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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging four instances of prison employees delivering legal mail addressed to him that had been opened before delivery, and that prison and prison officials maintained a policy or custom of ignoring the improper handling of legal mail. The district court dismissed the complaint at the pre-screening stage pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915A. The court recognized that prisoners have a protected First Amendment interest in having properly marked legal mail opened only in their presence; a plaintiff need not allege a longstanding practice of violating his First Amendment rights in order to state a claim for relief on a direct liability theory; a plaintiff need not show any actual injury beyond the free speech violation itself to state a constitutional claim; the district court properly dismissed two counts of alleged improper mail opening; the other two instances, however, do state a First Amendment claim; the district court erred in dismissing these two claims at the pre-screening stage; on remand, Defendant Burke may offer a legitimate penological reason for opening plaintiff's legal mail at either summary judgment or trial; and plaintiff waived any challenge to the dismissal of his policy-based claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Hayes v. Idaho Correctional Center" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of a billy club, appealed the district court's denial of his petition for habeas corpus. Petitioner claimed that the state trial court's failure to suppress his statements regarding the billy club after petitioner stated "I want my attorney" violated his Fifth Amendment rights under the principles set forth in Edwards v. Arizona. Petitioner contended that he was under arrest at the time the agent asked him to take a chemical test and was thus in custody at the time he unambiguously invoked his right to counsel. The court concluded that the Supreme Court has not addressed the question whether a defendant's request for counsel in response to a request to submit to a chemical test constitutes an invocation of his Miranda rights for purposes of any future custodial interrogations. Therefore, the court could not say that the state court's ruling was objectively unreasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Robertson v. Pichon" on Justia Law

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The State challenged the district court's grant of habeas relief to petitioner, finding that his state-court guilty plea was based on a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. The court held that Tollett v. Henderson does not bar petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Tollett, properly understood, provided that although freestanding constitutional claims are unavailable to habeas petitioners who plead guilty, claims of pre-plea ineffective assistance of counsel are cognizable on federal habeas review when the action, or inaction, of counsel prevents petitioner from making an informed choice whether to plead. The court explained that if the deputies unconstitutionally searched petitioner's home, counsel's failure to move to suppress the fruits of that search prevented petitioner from making the informed choice to which he was entitled. The court further held that the state court could reasonably conclude that counsel did not provide ineffective assistance in failing to move to suppress the firearms and ammunition. The court nonetheless concluded that the state habeas courts were not unreasonable in denying the writ where it would have been reasonable for the state courts to conclude that a motion to suppress, if brought, would likely have been denied. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of habeas corpus. View "Mahrt v. Beard" on Justia Law

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The court filed (1) an order amending its opinion and denying a petition for panel rehearing and a petition for rehearing en banc, and (2) an amended opinion reversing the district court's summary judgment in favor of the school district. Plaintiff filed suit to require the district court to provide her son L.J. with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq. Although the district court found that L.J. was disabled under three categories defined by the IDEA, it concluded that an IEP for specialized services was not necessary because of L.J.'s satisfactory performance in general education classes. The court concluded that the district court clearly erred because L.J. was receiving special services, including mental health counseling and assistance from a one-on-one paraeducator. The court pointed out the important distinction that these are not services offered to general education students. The court explained that the problem with the district court's analysis is that many of the services the district court viewed as general education services were in fact special education services tailored to L.J.'s situation. Because L.J. is eligible for special education, the school district must formulate an IEP. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for the district court to provide that remedy. The court also concluded that the school district clearly violated important procedural safeguards set forth in the IDEA when it failed to disclose assessments, treatment plans, and progress notes, which deprived L.J.'s mother of her right to informed consent. The school district failed to conduct a health assessment, which rendered the school district and IEP team unable to evaluate and address L.J.'s medication and treatment related needs. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "L. J. v. Pittsburg Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a county correctional officer, filed suit alleging that the county sheriff created a sexually hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Cal. Gov't Code 12900 et seq. Plaintiff alleged, among other things, that defendant greeted her with unwelcome hugs on more than one hundred occasions, and a kiss at least once, during a 12-year period. The district court granted summary judgment for the sheriff and the county. The court concluded that a reasonable juror could conclude that the differences in hugging of men and women were not, as defendants argue, just "genuine but innocuous differences in the ways men and women routinely interact with members of the same sex and of the opposite sex." The court also held that the district court's contrary conclusion may have been influenced by application of incorrect legal standards. In this case, the district court had not properly considered the totality of the circumstances where the district court failed to consider whether a reasonable juror would find that hugs, in the kind, number, frequency, and persistence described by plaintiff, created a hostile work environment. The court concluded that plaintiff submitted evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that, even if the sheriff also hugged men on occasion, there were "qualitative and quantitative differences" in the hugging conduct toward the two genders. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Zetwick v. County of Yolo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the county and certain county officials after she was terminated as a litigation attorney for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office (MCAO). Before her termination, county officials requested that she not be assigned further cases in which the county was a party and which involved risk management. A jury returned a verdict for plaintiff, finding that she was terminated in retaliation for her exercise of First Amendment rights in speaking to a newspaper reporter, and against certain county officials for state-law based tortious interference with her employment contract. The court concluded that no reasonable jury could conclude that the county's risk management office was not the client. Therefore, the court reversed the tortious interference with contract judgment because Defendants Wilson and Armfield's conduct was not improper. With the legally defined scope of an attorney's duties in mind, the court explained that it becomes obvious that plaintiff's comments to the newspaper could not constitute constitutionally protected citizen speech under the principles from Dahlia v. Rodriguez. Accordingly, the court reversed the First Amendment retaliation verdict. The court remanded for the district court to enter judgment for defendants and vacated the fee award. View "Brandon v. Maricopa County" on Justia Law

