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

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In 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) decided to preempt California’s MRB rules with respect to truck drivers subject to federal regulations. Swift Transportation (Plaintiffs) argued that the presumption against retroactive application of laws operates here to allow their lawsuit to proceed despite the FMSCA’s preemption of California’s meal and rest break (MRB) rules.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona, LLC in a class action brought by former hourly truck drivers for (“Plaintiffs”) alleging violations of California’s MRB rules and derivative state-law claims. The panel applied the retroactivity test set forth in Landgraf v. USI FilmProducts, 511 U.S. 244, 263-64, 280 (1994). Under step one of the twostep test, the panel held that because Congress clearly intended for the FMSCA to have the power to halt enforcement of state laws, and because the FMSCA intended for this particular preemption determination to apply to pending lawsuits, the FMSCA’s decision prohibits present enforcement of California’s MRB rules regardless of when the underlying conduct occurred. The panel held that it need not reach the second step of the Landgraf analysis. View "JOHEL VALIENTE, ET AL V. SWIFT TRANSP. CO. OF ARIZ." on Justia Law

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Defendant crashed his plane when he attempted to fly over Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range in Alaska. During both the investigation and Defendant’s appeal of the revocation of his airman certificate, Defendant claimed that the plane was climbing through 5,500 to 5,700 feet with a target altitude of 6,000 feet as it approached the pass. GPS data showed that the plane was flying at an altitude more than 1,000 feet lower than what Defendant claimed. The proceeding in Count One was the NTSB investigation. The proceeding in Count Two was the appeal before the NTSB of the FAA’s revocation of his airman certificate. Challenging his conviction on Count One, Defendant argued that the NTSB’s accident investigation was not a pending “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction on two counts of obstructing a pending proceeding and affirmed the district court’s assessment of a $5,000 fine. The panel wrote that even if it were not reviewing for plain error, it would affirm, holding that the NTSB’s investigation of Defendant’s plane crash was a “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505. The panel held that the district court did not err in instructing the jury on the materiality element. The panel held that the district court did not commit clear error in finding Defendant able to pay the $5,000 fine, as there was no evidence before the district court showing that Defendant was unable to pay the fine, or was likely become unable to pay it. View "USA V. FOREST KIRST" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff challenged Lincoln’s denial of her claim for long-term disability benefits. On de novo review, the district court affirmed Lincoln’s denial of Plaintiff's claim, but it adopted new rationales that the ERISA plan administrator did not rely on during the administrative process. Specifically, the district court found for the first time that Plaintiff was not credible and that she had failed to supply objective evidence to support her claim.The Ninth Circuit held that when a district court reviews de novo a plan administrator’s denial of benefits, it examines the administrative record without deference to the administrator’s conclusions to determine whether the administrator erred in denying benefits. The district court’s task is to determine whether the plan administrator’s decision is supported by the record, not to engage in a new determination of whether the claimant is disabled. Accordingly, the district court must examine only the rationales the plan administrator relied on in denying benefits and cannot adopt new rationales that the claimant had no opportunity to respond to during the administrative process.Here, the district court erred because it relied on new rationales to affirm the denial of benefits. View "VICKI COLLIER V. LINCOLN LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY" on Justia Law

