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

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for aggravated identity theft, a three-level sentence enhancement, and the restitution order in this case, holding that sufficient evidence supported each element of the offense and that the district court did not otherwise abuse its discretion in the proceedings below. Defendant's convictions arose from her participation in a scheme to defraud a life insurance company by submitting fraudulent insurance applications. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentence, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions; (2) the district court did not commit significant procedural error by imposing a three-level "manager or supervisor" enhancement under U.S.S.G. 3B1.1(b); and (3) there was no error in the district court's restitution order. View "United States v. Gagarin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit panel filed an order amending its June 13, 2019 opinion affirming the district court's denial of William Kirkpatrick's habeas corpus petition challenging his death sentence for two counts of first-degree murder and denying Kirkpatrick's petition for rehearing, writing that, in light of the aggravating evidence, the jury still would have found that the death sentence was warranted. Specifically, the panel amended the petition to write that, in light of the substantial aggravating evidence presented in comparison to the minimal mitigation evidence, "absent improperly-considered facts," the jury still would have found that the "bad evidence" was so substantial in comparison with the "good" evidence that a sentence of death was warranted instead of life without parole. With these amendments, the Fourth Circuit denied Appellant's petition for panel rehearing. View "Kirkpatrick v. Chappell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A policy that allows transgender students to use school bathroom and locker facilities that match their self-identified gender in the same manner that cisgender students utilize those facilities does not infringe Fourteenth Amendment privacy or parental rights or First Amendment free exercise rights, nor does it create actionable sex harassment under Title IX. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action challenging an Oregon public school district's Student Safety Plan as violating the Constitution and numerous other laws. The Plan allowed transgender students to use school bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers that match their gender identity rather than the biological sex they were assigned at birth. The panel held that plaintiffs failed to state a federal claim upon which relief can be granted, and that the district court's carefully-crafted Student Safety Plan seeks to avoid discrimination and ensure the safety and well-being of transgender students. The panel held that there is no Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy to avoid all risk of intimate exposure to or by a transgender person who was assigned the opposite biological sex at birth; a policy that treats all students equally does not discriminate based on sex in violation of Title IX, and the normal use of privacy facilities does not constitute actionable sexual harassment under Title IX just because a person is transgender; the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide a fundamental parental right to determine the bathroom policies of the public schools to which parents may send their children, either independent of the parental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children or encompassed by it; and the school district's policy is rationally related to a legitimate state purpose, and does not infringe plaintiffs' First Amendment free exercise rights because it does not target religious conduct. View "Parents for Privacy v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed an amended opinion affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of government defendants in a case involving when a spousal relationship must exist for a spouse to be eligible for derivative U-visa status. The panel deferred to a regulation that the USCIS adopted, which construed the statutory phrase, "accompanying, or following to join" to require that a spouse's qualifying relationship exist at the time of the filing of the initial U-visa petition. In this case, petitioner entered the United States and was a victim of a serious crime. After she was helpful to law enforcement and granted a petition for a U-visa, she sought derivative U-visa status for her husband. The panel applied Chevron deference to the USCIS's interpretation of the statute in enacting the regulation, holding that the statute is ambiguous as to "accompany, or following to join," the USCIS reasonably interpreted the ambiguous phrase, and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment has not been violated. View "Medina Tovar v. Zuchowski" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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The Ninth Circuit dismissed Ocwen's appeal of the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel's (BAP) decision affirming the bankruptcy court's contempt orders, holding that the panel lacked appellate jurisdiction. The panel held that the BAP's decision remanding the matter to the bankruptcy court was not final and appealable. The panel considered the need to avoid piecemeal litigation, judicial efficiency, the systemic interest in preserving the bankruptcy court's role as the finder of fact, and whether delaying review would cause any party irreparable harm, and ultimately concluded that all factors compelled dismissal of Ocwen's appeal. However, the panel held that it had jurisdiction over debtors' appeal and affirmed the BAP's conclusion that they were not entitled to attorney's fees for their appeal to the BAP. Therefore, the panel rejected debtors' claims that they were entitled to attorney's fees under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38, the attorney's fee provision in the deed of