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

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Berkovich filed California state tax returns as required for 2003-2005. In 2008, the IRS assessed about $145,000 of additional federal income taxes against Berkovich for those years. He did not notify the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) of the increased federal assessments as required. (Cal. Rev. & Tax Code 18622(a)). The FTB learned of the federal assessments from the IRS. It assessed Berkovich additional state income taxes, approximately $45,000 plus penalties and interest. Berkovich did not challenge the assessments nor pay the additional state taxes. In 2012, Berkovich filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. After the bankruptcy discharge, the FTB filed a complaint, alleging that the state tax debts were nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(1)(B)(i) because Berkovich failed to report the increased federal tax assessments to the FTB and failed to challenge the FTB’s notices of proposed tax assessment. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel held that Berkovich’s tax debt was not discharged.The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Berkovich’s tax debt was not discharged in bankruptcy because the debt derived from a “report or notice” “equivalent” to a tax return. Section 523(a)(1)(B) provides that, if a taxpayer fails to file a required “return, or equivalent report or notice,” the relevant tax debt is not discharged. California law requires a taxpayer to “report” to the FTB if the IRS changes the taxpayer’s federal income tax liability. View "Berkovich v. California Franchise Tax Board" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy, Tax Law
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Facing more than 70 years in prison for his role in multiple armed robberies, Goodall pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery (18 U.S.C. 1951(a)) and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)), with a 20-year sentencing recommendation. He waived his right to appeal his conviction or sentence. The court imposed a 14-year sentence. About 18 months later, the Supreme Court (Davis, 2019), held that a conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery cannot be a crime of violence under section 924(c)(3)'s residual clause.Goodall sought to vacate his conviction and sentence, arguing that Hobbs Act conspiracy is not a “crime of violence” under 924(c)’s “elements clause.” The Ninth Circuit dismissed. Goodall’s appellate waiver foreclosed any challenge based on Davis; the waiver was knowing and voluntary. The “illegal sentence” exception to an appellate waiver does not apply; it does not include illegal convictions. The rationale for the “illegal sentence” exception rests on the inherent uncertainty in sentencing, which does not exist for convictions. Although there always remains a chance the law could change in a defendant’s favor, the defendant knowingly and voluntarily assumes that risk because he receives a presumably favorable deal under existing law. View "United States v. Goodall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Heine and Yates, bank executives, were convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud (18 U.S.C. 1349) and 12 counts of making a false bank entry (18 U.S.C. 1005). The government told the jury that the two conspired to deprive the bank of accurate financial information in its records, the defendants’ salaries, and the use of bank funds.The Ninth Circuit vacated. There is no cognizable property interest in the ethereal right to accurate information. Distinguishing between a scheme to obtain a new or higher salary and a scheme to deceive an employer while continuing to draw an existing salary, the court held that the salary-maintenance theory was also legally insufficient. Even assuming the bank-funds theory was valid, the government’s reliance on those theories was not harmless. The court instructed the jury that it could find the defendants guilty of making false entries as co-conspirators, so the court also vacated the false-entry convictions. The court noted that insufficient evidence supported certain false entry convictions. View "United States v. Yates" on Justia Law

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Amaya shot his drug dealer five times and was convicted in Washington of first-degree assault. He was charged as removable for having been convicted of an “aggravated felony,” 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Amaya argued that his conviction was not categorically an “aggravated felony.” In the alternative, he sought asylum, withholding of removal, or relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The Board of Immigration Appeals held that Amaya was removable.The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review. First-degree assault under Washington law is categorically a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 16. The statute requires “intent to inflict great bodily harm,” which Washington courts have said is specific intent. The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to reach Amaya’s due process claim of immigration judge bias because Amaya failed to exhaust it before the BIA; neither his notice of appeal nor his attachment made a clear, non-conclusory argument in support of his claim. The agency did not err in denying Amaya’s application for deferral of removal under CAT; the IJ laid out the correct legal standard, considered Amaya’s concern that he would be harmed by the Salvadoran government, and found that Amaya was never harmed in the past by the Salvadoran government. The IJ considered the totality of the record evidence, including the country conditions reports. View "Amaya v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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California’s AB 5 codified the “ABC test” for ascertaining whether workers are classified as employees or independent contractors. The ABC test permits businesses to classify workers as independent contractors only if they meet certain conditions. If a business cannot make that showing, its workers are deemed employees, and the business must comply with specific requirements and state and federal labor laws. AB5 and its amendments, California Labor Code 2778, establishes certain occupational exemptions. Freelance writers, photographers, and others received a narrower exemption than offered to certain other professionals. The Association sued, asserting that AB5 effectuates content-based preferences for certain kinds of speech, burdens journalism, and burdens the right to film matters of public interest.