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Washington and Minnesota filed suit challenging President Trump's Executive Order 13769 which, among other changes to immigration policies and procedures, bans for 90 days the entry into the United States of individuals from seven countries, suspends for 120 days the United States Refugee Admissions Program, and suspends indefinitely the entry of all Syrian refugees. In this emergency proceeding, the Government moves for an emergency stay of the district court's temporary restraining order while its appeal of that order proceeds. The court noted the extraordinary circumstances of this case and determined that the district court's order possesses the qualities of an appealable preliminary injunction. The court held that the States have made a sufficient showing to support standing, at least at this preliminary stage of the proceedings, where they argued that the Executive Order causes a concrete and particularized injury to their public universities, which the parties do not dispute are branches of the States under state law. The court concluded that there is no precedent to support the Government's position that the President's decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections. The court explained that the Government's claim runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy. Therefore, although courts owe considerable deference to the President's policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action. The court concluded that the Government has not shown that it is likely to succeed on the merits regarding its argument about, at least, the States' Due Process Clause claim, and the court noted the serious nature of the allegations the States have raised with respect to their religious discrimination claims. The court held that the procedural protections provided by the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause are not limited to citizens; rather, they apply to all persons within the United States, including aliens, regardless of whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent. Finally, the balance of hardships and the public interest do not favor a stay. Accordingly, the court denied the emergency motion for a stay pending appeal. View "State of Washington v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was fired for theft and dishonesty from WinCo after twelve years of employment because she took a stale cake from the store bakery to the break room to share with fellow employees and told a loss prevention investigator that management had given her permission to do so. WinCo also determined that plaintiff's behavior rose to the level of gross misconduct under the store's personnel policies, denied plaintiff and her minor children benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA), 29 U.S.C. 1161(a), 1163(2), and denied plaintiff credit for accrued vacation days. Plaintiff filed suit for gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., a claim under COBRA; and wage claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq., as well as corresponding state law claims. The district court granted summary judgment for WinCo. The court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's discrimination claims where ample circumstantial evidence, as well as powerful direct evidence of a supervisor's discriminatory comments, raise a material dispute regarding pretext; if WinCo fired plaintiff for discriminatory reasons, she may be entitled to COBRA benefits and thus the district court erred in dismissing that claim; and, likewise, the district court erred in dismissing the wage claims. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Mayes v. WinCo Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner, convicted of attempted murders while he was under the influence of drug and alcohol, appealed the dismissal of his habeas petition. The court concluded that petitioner's petition was only partially exhausted and he should have been allowed to delete the unexhausted claims and proceed on the exhausted claims if his motion to stay and abey the case were denied. The court did not remand the case to allow petitioner the option of deleting his unexhausted claims because the district court should have granted his request to stay his case. Here, petitioner has established good cause because he was not represented by counsel in his state postconviction proceeding; at least one of petitioner's claims is not "plainly meritless;" and the state concedes that he has not engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with instructions. View "Dixon v. Baker" on Justia Law