trust with Ocwen, and section 105(a) of the Bankruptcy Code. View "Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC v. Marino" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Casino slot technicians are not "guards" under section 9(b)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act. Under the Act the NLRB, cannot certify a union to represent "guards," as the term is used in the statute, if that union also represents non-guard employees. The Ninth Circuit held that the slot technicians' duties differed in fundamental respects from those of the surveillance technicians in Bellagio, LLC v. NLRB, 863 F.3d 839 (D.C. Cir. 2017). Therefore, the panel denied Station GVR's petition for review of the NLRB's decision certifying the union as the slot technicians' bargaining representative, based on the NLRB's determination that the slot technicians are not guards. The panel granted the NLRB's cross-application to enforce its order requiring GVR to bargain with the union. The panel denied the union's petition for review of the NLRB's decision not to order an affirmative remedy requiring GVR to provide the union with certain information that it had requested in a letter to the company. The panel held that the union was not a "person aggrieved" and thus did not have standing to bring its petition. In this case, the Board granted it all of the relief that it had specifically sought in the charge form and complaint. View "International Union of Operating Engineer Local 501 v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit held that defendant waived his right to appeal his equal protection and due process claims by entering an unconditional guilty plea. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's holding to the contrary and remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal. In this case, defendant pleaded guilty before a magistrate judge to one count of illegal entry into the United States, but then attempted to raise on appeal to the district judge certain due process and equal protection challenges to the handling of his prosecution in the Southern District of California. The panel held that the district court misinterpreted Class v. United States , 138 S. Ct. 798 (2018), and that the Menna-Blackledge exception -- which allows for constitutionally-based appeals, despite an unconditional guilty plea, where the appeal, if successful, would mean that the government cannot prosecute the defendant at all -- did not apply here. Finally, the panel rejected defendant's argument that if his appeal is held to be waived, his guilty plea was not knowing or voluntary. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal. View "United States v. Chavez-Diaz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's award of attorney's fees after settlement in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. The district court awarded just 10 percent of the fees plaintiff claimed. The panel held that, given the size of the 90 percent cut in attorney's fees, the district court's explanation was inadequate. The panel reaffirmed its prior decisions holding that a significant reduction requires a more thorough explanation, and concluded that the district court did not adequately justify the dramatic cut that it imposed here. Therefore, the panel remanded for a recalculation of the number of hours reasonably attributable to counsel. The panel also held that the district court erred by denying fees for work performed by two former attorneys on the basis that their law firm lacked standing to seek fees for work they performed at a different firm. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in reducing the hours and rates of the other attorneys that worked on the case. View "Vargas v. Howell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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USSG 2B1.1(b)(2) requires the sentencing court to determine whether the victims suffered a loss that was significant in light of their individual financial circumstances. The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy. Defendant co-owned and operated companies that defrauded nearly 5,000 homeowners out of millions of dollars. The panel affirmed the district court's imposition of a six-level sentence enhancement for an offense that resulted in substantial financial hardship to 25 or more victims under USSG 2B1.1(b)(2)(C). In this case, some of the victims lost their homes, some filed for bankruptcy, and many others borrowed money to avoid foreclosure, fell further behind on mortgage payments, renegotiated their loans on worse terms, or paid additional penalties and fines. The panel also held that the district court did not have to identify specific victims by name even if it had been asked to do so. Furthermore, it was sufficient for the government to produce evidence for enough of the victims to allow the sentencing court reasonably to infer a pattern. Finally, the panel held that the sentence was not substantively unreasonable and the restitution order did not violate Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). View "United States v. George" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Riverside County in an action brought by Calvary Chapel, alleging a facial challenge to a county zoning ordinance under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The panel held that Calvary Chapel has failed to establish a prima facie violation of RLUIPA's equal terms provision on a facial challenge. The panel stated that, consistent with Riverside County's representations both in its briefs and at oral argument, Calvary Chapel was not prohibited from pursuing its religious practices under the zoning ordinance. In this case, Riverside County's zoning ordinance permits religious assemblies as special occasion facilities, and thus the ordinance does not treat religious assemblies on less than equal terms with secular assemblies. Finally, the panel declined to consider Calvary Chapel's new nondiscrimination claim on appeal in the first instance. View "Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law