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Section 2778 regulates economic activity rather than speech. It does not, on its face, limit what someone can or cannot communicate. Nor does it restrict when, where, or how someone can speak. The statute is aimed at the employment relationship—a traditional sphere of state regulation. Although the ABC classification may impose greater costs on hiring entities, which could mean fewer overall job opportunities for certain workers, such an indirect impact on speech does not necessarily rise to the level of a First Amendment violation. The court rejected an assertion that the law singled out the press as an institution and was not generally applicable. The legislature’s occupational distinctions were rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. View "American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc. v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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The Clean Water Act requires states to adopt water quality standards regulating pollutants in their navigable waters, including the designated uses for the water body, such as supporting aquatic life or recreational use and the “water quality criteria” necessary to protect those uses, 33 U.S.C. 1313(c)(2)(A). The EPA approved Montana’s water quality standards in 2015. In 2017, Montana obtained EPA’s approval of a variance in the water quality standard, which covered 36 municipal wastewater treatment facilities for up to 17 years and allowed those facilities to discharge more nitrogen and phosphorus into wadeable streams than would be permitted under the approved base water standards.The Ninth Circuit rejected a challenge. The Act did not preclude the EPA from taking compliance costs into account when approving the variance requests. Congress has not directly spoken to that precise question and the EPA reasonably construed section 1313(c)(2)(A) as permitting it to consider compliance costs. The EPA’s variance regulation neither requires compliance with the highest attainable condition at the outset of the variance term nor requires compliance with base water quality standards by the end of that term. The regulations include numerous features to ensure that dischargers and waterbodies subject to variances continued to improve water quality, consistent with the goals of the Act, including supporting aquatic life and recreational uses whenever attainable. View "Upper Missouri Waterkeeper v, United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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California AB 32 phases out private detention facilities within the state. Because of fluctuations in immigration, ICE relies exclusively on private detention centers in California. AB 32 carves out exceptions for the state’s private detention centers. The United States and GEO, which operates private immigration detention centers, sued. The district court ruled largely in favor of California.The Ninth Circuit reversed. California is not simply exercising its traditional police powers, but rather impeding federal immigration policy. . Under the Supremacy Clause, state law must fall if it stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress. The presumption against preemption does not apply to areas of exclusive federal regulation, such as the detention of immigrants. California did more than just exercise its traditional state police powers – it impeded the federal government’s immigration policy. Congress granted the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security broad discretion over immigrant detention, including the right to contract with private companies to operate detention facilities. AB 32 also discriminated against the federal government in violation of the intergovernmental immunity doctrine by requiring the federal government to close all its detention facilities, while not requiring California to close any of its private detention facilities until 2028. View "GEO Group, Inc., v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the seizure of their car and the deprivation of its use for five months violated their rights to due process under the federal and state constitutions. In this case, the police stopped plaintiffs' son while he was driving their car, found marijuana in the car, and arrested the son. The car was then seized pursuant to Arizona state law and eventually returned five months later. The district court dismissed all claims.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's determination that plaintiffs' claims were barred because they did not file a notice of claim under A.R.S. 12-821.01, concluding that this statute does not apply to claims for declaratory judgment or for injunctive relief. The panel confidently predicted that the Arizona Supreme Court would hold that where only nominal damages are sought, no claim must be filed under section 12-821.01 before filing suit. In regard to the district court's alternative basis for dismissal, the panel reversed the dismissal of plaintiffs' biased adjudicator claims. The panel explained that the saving construction adopted by the district court cannot be reconciled with the statutory language, and that on the facts as recited in the complaint, Deputy Navajo County Attorney Moore's undisclosed, unreviewable determination that plaintiffs' petition was untimely denied them a meaningful opportunity to be heard by an unbiased adjudicator.In regard to the biased enforcer claims, the panel agreed with the district court that the Navajo County Drug Task Force was not amenable to suit under Arizona law, and thus dismissal was proper. However, both the biased adjudicator and biased enforcer nominal damages claims against Moore and Moore's supervisor for violations of Arizona due process could proceed. Finally, the panel rejected Arizona's invitation on cross-appeal to issue an advisory ruling that its civil forfeiture scheme is facially constitutional. Accordingly, the panel reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Platt v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision affirming the ALJ's 2019 decision denying claimant's application for social security disability benefits. The panel concluded that, although the ALJ's conclusion that claimant was not disabled at the time of the hearing was supported by substantial evidence, the ALJ did not adequately consider claimant's symptoms over time. The panel explained that the ALJ's failure to consider these changes over time impacted both her assessment of claimant's credibility and her analysis of the medical opinions. Therefore, on remand, the ALJ shall consider whether claimant was disabled and thus entitled to benefits, for some qualifying, earlier portion of his alleged disability period. View "Smith v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order dismissing Mudpie's claims against its insurer in a putative class action brought by Mudpie, seeking to recover under the insurance policy's "Business Income" and "Extra Expense" coverage after state and local authorities in California issued several public health orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mudpie claimed that the public health orders prevented it from operating its children's stores. Mudpie sought declaratory relief and asserted claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.The panel affirmed the district court's ruling that Mudpie's claimed losses are not covered by the policy and the district court did not err in dismissing the claims for declaratory relief, breach of contract, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The panel explained that California courts would construe the phrase "physical loss of or damage to" as requiring an insured to allege physical alteration of its property. In this case, Mudpie did not identify a distinct, physical alteration of the property. The panel also concluded that the policy's Virus Exclusion bars coverage of Mudpie's claimed losses. View "Mudpie, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty Insurance Co. of America" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law