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

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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After the district court denied attorney Larry Klayman's application to be admitted pro hac vice in the high-profile criminal trial of Cliven Bundy, Bundy sought a writ of mandamus to force the district court to admit Klayman. The court denied relief, concluding that the district court had more than ample cause to turn down Klayman’s application: he is involved in an ethics proceeding before the District of Columbia Bar, and he was not candid with the court about the status of those proceedings; he disclosed that he was twice barred in perpetuity from appearing pro hac vice before judges in the Central District of California and the Southern District of New York, but he failed to list numerous cases—all available on Westlaw or LEXIS—in which he has been reprimanded, denied pro hac vice status, or otherwise sanctioned for violating various local rules; and he has a record of going after judges personally, and shortly after Chief Judge Gloria Navarro denied his application, Bundy filed a frivolous Bivens action against her in her own court. View "Bundy v. US District Court for the District of Nevada, Las Vegas" on Justia Law
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A fifth-grade student and her mother filed suit against the school district and its employees because the student allegedly experienced retaliation after the mother complained to the school principal about the student's teacher. The district court dismissed the First Amendment retaliation claim without prejudice; plaintiffs failed to meet the filing deadline, and the school district filed a proposed judgment of dismissal; plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint (SAC) the following day; the district court then entered a final judgment dismissing the First Amended Complaint, citing plaintiff's failure to file the SAC within the time allowed; and plaintiffs moved for relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1) based on excusable neglect. The district court found that counsel's neglect was not excusable and the district court, in the meantime, moved for attorney's fees under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), Cal. Gov't Code 6259(d). The district court denied the fees. Plaintiffs appeal both the district court’s judgment of dismissal and the order denying relief from judgment. Defendants cross-appeal a portion of the dismissal order and the order denying attorney’s fees. The court concluded that the district court’s decision cannot be supported by the record and thus it abused its discretion by denying plaintiffs relief from judgment under Rule 60(b)(1). The court also concluded that plaintiffs' CPRA claim was neither indisputably without merit nor prosecuted for an improper motive. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "M.D. v. Newport-Mesa Unified School District" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Wood plaintiffs, who were recipients of health coverage under Arizona's Medicaid demonstration project, filed suit against the Secretary challenging her approval of a new Arizona project that raised copayments for medical visits and medications and that permitted healthcare providers to refuse non-emergency services based on an inability to pay. At issue on appeal is whether the members of the class action were the prevailing parties for purposes of attorneys’ fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412. The court applied the factors in Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Va. Dep’t of Health & Human Res., holding that under the EAJA, the Wood plaintiffs are the prevailing party in their procedural Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A), challenge against the Secretary. The court noted that the dispositive question is not whether the plaintiff ultimately obtained some form of substantive relief, but rather whether there is a lasting alteration in the legal relationship between the parties. The court concluded that there was a material alteration in the legal relationship of the parties, to the benefit of the Wood plaintiffs. Finally, the court concluded that the retention of jurisdiction for practical and equitable reasons did not undermine the reality that the Wood plaintiffs were a prevailing party. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded to the district court to consider whether the government’s position was “substantially justified” under the EAJA. View "Wood v. Burwell" on Justia Law

