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

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A group of firefighters from the City of Spokane filed a lawsuit against the city and state officials, alleging that a COVID-19 vaccination mandate violated their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The mandate, issued by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, required all state agency workers to be fully vaccinated, but the firefighters claimed that their requests for religious exemptions were denied. They were subsequently terminated for failing to get vaccinated. The firefighters also alleged that the city used firefighters from neighboring departments, who were granted religious exemptions by their respective departments, to fill the gaps left by their termination.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington granted judgment on the pleadings to the city and state defendants, dismissing the firefighters' claims. The court held that the city's vaccination requirement survived both strict scrutiny and rational basis review, and that accommodating unvaccinated firefighters would impose an undue hardship.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the firefighters' claims for retrospective and prospective relief were not moot, despite the rescission of the Proclamation. The court found that the city's implementation of the vaccination policy was not generally applicable, as it exempted certain firefighters based on a secular criterion while holding firefighters who objected to vaccination on religious grounds to a higher standard. The court also held that the city's application of the Proclamation was not narrowly tailored to advance the government's compelling interest in stemming the spread of COVID-19. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bacon v. Woodward" on Justia Law

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The case involves Jeremy and Kristy Morris, who sued the West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners Association (HOA) under the Fair Housing Act. The Morrises alleged that the HOA discriminated against them based on religion by attempting to prevent them from conducting a Christmas program. The jury ruled in favor of the Morrises, awarding them compensatory and punitive damages. However, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law to the HOA, alternatively granted a new trial, and issued a permanent injunction against future productions of the Christmas program that violate the HOA’s covenants, conditions, restrictions, and easements.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment. The appellate court held that the district court properly granted judgment as a matter of law to the HOA as to the Morrises’ disparate treatment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b) because they did not show that they were adversely affected by the HOA’s actions. However, the court reversed the district court's judgment as a matter of law on the Morrises’ claim that the HOA interfered with their right to purchase and enjoy their home free from discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3617. The court affirmed the district court’s grant of a new trial to the HOA as to the § 3617 claim and vacated the district court’s grant of an injunction to the HOA. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "MORRIS V. WEST HAYDEN ESTATES FIRST ADDITION HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC." on Justia Law

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The case involves Leopoldo Rivera-Valdes, a Mexican citizen who unlawfully entered the United States in 1992. In 1994, Rivera-Valdes failed to appear at his deportation hearing and was ordered deported in absentia. He was finally deported in 2006 after being apprehended. After being deported, Rivera-Valdes again unlawfully entered the United States. In 2019, he was charged with illegal reentry under 8 U.S.C. § 1326. He challenged the indictment, alleging that his 1994 in absentia deportation order violated due process. The district court denied the motion, and Rivera-Valdes entered a conditional guilty plea, preserving the right to appeal the constitutional challenge to his deportation.The district court denied Rivera-Valdes's motion to dismiss the indictment, ruling that his 1994 in absentia deportation order did not violate due process. Rivera-Valdes had argued that immigration authorities violated his due process rights by ordering him deported in absentia despite the notice of the deportation hearing being returned as undeliverable or unclaimed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the deportation in absentia did not violate due process. The court found that whether Rivera-Valdes actually received the notice, the government followed its statutory obligations and reasonably attempted to inform him of the hearing by mailing notice to his last (and only) provided address. The court rejected Rivera-Valdes's argument that additional steps to notify him of his deportation hearing were required under Jones v. Flowers, 547 U.S. 220 (2006). The court concluded that even if Jones's "additional reasonable steps" standard did supersede the constitutional adequacy of notice as recognized in this court’s cases, the government still satisfied due process because no additional reasonable steps existed that were practicable for it to take. View "USA V. RIVERA-VALDES" on Justia Law

