in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Defendant appealed his convictions as to four counts for violations of the TVPA, arguing, among other things, that the district court misstated the law in its jury instructions. A panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) when Congress used the language “in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce” in the TVPA, it intended to exercise its full powers under the Commerce Clause; (2) any individual instance of conduct regulated by the TVPA need only have a de minimis effect on interstate commerce, and accordingly, the district court did not err when it instructed the jury that “any act that crosses state lines is ‘in’ interstate commerce” and “an act or transaction that is economic in nature” and “affects the flow of money in the stream of commerce to any degree ‘affects’ interstate commerce”; and (3) the jury instruction did not essentially direct a verdict on the element of interstate commerce. View "United States v. Walls" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Criminal Law
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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of illegal reentry. The district court entered an order revoking supervised release based on that conviction. Defendant appealed, arguing, among other things, that the district court erred in rejecting his challenges to three of the government’s peremptory strikes under Batson v. Kentucky. A panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court erred in failing to reach the third step of the Batson framework without evaluating the persuasiveness of the government’s facially neutral reason for its peremptory strikes of three Hispanic individuals in the venire, but Defendant failed to show purposeful discrimination, and the record did not support such a finding on de novo review; and (2) the district court’s supplemental jury instruction, which clarified that the insanity defense would not apply if, while Defendant was illegally present in the United States, Defendant was sane for a long enough period to have left the country, was substantially correct and not coercive. View "United States v. Alvarez-Ulloa" on Justia Law

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After a series of unsuccessful appeals to an ERISA plan administrator after the administrator’s decision to deny him long-term disability benefits, Plaintiff brought this action under 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The district court affirmed. The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment, holding that the district court erred in reviewing the denial of benefits for an abuse of discretion, rather than de novo, when a Summary Plan Description conferred discretionary authority upon the plan administrator but an insurance certificate, a governing plan document, did not. Remanded for the district court to review the plan administrator’s denial of benefits de novo. View "Prichard v. Metro. Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law
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Posted in: ERISA
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Defendants were sisters who each pleaded guilty to two counts of sex trafficking of children in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1591. Defendants’ sentences included enhancements under U.S.S.G. 2G1.3(b)(3)(4)(A), because sex acts were actually committed by the minors, and under U.S.S.G. 2G1.3(b)(2)(B), for undue influence. Defendants challenged the application of both enhancements in these consolidated appeals. A panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed the sentences, holding (1) the district court’s application of U.S.S.G. § 2G1.3(b)(4)(A) did not constitute double counting because “commission of a sex act or sexual contact” is not an element of a conviction under section 1591; and (2) the district court properly applied an enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2G1.3(b)(2)(B) for undue influence because the record supported the district court’s factual finding of undue influence for all three minors, and evidence of the minor victims’ willingness did not compel reversal of the district court’s finding. View "United States v. Hornbuckle" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Criminal Law
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Thirteen inmates in custody throughout the Arizona prison system brought a class action suit against senior officials in the Arizona Department of Corrections alleging that they were subjected to systemic Eighth Amendment violations. The district court certified a class consisting of 33,000 prisoners incarcerated in the Arizona prison system, concluding that the putative class and subclass of inmates satisfied the requirements of class certification set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 23. A panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Plaintiffs satisfied Rule 23(a)(2). The panel subsequently voted to deny the petition for rehearing en banc. Judge Ikuta filed a dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc concurrently with this order, arguing that all members of this diverse class of prisoners did not have an Eighth Amendment claim, alone a common claim, and therefore the certification ran afoul of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, Lewis v. Casey, and the Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. View "Parsons v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of twelve felony counts related to a complex mortgage fraud scheme. Defendant filed two motions for a new trial, arguing that the government violated Brady v. Maryland by withholding material exculpatory evidence and violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. The district court denied the motions, concluding that Defendant’s rights under Brady and the Fourth Amendment had not been violated. A panel of the Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s orders denying Defendant’s motions for a new trial and remanded, holding that the district court (1) abused its discretion in denying Defendant’s requests for an evidentiary hearing and for discovery; (2) should reconsider Defendant’s Brady claims on an open record, in conjunction with the additional disclosure with which Defendant sought to augment the record on appeal; and (3) erred in concluding that an employee’s copying of documents from Defendant’s real estate and investment offices was not a search implicating the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Mazzarella" on Justia Law

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In 1991, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington and the State of Washington signed a tribal-state gaming compact (the Tulalip Compact), which has since been amended numerous times. The Spokane Tribe did not participate in the collective negotiation process that led to the Tulalip Compact. In 2007, a compact between the Spokane Tribe and the State (the Spokane Compact) became effective. In 2010, Tulalip requested negotiations with the State to amend its compact to enable Tulalip to acquire additional licenses to video player terminals licenses to video player terminals for Class III gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. When negotiations broke down, Tulalip initiated suit, asserting that the “most-favored tribe” clause in the Tulalip Compact entitled it to the amendment because the mechanism was available to the Spokane Tribe but unavailable to Tulalip. The district court granted summary judgment to the State and denied Tulalip’s cross-motion for summary judgment. A panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the most-favored tribe clause did not require the State to adopt Tulalip’s proposed amendment because the amendment did not mirror the restrictions set forth the Spokane compact. View "Tulalip Tribes of Washington v. State of Washington" on Justia Law