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MLTF substantially prevailed in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, action filed against the Government. MLTF filed a motion for attorney fees pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(E), requesting that the court award it fees consistent with the current billing rates for its attorneys. The district court (Ware, C.J.) granted the motion in part, awarding MLTF attorney fees calculated at $200 an hour, which was well below the current billing rates for its attorneys. The district court (Rogers, J.), upon the Government’s motion to consider the issue de novo, determined that the first judge had not erred in awarding only $200 an hour. The court concluded that notwithstanding MLTF’s failure to designate for appeal Judge Ware’s underlying fee order, MLTF’s intent to appeal the underlying fee award is apparent from both the factual circumstances and MLTF’s extensive briefing on the issue; the Government also cannot demonstrate prejudice; and thus the court chose to exercise its discretion and consider the appeal on the merits of Judge Ware's underlying fee award. On the merits, the court concluded that, consistent with its burden, MLTF provided substantial evidence of the prevailing market rate for the applicable periods. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's fee award and remanded for a recalculation of the appropriate rate. Finally, the court concluded that MLTF falls within the class of litigants entitled to attorney fees on appeal, and MLTF may request attorney fees on appeal in accordance with Ninth Circuit Rule 39-1.6. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Hiken v. Dep't of Defense" on Justia Law
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After the parties reached a settlement, the district court granted $585,000 in fees to Class Counsel, which reflected a reduction of requested fees of approximately 70 percent. It also reduced Class Counsel’s costs reimbursement to $20,588.17. The district court also found that Class Counsel inadequately supported its claim for expert fees, and denied Objectors' fee request in its entirety. Both Plaintiffs and Objectors appealed. The court held that, in a class action, an objector need not establish standing to object to an award of attorney’s fees by the district court; if an objector seeks to appeal an award of fees to class counsel, he must independently satisfy Article III standing; nevertheless, an objector has standing to appeal a denial of his own claim for fees; and, in this case, Objectors are not yet entitled to attorney's fees because the court vacated and remanded the district court's decision reducing Class Counsel's fees. The court concluded that the district court was well within its discretion to use the lodestar method to calculate fees. However, the district court abused its discretion by failing to specifically articulate its reasoning for such a large disparity between the requested fees and the reduction from Class Counsel's computed lodestar fee. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's order and remanded. On remand, the district court should (1) clearly provide reasons for the factors in its lodestar computation; (2) expressly consider both a risk multiplier and the Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., factors; and (3) base its decision on facts supported by the record. View "Stetson v. Grissom" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff, a California-based dentist specializing in tooth implants, filed a class action complaint against Nobel alleging a defect in the NobelDirect implant. On appeal, Nobel challenges the district court's order awarding class counsel more than $2.3 million in attorneys’ fees. The court concluded that defendants have not waived their due process argument where the record demonstrates that defendants raised the issue with sufficient specificity and vigor. On the merits, the court concluded that the district court’s use over defendants’ objection of ex parte, in camera submissions to support its fee order violated defendants’ due process rights. The court remanded for the district court to allow defendants access to the information at issue, to allow plaintiffs to respond to defendants' objections and for defendants to reply, and then the district court can decide the appropriate fee award. The court concluded that the district court’s discount of the lodestar for lack of success was not erroneous because the district court concisely and clearly explained its reduction of the lodestar, and because there was sufficient support for its finding that plaintiffs' claims were related to a common goal. The court agreed that the district court likely overstated its monetary valuation of the settlement. But where, as here, classwide benefits are not easily monetized, a cross-check is entirely discretionary. The court vacated the fee order and remanded. View "Yamada v. Nobel Biocare Holding AG" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff, a lawyer in California, filed suit challenging California’s procedures for attorney discipline. Plaintiff alleged that California violated her constitutional rights by not providing her meaningful judicial review in a fee dispute between herself and a client, and that the rules governing the California State Bar’s disciplinary procedures are facially unconstitutional. The court agreed with the State Bar that plaintiff's as-applied challenges are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. However, the court concluded that the State Bar misreads this Court’s statute-of-limitations decision in Action Apartment Ass’n, Inc. v. Santa Monica Rent Control Board, which only applies to facial challenges involving property rights. In this case, plaintiff's facial claims are not time-barred because she filed her claim well within the two-year statute of limitations. On the merits, the court concluded that plaintiff's facial claims based on California’s state constitution fail because they have already been rejected by the Supreme Court of California. The court concluded that, contrary to plaintiff's contentions, People v. Kelly did not overrule In re Rose, which stated that it is fundamental that state courts be left free and unfettered by the federal courts in interpreting their state constitutions. Plaintiff's First Amendment claims are unsupported because the court was aware of no case holding that the First Amendment provides a freestanding right for an individual to have a state court hear her dispute in the absence of some asserted state or federal cause of action, statutory or judge-made. Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process and Equal Protection claims also fail where California's change in its attorney discipline procedures are not so significant as to create a due process violation. While the regulation of lawyers in California is unlike California’s regulation of any other professionals, plaintiff has not demonstrated that this regulatory scheme violates Equal Protection. California’s decision to regulate lawyers principally via a judicially supervised administrative body attached to the State Bar of California, the organization of all state-licensed lawyers, is rational and so constitutional. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Scheer v. Kelly" on Justia Law

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Appellants and appellees are two teams of named plaintiffs and their respective lawyers who disagree over the proper direction for a consumer class action settlement. In Radcliffe I, the court held that appellees created a conflict of interest by conditioning incentive awards for the class representatives on their approval of the proposed settlement agreement. On remand, appellants moved the district court to disqualify appellees’ counsel from representing the class based on that conflict. The court agreed with the district court that California does not apply a rule of automatic disqualification for conflicts of simultaneous representation in the class action context, and concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that appellees’ counsel will adequately represent the class. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the qualification motion. View "Radcliffe v. Experian Info. Solutions" on Justia Law

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Petitioner and her son prevailed at both hearings concerning their due process complaint against the District. At issue on appeal is the district court's award of attorney fees, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1415, to petitioner's attorney, Tania Whiteleather. The district court awarded $7,780 in fees, substantially less than the $66,420 requested. The court concluded that the outcome of the administrative hearing was not more favorable to petitioner than the District's settlement offer and petitioner was not substantially justified in rejecting the settlement offer. The court concluded that it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to apply the $400 rate without seeking additional rebuttal evidence from the District. Finally, the court concluded that petitioner's claim for paralegal fees was barred by collateral estoppel because the district court had already concluded that Dr. Susan Burnett was an education consultant in the expedited hearing appeal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Beauchamp v. Anaheim Union High Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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After the parties reached a settlement in a securities class action, the district court approved the settlement and awarded attorneys' fees. Class counsel appealed, contending that the fee award was arbitrary. The court concluded that the district court's choice to apply the lodestar method, rather than the percentage-of-fund method, was well within the district court’s discretion. However, the court vacated and remanded for recalculation of the fee, concluding that the district court's near total failure to explain the basis of its award was an abuse of discretion. View "McGee v. China Electric Motor, Inc." on Justia Law