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The petitioner, Tania Lizeth Gonzalez-Lara, sought review of the Board of Immigration Appeals' (BIA) decision denying her motion to remand to apply for voluntary departure and dismissing her appeal of an Immigration Judge’s (IJ) denial of her applications for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Gonzalez-Lara, a native of El Salvador, entered the United States in December 2017. She claimed persecution on account of her membership in particular social groups, including family members of Salvadoran police officers and Salvadoran women. The IJ found Gonzalez-Lara credible but denied her applications, finding that she had not suffered harm that rose to the level of past persecution and that her fear of future persecution was not objectively reasonable.The BIA affirmed the IJ's decision and denied Gonzalez-Lara's motion to remand to apply for voluntary departure. The BIA reasoned that Gonzalez-Lara did not show a well-founded fear of future persecution because she did not present evidence that the gangs have shown interest in her, her former partner, or family since she left El Salvador in 2017. The BIA also found that Gonzalez-Lara had waived the IJ’s denial of her CAT claim because she did not raise any specific argument on appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied the petition for review. The court found that the BIA erred in denying the motion to remand on the basis that Gonzalez-Lara had not previously applied for voluntary departure. However, the court concluded that the BIA’s error was harmless because Gonzalez-Lara did not allege facts to satisfy all elements of voluntary departure, and the record did not independently establish her prima facie eligibility. The court also found that substantial evidence supported the BIA’s finding that Gonzalez-Lara’s fear of harm was too speculative to support her claim for relief. View "GONZALEZ-LARA V. GARLAND" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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The case involves Clayton Zellmer, who sued Meta Platforms, Inc. (formerly Facebook) for alleged violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). Zellmer, who never used Facebook, claimed that the company violated BIPA when it created a "face signature" from photos of him uploaded by his friends and failed to publish a written policy outlining its retention schedule for collected biometric data.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Meta on Zellmer's claim under Section 15(b) of BIPA. The court reasoned that it would be practically impossible for Meta to comply with BIPA if it had to obtain consent from everyone whose photo was uploaded to Facebook before it could use its Tag Suggestions feature. The court also dismissed Zellmer's claim under Section 15(a) of BIPA for lack of standing, holding that Zellmer did not suffer a particularized injury.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decisions but on different grounds. The appellate court rejected the district court's reasoning for granting summary judgment, stating that BIPA's plain text applies to everyone whose biometric identifiers or information is held by Facebook. However, the court concluded that there was no material dispute of fact as to whether Meta violated BIPA's plain terms. The court found that face signatures, which are created from uploaded photos, cannot identify and therefore are not biometric identifiers or information as defined by BIPA. The court also affirmed the dismissal of Zellmer's claim under Section 15(a) of BIPA for lack of standing, agreeing with the district court that Zellmer did not suffer a particularized injury. View "ZELLMER V. META PLATFORMS, INC." on Justia Law

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The case involves Nicholas DeFries, a former conductor for Union Pacific Railroad Company, who was removed from his duties after failing color-vision testing. Prior to DeFries' removal, a class action lawsuit had been filed against Union Pacific by a group of employees, alleging that the company's fitness-for-duty program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). DeFries qualified as a member of this class, but the class was later narrowed and then decertified by the Eighth Circuit. DeFries subsequently filed an individual lawsuit in the District of Oregon, raising claims similar to those in the class action.The District of Oregon concluded that the commencement of the class action had tolled the statute of limitations under American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, but that the tolling ended when the class definition was voluntarily narrowed, making DeFries's claim untimely. DeFries appealed this decision.The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court found ambiguity in whether the definition of the certified class included color-vision plaintiffs like DeFries. The court concluded that this ambiguity should be resolved in favor of allowing DeFries to rely on American Pipe tolling. Therefore, DeFries was entitled to tolling as a member of the class until the Eighth Circuit issued the mandate for its decision reversing class certification, making his claim timely. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "DeFries v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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John Russell Howald was convicted for a federal hate crime under 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2) and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). Howald had fired shots at a local woman's house in Basin, Montana, with the intent to "rid" the town of "lesbians and gays." The firearms and ammunition used in the offense had traveled across state lines.In the United States District Court for the District of Montana, Howald moved to dismiss both counts of the indictment, arguing that § 249(a)(2) exceeded Congress’s Commerce Clause power and that his § 249(a)(2) hate crime conviction was not a predicate crime of violence for § 924(c)(1)(A). The district court upheld the charges and rejected Howald's arguments.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Howald reiterated his arguments. The appellate court held that the jurisdictional element in § 249(a)(2)(B)(iii) defeated the facial challenge to the statute's constitutionality. The court also rejected the as-applied challenge because the government had proven that the firearms and ammunition used in the offense had traveled across state lines. Furthermore, the court held that § 249(a)(2) is divisible, and that Howald’s offense is categorically a crime of violence because an attempt to kill in violation of § 249(a)(2)(A)(ii)(II) necessarily involves the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another per § 924(c)(3)(A). Therefore, the court affirmed Howald's convictions. View "United States v. Howald" on Justia Law