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The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (“ISDA”) allowed tribes to run their own healthcare programs, funded by Indian Health Services (“IHS”) in the amount IHS would have spent on a tribe’s health care. Because it was too expensive for the tribes to run the programs, Congress enacted a fix by requiring IHS to provide tribes with CSC—the amount of money a tribe would need to administer its healthcare programs. In addition, Congress allowed the tribes to bill outside insurers directly, and allowed tribes to keep the third-party revenue without diminishing their IHS grants, so long as tribes spent that revenue on health care.The Tribe contends that the IHS must cover those additional CSC. The Tribe filed suit to recover the CSC for program years 2011-2013. The Ninth Circuit held that the text of the governing statute, 25 U.S.C. Sec. 5325(a), compelled reversal and remand for additional proceedings. View "SAN CARLOS APACHE TRIBE V. XAVIER BECERRA, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a citizen of El Salvador, was detained pursuant to 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1226(a), which authorizes the federal government to detain aliens pending the completion of their removal proceedings. Petitioner requested and received a bond hearing before an Immigration Judge to determine if his detention was justified. The Immigration Judge concluded that Petitioner, who had an extensive criminal history, presented a danger to the community due to his gang affiliation. Based on this, the Immigration Judge denied release on bond. Petitioner claims that his continued detention was unconstitutional because under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, he is entitled to a second bond hearing at which the government bears the burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence.The district court ruled that Petitioner was constitutionally entitled to another bond hearing before the Immigration Judge.The Ninth Circuit held that the Due Process Clause does not require more than Sec. 1226(a) provides. View "AROLDO RODRIGUEZ DIAZ V. MERRICK GARLAND, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The IRS held a secured claim on the debtor’s real property arising from a tax penalty lien. The debtor claimed a $150,000 homestead exemption in the property under Arizona law. The trustee sought to avoid the tax penalty lien on the debtor’s exempt property and preserve it for the benefit of the estate pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Sections 724(a) and 551.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision affirming the bankruptcy court’s summary judgment in favor of a Chapter 7 trustee who brought an adversary proceeding seeking to avoid an Internal Revenue Service tax lien on property subject to a homestead exemption and to preserve the value of the lien for the benefit of the bankruptcy estate.   The panel held that Section 724(a) concerns the trustee’s avoidance of qualifying liens attached to the property of the estate at the time of distribution. When a debtor exempts a property interest under 11 U.S.C. Section 522, the exemption withdraws that property interest from the bankruptcy estate and, thus, from the reach of the trustee for distribution to creditors. Accordingly, because exempt property is not “property of the estate” which may be “distributed,” a trustee may not avoid a lien under Section 724(a) attached to exempt property which is no longer part of the estate. The panel held that it follows that a trustee is not permitted to preserve the tax lien for the benefit of the estate under Section 551, which provides for automatic preservation of certain avoided liens, including liens avoided under Section 724(a). View "IN RE: SANDRA TILLMAN, ET AL V. LAWRENCE WARFIELD, ET AL" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Defendant contends that the district court impermissibly delegated to a nonjudicial officer the authority to “decide the nature or extent of” her punishment by giving her probation officer discretion to require inpatient treatment as part of her supervised release. Defendant argued on appeal that the treatment conditions are unlawful because they purport to delegate to the probation officer authority to determine her punishment, which is a function reserved exclusively for the court.   The Ninth Circuit vacated two special conditions of supervised release and remanded for resentencing so that the district court can clarify the scope of authority delegated to the probation officer. The court explained that Defendant did not contest that she knowingly and voluntarily waived her “right to assert any and all legally waivable claims,” and the panel rejected Defendant’s argument that the district court’s statements about her ability to appeal vitiated her appeal waiver. The panel noted that when a defendant with an otherwise valid appeal waiver challenges the legality of her sentence, the claim as to waiver rises and falls with the claim on the merits. The panel reviewed for plain error whether the treatment conditions, which Defendant did not challenge in the district court, are illegal.   Further, the panel found that the district court committed plain error affecting Defendant’s substantial rights because she must comply with the conditions or face revocation of her supervised release. The panel therefore vacated the substance-abuse and mental-health treatment conditions and remanded for resentencing so that the district court can clarify the scope of authority delegated to the probation officer. View "USA V. JERRE NISHIDA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Claimant an Arizona woman in her forties filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The agency repeatedly denied the claimant’s claims. The district court affirmed the ALJ’s decision, concluding that the ALJ reached a reasonable determination based on substantial evidence in the record. On appeal, the claimant argues that the ALJ erred by insufficiently supporting his analysis, failing to account for the claimant’s symptoms and limitations in the residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment, improperly discounting the opinion of one medical provider while giving undue weight to the opinion of another, and failing to satisfy the “clear and convincing” standard for rejecting subjective symptom testimony.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the ALJ did not err in discounting the opinion of the claimant’s treating physician because the “extreme limitations” described by the physician were incompatible with the rest of the objective medical evidence. Likewise, the ALJ did not err in giving significant weight to the opinion of the consultative examiner because the examiner’s determination that the claimant could perform light-exertion work was consistent with the objective medical evidence. Finally, the ALJ provided “clear and convincing” reasons for discounting Claimant’s subjective pain testimony. The claimant’s self-reported limitations were inconsistent with (1) the objective medical evidence, (2) her self-reported daily activities, and (3) her generally conservative treatment plan. View "MISTY SMARTT V. KILOLO KIJAKAZI" on Justia Law

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Claimant argued that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred by rejecting the uncontested opinion of a non-examining physician, that supported her claim. Under the pre-2017 regulations that apply to the claim, ALJs are required to give greater weight to certain medical opinions. To reject the uncontested opinion of an examining or treating doctor, an ALJ must provide “clear and convincing” reasons supported by substantial evidence.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision affirming the denial of claimant’s application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The panel held that the “clear and convincing” standard did not apply to the physician’s opinion because he never treated or examined claimant. Rather his opinion was based solely on a review of claimant’s medical records. The panel held that nothing in the relevant regulations required an ALJ to defer to an opinion from a non-treating, non-examining medical source. In rejecting the physician’s opinion, the ALJ cited specific contradictive medical evidence in the record. In making these findings, the ALJ cited the record at length. The panel concluded that this satisfied the requirements of Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1244 (9th Cir. 1998), the relevant regulations, and the substantial evidence standard. Further, the panel concluded that the district court properly concluded that the ALJ’s denial of benefits was supported by substantial evidence View "RUTH FARLOW V. KILOLO KIJAKAZI" on Justia Law

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After Plaintiff provided his phone number to an insurance company on a website, he began receiving marketing texts from eFinancial. Plaintiff sued under the TCPA, claiming that eFinancial uses a “sequential number generator” to pick the order in which to call customers who had provided their phone numbers. He says that this type of number generator qualifies as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (often colloquially called an “autodialer”) under the TCPA. But eFinancial responds that it does not use an autodialer. eFinancial argues that the TCPA defines an autodialer as one that must generate telephone numbers to dial, not just any number to decide which pre-selected phone numbers to call.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that an “automatic telephone dialing system” must generate and dial random or sequential telephone numbers under the TCPA’s plain text. eFinancial thus did not use an autodialer, and its texts to Plaintiff did not implicate the TCPA. View "DAVID BORDEN V. EFINANCIAL, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law