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

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Petitioner challenged the EPA's 2019 withdrawal of its 2014 proposed determination to exercise its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to restrict the ability of miners to operate in part of the Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska. The district court held that the EPA's decision was unreviewable pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 701(a)(2) and Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821 (1985). The district court determined that neither the Clean Water Act nor the EPA's regulations include a meaningful legal standard governing the EPA's decision.Reviewing de novo, the panel held that (a) the Clean Water Act contains no meaningful legal standard in its broad grant of discretion to the EPA but that (b) the EPA's regulations do contain a meaningful legal standard. In particular, 40 C.F.R. 231.5(a) allows the EPA to withdraw a proposed determination only when an "unacceptable adverse effect" on specified resources is not "likely." Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's dismissal. The panel remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the EPA's withdrawal was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or contrary to law. View "Trout Unlimited v. Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp." on Justia Law

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After Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested user data from Facebook's social network, Google discovered that a security glitch in its Google+ social network had left the private data of some hundreds of thousands of users exposed to third-party developers. Google and its holding company, Alphabet, chose to conceal this discovery, made generic statements about how cybersecurity risks could affect their business, and stated that there had been no material changes to Alphabet's risk factors since 2017.Rhode Island, in a consolidated amended complaint, filed suit against Alphabet, Google, and others, alleging violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b-5 for securities fraud, as well as violations of Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act. The district court granted Alphabet's motion to dismiss on the grounds that Rhode Island failed to adequately allege a materially misleading misrepresentation or omission and that Rhode Island failed to adequately allege scienter.The Ninth Circuit concluded that the complaint adequately alleged that Google, Alphabet, and individual defendants made materially misleading statements by omitting to disclose these security problems and that defendants did so with sufficient scienter, meaning with an intent to deceive, manipulate, or defraud. Applying an objective materiality standard, the panel concluded that Rhode Island's complaint plausibly alleges the materiality of the costs and consequences associated with the Privacy Bug, and its public disclosure, and how Alphabet's decision to omit information about the Privacy Bug in its 10-Qs significantly altered the total mix of information available for decisionmaking by a reasonable investor. Furthermore, the complaint adequately alleges scienter for the materially misleading omissions from the 10-Q statements. The panel also concluded that Rhode Island adequately alleged falsity, materiality, and scienter for the April 2018 and July 2018 10-Q statements. Accordingly, the panel reversed the district court's holdings to the contrary and reversed the dismissal of the section 20(a) control-person claims based on the 10-Q statements.Because the complaint does not plausibly allege that the remaining statements at issue are misleading material misrepresentations or omissions, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5(b) statement liability claims based on these statements. The panel also affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Section 20(a) controlling-person claims for these statements. Finally, because the district court erred in sua sponte dismissing Rhode Island's claims under Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) when Alphabet had not targeted those claims in its motion to dismiss, the panel reversed the dismissal of the claims under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) against all defendants and remanded to the district court. The panel also reversed the dismissal of Rhode Island's claims under Section 20(a) to the extent those claims depend on claims alleging violations of Rule 10b-5(a) and (c). View "Rhode Island v. Alphabet, Inc." on Justia Law

