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

by
Plaintiffs—a collection of organizations and individuals interested in petitioning in Montana—alleged that both of these restrictions violated their speech and association rights under the First Amendment. In upholding both restrictions, the district court held that strict scrutiny did not apply because plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that either restriction imposed a severe burden on their rights. It went on to find that both restrictions sufficiently furthered Montana’s important regulatory interest to survive less exacting review.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment for Defendants. The court reversed the district court’s holding with regards to the residency requirement because it (1) imposed a severe burden on the exercise of First Amendment rights and therefore was subject to strict scrutiny, and (2) was not narrowly tailored to further Montana’s compelling interest.The court affirmed the district court’s holding with regards to the pay-per-signature restriction because it concluded that (1) on the basis of the record produced here, plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the pay-per-signature ban imposed a severe burden on First Amendment rights and therefore less exacting review applied; and (2) the state had established that an important regulatory interest was furthered by this restriction. View "NATHAN PIERCE V. CHRISTI JACOBSEN" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs brought this action against Defendant and the Maricopa County Community College District (the “College District”). Plaintiffs allege that a module on Islamic terrorism within a course in world politics taught by Defendant at Scottsdale Community College (the “College”) violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights under the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs also allege that Defendant’s disparaging treatment of Islam was part of an official policy embraced by the College District. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the Complaint, and the Plaintiffs appealed.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the action. The court held that Plaintiffs could not sustain a claim for municipal liability against the College District. First, Plaintiffs abandoned their municipal liability claim on appeal by failing to address it in their Reply Brief even after the College District raised the argument in its Answering Brief on appeal.But even on the merits, the claim could not survive dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Although Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant has taught his World Politics class for 24 years, they did not allege that the course in other years contained the same content that offended Plaintiff, or that Defendant’s views or teaching methods were so persistent and widespread as to constitute part of the College District’s standard operating procedure. Further, the court held that Defendant was entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Plaintiffs’ Establishment Clause and Free Exercise claims. View "MOHAMED SABRA V. MARICOPA COUNTY COMMUNITY COLL" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff alleged that Defendants Kinetic Concepts, Inc., and its indirect subsidiary KCI USA, Inc. (collectively, “KCI”) submitted claims to Medicare in which KCI falsely certified compliance with certain criteria governing Medicare payment for the use of KCI’s medical device for treating wounds. The district court granted summary judgment to KCI, concluding that Plaintiff failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to the False Claims Act elements of materiality and scienter.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment. The court agreed that compliance with the specific criterion that there be no stalled cycle would not be material if, upon case-specific review, the Government routinely paid stalled-cycle claims. In other words, if stalled-cycle claims were consistently paid when subject to case-specific scrutiny, then a false statement that avoided that scrutiny and instead resulted in automatic payment would not be material to the payment decision. The court concluded, however, that the record did not show this to be the case. The court considered administrative rulings concerning claims that were initially denied, post-payment and pre-payment audits of particular claims, and a 2007 report by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The court concluded that none of these forms of evidence supported the district court’s summary judgment ruling.   The court held that the district court further erred in ruling that there was insufficient evidence that KCI acted with the requisite scienter and that the remainder of the district court’s reasoning concerning scienter rested on a clear failure to view the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. View "STEVEN HARTPENCE V. KINETIC CONCEPTS, INC." on Justia Law