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The case involves two separate actions brought by B&L Productions, Inc., an operator of gun shows in California, against state officeholders tasked with enforcing various California statutes that bar the sale of guns on state property. B&L argued that these statutes violated its rights under the First and Second Amendments. In the first case, B&L challenged a ban on firearm sales at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. In the second case, B&L challenged bans on firearm sales at the Orange County Fairgrounds and on all state property.In the first case, the district court dismissed B&L’s lawsuit, holding that B&L had failed to state a claim that the ban violates its constitutional rights. In the second case, the district court granted B&L’s motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that B&L was likely to succeed on the merits of all its claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of B&L’s claims in the first case and vacated the district court’s order granting B&L’s motion for a preliminary injunction in the second case. The court held that the challenged statutes do not infringe on B&L’s constitutional rights. The court found that the statutes solely restrict nonexpressive conduct—contracting for the sale of firearms—and are not subject to First Amendment scrutiny. Furthermore, the court determined that the plain text of the Second Amendment does not cover B&L’s proposed conduct—namely, contracting for the sale of firearms and ammunition on state property. View "B & L PRODUCTIONS, INC. V. NEWSOM" on Justia Law

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The case involves Chad Alan Lee, who was convicted and sentenced to death for three murders. Lee filed a habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, arguing that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective at sentencing because he failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence that Lee suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effect. Lee also argued that the Arizona Supreme Court erred by requiring him to establish a causal nexus between his crimes and his mitigating evidence.The district court denied Lee's petition and his motion for leave to amend. The court found that Lee's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was procedurally defaulted because he did not raise it in his postconviction relief petition. The court also found that Lee's proposed claim that the Arizona Supreme Court erred was untimely, procedurally defaulted, and without merit.On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Lee's theories for obtaining a federal evidentiary hearing notwithstanding 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2), which places strict limits on when federal courts can hold evidentiary hearings and consider new evidence, lacked merit. The court also held that even if Lee could demonstrate cause to excuse the procedural default, he could not demonstrate prejudice. The court further held that the district court correctly denied leave to add Lee's proposed claim because it was untimely under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1), procedurally defaulted, and lacked merit. View "LEE V. THORNELL" on Justia Law

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The Choctaw Nation and several pharmacies it owns and operates entered into agreements with Caremark, LLC, and its affiliates to facilitate insurance reimbursements for the Nation’s costs for pharmacy services for its members. The Nation filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, alleging that Caremark unlawfully denied pharmacy reimbursement claims in violation of the Recovery Act. After the matter was stayed in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, Caremark petitioned to compel arbitration of the Nation’s claims in the District of Arizona. The district court granted the petition, concluding that the parties’ agreements included arbitration provisions with delegation clauses and therefore an arbitrator must decide the Nation’s arguments that its claims are not arbitrable.The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. The court held that most of the Nation’s arguments challenging the district court’s arbitration order were foreclosed by a previous case, Caremark, LLC v. Chickasaw Nation, which addressed the enforceability of identical arbitration provisions. The court also held that the Nation’s remaining argument that the District of Arizona lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the petition to compel arbitration failed because the Nation contractually agreed to arbitrate its claims against Caremark in Arizona, and in those contracts specifically “agree[d] to such jurisdiction.” Thus, the Nation expressly waived its tribal sovereign immunity as a bar to arbitration in the District of Arizona. View "CAREMARK, LLC V. CHOCTAW NATION" on Justia Law