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California cigarette tax regulations apply to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes by a federally chartered tribal corporation wholly owned by a federally recognized Indian tribe.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by Big Sandy, a chartered tribal corporation wholly owned and controlled by the Big Sandy Rancheria of Western Mono Indians, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Attorney General of California and the Director of the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration regarding taxes applied to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes.The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's fifth cause of action on jurisdictional grounds pursuant to the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341, and properly declined to apply the Indian tribes exception to the Tax Injunction Act's jurisdictional bar. The panel also concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's remaining causes of action challenging the Directory Statute and California's licensing, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements in connection with cigarette distribution. In this case, the Corporation challenged the Directory Law on two grounds: (1) applying the challenged regulations to the Corporation's cigarette sales to tribal retailers on other reservations violates "principles of Indian tribal self-governance;" and (ii) federal regulation of "trade with Indians within Indian country" under the Indian Trader Statutes preempts the challenged regulations as applied to the Corporation's intertribal wholesale cigarette business. The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed both theories for failure to state a claim. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. View "Big Sandy Rancheria Enterprises v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding, following a bench trial, that the Yakama Reservation includes a 121,465.69-acre tract (Tract D) that partially overlaps with Klickitat County. The present dispute between the Yakamas and Klickitat County arose when the County attempted to prosecute P.T.S., a minor and enrolled Yakama member, for acts that occurred within Tract D. Contending that Klickitat County lacked jurisdiction to prosecute P.T.S. for an incident that took place within Tract D, the Yakamas filed suit against the County, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.Under the highly deferential clear error standard, the panel upheld the district court's findings that the spur described in the Treaty does not exist and that the Yakamas understood the Treaty to include Tract D within the Reservation's boundaries. Applying de novo review, the panel concluded that the Treaty language is inherently ambiguous. Consequently, in light of the Indian canon of construction, the panel agreed with the district court's interpretation that the Treaty included Tract D within the Reservation. Finally, the panel held that Congress did not conclusively exclude Tract D from the Reservation through the 1904 Act. View "Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Klickitat County" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction on one count of making false statements to a government official, vacated her convictions on two counts of assault within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and remanded for a new trial on the assault counts and for resentencing on the false-statements count. Defendant's convictions stemmed from a physical altercation with her boyfriend. Defendant claimed self-defense at trial, testifying that she feared for her life when she swung the rebar and knocked her boyfriend unconscious. In its rebuttal case, the Government presented evidence that, roughly two years before the charged assault, defendant assaulted her stepmother and sister on separate occasions.The panel concluded that sufficient evidence supported defendant's conviction for making false statements to a government official (Count 3) where a rational juror could infer from the circumstantial evidence presented that defendant knew it was unlawful to lie to the FBI at the time she lied. The panel also concluded that evidence of defendant's prior incidents was inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 404, thus entitling her to a new trial on Counts 1 and 2. The panel explained that, although defendant's testimony may have opened the door to general reputation or opinion testimony about her propensity for violence under Rule 405(a), she did not open the door to detailed descriptions of specific instances of conduct that were completely unrelated to her boyfriend to show that she has a propensity for violence under Rule 405(b). The panel also explained that evidence of a prior incident is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with character. Furthermore, the prior incidents do not establish either defendant's motive or intent to commit the charged assault. Finally, the admission of this erroneous "other acts" evidence was not harmless. View "United States v. Charley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying LMB's motion to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) in an action brought by plaintiff under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The panel concluded that, because the district court mistakenly issued a nonfinal order denying LMB’s motion to compel arbitration, while stating its intent to schedule a trial to resolve the factual issues, the panel has jurisdiction to consider this appeal under 9 U.S.C. 16.However, the panel held that, under 9 U.S.C. 4, once a district court concludes that there are genuine disputes of material fact as to whether the parties formed an arbitration agreement, the district court must proceed without delay to a trial on arbitrability and hold any motion to compel arbitration in abeyance until the factual issues have been resolved. In this case, LMB challenges the district court's determination that there are genuine disputes of material fact on arbitrability. Therefore, in order to further Congress's clear intent in the FAA to move the parties to an arbitrable dispute out of court and into arbitration as quickly and easily as possible, the panel vacated the district court's erroneous denial of the motion to compel and remanded for the district court to proceed summarily to the trial on the question whether plaintiff is bound by the arbitration agreement. View "Hansen v. LMB Mortgage Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted the petition for review of the BIA's decision reversing the IJ's grant of deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). In this case, Michoacán state police arrested and brutally tortured petitioner until she confessed to the kidnapping and murder of a five-year old boy. After her charges were dismissed, she fled to the United States.The panel held that the BIA erred by reviewing the IJ's decision de novo, rather than for clear error, and concluded that the record compelled the determination that petitioner met her burden of proof to establish that it is more likely than not that she will suffer future torture if removed to Mexico. The panel explained that, reviewed under the proper standard, the IJ's factual findings were not erroneous where the IJ found that the Michoacán state police tortured petitioner, and the revived arrest warrant guaranteed she would be placed back in custody of the Michoacán state police, who previously tortured her, precluding relocation. Furthermore, the state police officers specifically threatened to torture petitioner again if she reported their misconduct—which she did. Finally, the IJ considered the country condition reports showing an increased threat of torture for indigenous women. The panel remanded for the BIA to grant deferral of removal pursuant to the CAT. View "Soto-Soto v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's rejection of debtor's attempt to exempt two assets from her estate. The panel clarified that a bankruptcy court's prior rejection of claimed exemptions carries preclusive weight, even after Law v. Siegel, 571 U.S. 415 (2014). The panel explained that Law does not bar courts from denying exemptions on the judicially created doctrines of issue and claim preclusion where, as here, the debtor is not statutorily entitled to the exemptions.The panel also held that the bankruptcy court properly deemed debtor's claims precluded. In this case, debtor's initial and amended exemptions are legally identical where her amended schedule sought to exempt the same assets as her earlier one; the bankruptcy court's initial, unappealed orders denying debtor's exemptions were final orders establishing the parties' rights as to the assets in question; and debtor was obviously a party to the proceeding in which her claims had originally been rejected. The panel noted that, regardless of whether the claims remained contingent or had been reduced to a settlement post-petition, debtor's interest in them remained the same. View "Albert v. Golden" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence for sexually exploiting a minor and remanded for resentencing. The panel concluded that, because there is no evidence that defendant exercised control over the child's mother, the district court abused its discretion in applying the leadership enhancement under USSG 3B1.1(c). The panel also concluded that the district court erred in applying a guardian enhancement under USSG 2G2.1(b)(5) where defendant was not the child's parent and was never entrusted with parent-like authority. The panel could not say that the district court would come to the same conclusions given the proper scope of the enhancements and thus the sentence must be vacated and remanded. View "United States v. Harris" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order granting respondent's petition for panel rehearing and denying as moot her petition for rehearing en banc, (2) a superseding opinion affirming the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his California conviction for first-degree murder, and (3) a partial dissent/concurrence.The panel concluded that the prosecutor's repeated statements to the jury during final argument that the presumption of innocence no longer applied were misstatements of clearly established law as articulated by the Supreme Court. However, the panel deferred to the state court's finding, applying the Darden standard, that there was not a reasonable probability of a different outcome had the prosecutor not misstated the law. The panel also concluded that the state court did not err under Dunn v. United States, 442 U.S. 100 (1979), in upholding the jury's arguably inconsistent verdict. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's denial of relief. View "Ford v. Peery" on Justia Law