by
The Chickasaw Nation, a sovereign and federally recognized Indian tribe, operates its own healthcare system, which includes five pharmacies. Under federal law, members of federally recognized Native nations are eligible to receive healthcare services at the nations’ facilities at no charge, and a nation may recoup the cost of services that it provides to a tribal member from that member’s health insurance plan. Caremark is the pharmacy benefit manager for health insurance plans that cover many tribal members served by the Chickasaw Nation’s pharmacies. The Nation signed agreements with Caremark. Each of these agreements incorporated by reference a Provider Agreement and a Provider Manual. The Provider Manual included an arbitration provision with a delegation clause requiring the arbitrator, rather than the courts, to resolve threshold issues about the scope and enforceability of the arbitration provision. The Nation sued Caremark, claiming violations of 25 U.S.C. Section 1621e, a provision of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act referred to as the “Recovery Act.”   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting the petition to compel arbitration. The court rejected the Nation’s argument that it did not actually form contracts with Caremark that included arbitration provisions with delegation clauses. The court concluded that the premise of the Nation’s argument— that an arbitration agreement always and necessarily waives tribal sovereign immunity—was incorrect. Rather, the arbitration agreement simply designated a forum for resolving disputes for which immunity was waived. View "CAREMARK, LLC V. CHICKASAW NATION" on Justia Law

by
An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Plaintiff benefits based on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) that there were an estimated 72,000 “Table worker,” 65,000 “Assembler,” and 32,000 “Film touch up inspector” jobs in the national economy that claimant could perform. After the ALJ issued her decision, claimant’s attorney submitted to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) Appeals Council different estimates for those same jobs, allegedly using the same software program used by the VE. The Appeals Council considered the new evidence but denied claimant’s request for review.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the Commissioner of Social Security and affirming the denial of Plaintiff’s claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits, and remanded to the district court with directions that the case be remanded to the agency for further proceedings. The court held that under Buck v. Berryhill, 869 F.3d 1040 (9th Cir. 2017), remand was required to allow the ALJ to address claimant’s evidence of widely discrepant job number estimates.The claimant estimated—using SkillTRAN Job Browser Pro and the same DOT codes the VE had used—that there were 2,957 table worker, 0 assembler, and 1,333 film tough-up inspector jobs in the national economy. The discrepancy between the VE and the claimant’s estimates was comparable to the discrepancy in Buck. View "TYRONE WHITE V. KILOLO KIJAKAZI" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
by
The California Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal and later summarily rejected “on the merits” Petitioner’s state habeas petition. Petitioner argued primarily that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).Petitioner argued that the Ninth Circuit should review his Strickland claims de novo, because the California Supreme Court’s four-sentence denial of his claims “on the merits,” without issuing an order to show cause, signifies that the court concluded only that his petition did not state a prima facie case for relief such that there is no “adjudication on the merits” to which this court owes deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).The Ninth Circuit disagreed, citing Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170 (2011), in which the Supreme Court afforded AEDPA deference to the California Supreme Court’s summary denial of a habeas petition raising a Strickland claim. The court, therefore, applied the deferential AEDPA standard, asking whether the denial of Petitioner’s claims “involved an unreasonable application of” Strickland.The court held, however, under AEDPA's highly deferential standard of review, that the California Supreme Court could reasonably have concluded that Petitioner’s claim fails under the second prong of Strickland. The court wrote that comparing the mitigation evidence that was offered with what would have been offered but for Petitioner’s trial attorney’s alleged errors, the state court could reasonably have decided that there was not a substantial likelihood that the jury would have returned a different sentence if the attorney had not performed deficiently. View "RICHARD MONTIEL V. KEVIN CHAPPELL" on Justia Law

by
The City of Phoenix’s Police Department concluded that a Sergeant with the Department violated a Department policy by posting content to his personal Facebook profile that denigrated Muslims and Islam. When the Department took steps to discipline the Sergeant, he sued, alleging that the Department was retaliating against him for exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s action. In analyzing the content, form and context of the Sergeant’s posts, the court concluded that the posts qualified as speech on matters of public concern. While it was true that each of the Sergeant’s posts expressed hostility toward, and sought to denigrate or mock, major religious faith and its adherents, the Supreme Court has made clear that the inappropriate or controversial character of a statement is irrelevant to the question of whether it deals with a matter of public concern.The court, therefore, reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ First Amendment retaliation claim and his related claim under the Arizona Constitution. The court held that the district court properly rejected Plaintiffs’ facial overbreadth challenge to certain provisions of the Department’s social media policy, except as to the clauses prohibiting social media activity that (1) would cause embarrassment to or discredit the Department, or (2) divulge any information gained while in the performance of official duties, as set forth in section 3.27.9B.(7) of the policy. The court affirmed the district court’s rejection of Plaintiffs’ facial vagueness challenge to the same provisions discussed above and their municipal liability claim. View "JUAN HERNANDEZ V. CITY OF PHOENIX" on Justia Law

