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

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order dismissing plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985 claims on the ground that the claims were barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The panel explained that whether section 1983 plaintiffs may recover damages if the convictions underlying their claims were vacated pursuant to a settlement agreement depends on whether such a vacatur serves to invalidate the convictions and thus renders the related section 1983 claims actionable notwithstanding Heck. In this case, the panel held that all convictions underlying the section 1983 claims were vacated and no outstanding criminal judgments remained, and therefore Heck did not bar plaintiffs from seeking relief under section 1983. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Roberts v. City of Fairbanks" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition challenging his California state conviction for three counts of first degree murder. Petitioner claimed that the state's reliance on his confession prejudicially violated his constitutional rights. The panel applied the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) standard of review and held that petitioner was not entitled to relief because the state habeas court could have reasonably concluded that petitioner's confession was not obtained in violation of his constitutional rights. In this case, the California Supreme Court had a reasonable basis for finding that petitioner's waiver was knowing and intelligent, and that his confession was not coerced and involuntary. Finally, the panel held that petitioner was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the issue of the voluntariness of his confession because he failed to timely develop in state court the factual basis for his claim that he was threatened at gunpoint. View "Cook v. Kernan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for first degree murder of a Border Patrol agent, conspiracy to interfere with and attempted interference with commerce by robbery in violation of the Hobbs Act, and assault on a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. The panel held that defendants were properly extradited in accordance with the terms of the United States's treaty with Mexico; the jury instructions for the Hobbs Act offenses were not plainly erroneous; defendants' argument that the instructions constituted a constructive amendment of the indictment was without merit; and the evidence was sufficient to establish that defendants took a substantial step toward commission of the robbery offense. In a concurrently-filed memorandum opinion, the panel vacated defendants' convictions for carrying and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. View "United States v. Soto-Barraza" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the school district in an action brought by a parent, alleging that the school district violated his First Amendment rights by imposing a "Communication Plan," limiting his communications with school district employees regarding his daughters' education. The panel held that the Communication Plan did not violate plaintiff's First Amendment rights even if it restricted his speech; plaintiff failed to explain how the Communication Plan imposed unreasonable restrictions on his ability to share his concerns about his daughters' educational needs or any other topic; the Communication Plan addressed the manner in which plaintiff communicated with the school district – not the content of his speech or any viewpoints he wished to convey; and thus the panel agreed with the district court that the Communication Plan was a reasonable effort to manage a parent's relentless and unproductive communications with school district staff. View "L. F. v. Lake Washington School District #414" on Justia Law

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USCIS permissibly construed the statutory phrase "accompanying, or following to join" in 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(U)(ii) when it adopted its regulation, 8 C.F.R. 214.14(f)(4), requiring that a spouse's qualifying relationship exist at the time of the initial U-visa petition and that the qualifying relationship continues throughout the adjudication of the derivative petition. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to government defendants, according Chevron deference to USCIS's interpretation of the statute in enacting the regulation. Given the deference to the agency to impose regulations interpreting (and gap filling) the immigration statutes, the panel held that the requirement was a reasonable interpretation. The panel also held that the equal protection clause has not been violated, because children and spouses were not similarly situated and distinction between nonimmigrant derivative spouses was rationally based. View "Medina Tovar v. Zuchowski" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's interlocutory orders in an action brought by plaintiffs, an environment organization and individual plaintiffs, alleging climate-change related injuries caused by the federal government continuing to "permit, authorize, and subsidize" fossil fuel. In this case, a substantial evidentiary record documents that the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse. The panel first rejected the government's contention that plaintiffs' claim must proceed, if at all, under the Administrative Procedure Act. Although plaintiffs had concrete and particularized injuries and the district court properly found the Article III causation requirement satisfied, the panel reluctantly concluded that plaintiffs' injuries were not redressable by an Article III court. The panel held that it was beyond the power of an Article III court to order, design, supervise, or implement plaintiffs' requested remedial plan. Rather, the panel stated that plaintiffs' impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of Article III standing. View "Juliana v. United States" on Justia Law

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Applying Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1 (1986), the Ninth Circuit held that the press has a qualified right of timely access to newly filed civil nonconfidential complaints that attaches when the complaint is filed. However, the panel held that this right does not entitle the press to immediate access to those complaints. Furthermore, some reasonable restrictions resembling time, place, and manner regulations that result in incidental delays in access are constitutionally permitted where they are content-neutral, narrowly tailored and necessary to preserve the court's important interest in the fair and orderly administration of justice. In this case, CNS filed suit seeking immediate access to newly filed civil complaints from Ventura County Superior Court. The panel affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the no-access-before-process policy, but reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the scanning policy. The panel vacated the district court's injunction and award of fees, remanding for further consideration. View "Courthouse News Service v. Planet" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), of plaintiff's EEO complaint challenging his removal from his job as a power-plant mechanic with the Army Corps of Engineers. 5 U.S.C. 7121(d), a provision of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA), provides that unionized federal employees seeking to bring discrimination claims may "raise the matter" through either (1) their union's negotiated procedure, or (2) their agency's EEO office, "but not both." In light of the wording and legislative history of 5 U.S.C. 7121(d), as well as the persuasive consensus among courts within and outside this circuit, the panel adopted the definition of the term "matter" as set forth in Bonner v. Merit Systems Protection Board, 781 F.2d 202 (Fed. Cir. 1986), and held that the term "matter" in section 7121(d) refers to the "underlying action" in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) grievance or the EEO complaint. In this case, plaintiff's EEO complaint raised the same matters as previously covered in plaintiff's union grievance. Furthermore, the panel would not impute a hostile-work-environment claim where no such allegation expressly appeared in the EEO complaint. The panel noted that, although plaintiff's EEO complaint was barred, there was a procedure available to him to raise his hostile-work-environment claim in the grievance process. View "Heimrich v. United States Department of the Army" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an inmate at the Montana State Prison (MPS), filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against prison staff members, alleging that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when he was sexually assaulted during the course of a pat-down search. The district court dismissed all defendants except Sergeant Larry Pasha, the prison guard who conducted the pat down, and a jury subsequently returned a verdict in Pasha's favor. Plaintiff appealed. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to continue plaintiff's trial sua sponte. The panel recognized that there was no model jury instruction for Eighth Amendment sexual assault, and took this opportunity to address this circuit's law governing this type of claim. The panel held that a prisoner presents a viable Eighth Amendment claim where he or she proves that a prison staff member, acting under color of law and without legitimate penological justification, touched the prisoner in a sexual manner or otherwise engaged in sexual conduct for the staff member’s own sexual gratification, or for the purpose of humiliating, degrading, or demeaning the prisoner. In this case the model instructions plainly misstated the law applicable to plaintiff's cause. The panel reversed and remanded for a new trial because it was impossible to determine whether the jury would have reached the same result had it been properly instructed. View "Bearchild v. Cobban" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's determination that petitioner committed a crime involving moral turpitude. The panel held that an aggravated assault conviction under Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1203(A)(2) and 13-1204(A)(2) qualifies as a crime involving moral turpitude that made petitioner removable. In this case, the parties have treated both the basic and aggravated assault provisions as divisible, and the panel agreed that such an approach comported with circuit and state precedent. In consideration of the charging document, plea agreement, and plea colloquy together, the panel held that it was clear petitioner was convicted under sections 13-1203(A)(2) and 13-1204(A)(2). The panel was satisfied that under its cases, an aggravated assault conviction under sections 13-1203(A)(2) and 13-1204(A)(2) involving the use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument qualifies as a crime involving moral turpitude. View "Altayar v. Barr" on Justia Law