by
Since illegally entering the United States in 2000, Petitioner has been convicted of four DUI offenses. In 2018, an Arizona court convicted Petitioner of aggravated DUI. Before sentencing, he spent 183 days in pretrial detention. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated removal proceedings. Petitioner applied for cancellation of removal but, through counsel, waived applications for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) because he believed he did not have “a viable claim under current law.”The question before the Ninth Circuit was whether pretrial detention that is not credited toward a defendant’s sentence is confinement “as a result of conviction.” See 8 U.S.C. Section 1101(f)(7). The court held that it is not. The court also held that the agency properly relied on counsel’s representations that the petitioner waived his applications for asylum, withholding, and protection under the Convention Against Torture.The court concluded that Petitioner failed to establish a due process violation, explaining that he was represented by counsel, the IJ relied on counsel’s statements to hold that the claims had been withdrawn, and the BIA properly affirmed. Moreover, the court explained that Petitioner did not contend that his counsel was ineffective or that the waiver was not knowing and voluntary. View "ESTEBAN TRONCOSO-OVIEDO V. MERRICK GARLAND" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
by
In 1988, a California jury sentenced Petitioner to death for murdering another person with an ax. The California Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal and later denied his state habeas petition. Petitioner now seeks federal habeas relief. He argues that the state prosecutor improperly vouched for a witness’s credibility, that his attorney was ineffective in not objecting to the vouching, and that the state trial court, in the penalty phase, improperly excluded the prosecution’s earlier plea offer to Petitioner as claimed mitigating evidence.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment denying Petitioner’s habeas corpus petition. The court that no clearly established federal constitutional law holds that an unaccepted plea offer qualifies as evidence in mitigation that must be admitted in a capital penalty proceeding. The court held that regardless, Petitioner cannot show prejudice. The court wrote that given the extreme aggravating factors that the State put forward coupled with Petitioner’s already extensive but unsuccessful presentation of mitigating evidence, there is no basis to conclude that the jury would have reached a different result if it had considered Petitioner’s unaccepted plea. View "CURTIS FAUBER V. RONALD DAVIS" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
In three FERC orders, FERC found that the State Board had engaged in coordinated schemes with the Nevada Irrigation District, the Yuba County Water Agency, and the Merced Irrigation District (“Project Applicants”) to delay certification and to avoid making a decision on their certification requests. According to FERC, the State Board had coordinated with the Project Applicants to ensure that they withdrew and resubmitted their certification requests before the State’s deadline for action under Section 401 in order to reset the State’s one-year period to review the certification requests. FERC held that, because of that coordination, the State Board had “fail[ed] or refuse[d] to act” on requests and therefore had waived its certification authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. See 33 U.S.C. Section 1341(a)(1).The Ninth Circuit granted petitions for review, and vacated orders issued by FERC. The court held that FERC’s findings of coordination were unsupported by substantial evidence. Instead, the evidence showed only that the State Board acquiesced in the Project Applicants’ own unilateral decisions to withdraw and resubmit their applications rather than have them denied. The court held that even assuming that FERC’s “coordination” standard was consistent with the statute, the State Board’s mere acquiescence in the Project Applicants’ withdrawals and resubmissions could not demonstrate that the State Board was engaged in a coordinated scheme to delay certification. Accordingly, FERC’s orders could not stand. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "CALIFORNIA STATE WATER RESOURC V. FERC" on Justia Law