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

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Clean Water Act (CWA), alleging that Corona Clay illegally discharged pollutants into the navigable waters of the United States, failed to monitor that discharge as required by its permit, and violated the conditions of the permit by failing to report violations. The district court granted partial summary judgment to defendants and a jury returned a defense verdict on the remaining claims.The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the district court's interpretation of Gwaltney of Smithfield, Ltd. v. Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 484 U.S. 49, 67 (1987), which held that the CWA bars citizen suits alleging only "wholly past" violations of permits, and held that if the required jurisdictional discharge into United States waters has occurred, a CWA citizen suit can be premised on ongoing or reasonably expected monitoring or reporting violations. The panel vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings in light of the Supreme Court's intervening decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, 140 S. Ct. 1462, 1468 (2020), which held that an offending discharge must reach the "waters of the United States," either through a direct discharge or a "functional equivalent." View "Inland Empire Waterkeeper v. Corona Clay Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of class certification in an action alleging minimum wage, overtime, and expense reimbursement claims against Grubhub. Plaintiff contends that he was misclassified as an independent contractor rather than an employee when he worked for Grubhub as a food delivery driver.The panel concluded that the district court properly denied certification to plaintiff's proposed class of delivery drivers in California where all members of plaintiff's putative class—except plaintiff and one other—signed agreements waiving their right to participate in a class action. The panel explained that the district court correctly held plaintiff did not satisfy the requirements in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) because he is neither typical of the class nor an adequate representative, and because the proceedings would be unlikely to generate common answers. The panel rejected Grubhub's claim that California Proposition 22 abated the application of the ABC test to plaintiff's pending class claim. In this case, there is no dispute that plaintiff’s minimum wage and overtime claims are rooted in wage orders. The panel concluded that, because the district court rendered its judgment before the California Supreme Court decided Dynamex Operations W., Inc. v. Superior Court, 416 P.3d 1, 33–40 (Cal. 2018), it had no occasion to apply the ABC test to plaintiff's claims. The panel remanded for the district court to apply the ABC test in the first instance to plaintiff's expense reimbursement claim. View "Lawson v. Grubhub, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying in part a motion to dismiss and ruling that plaintiff had standing to sue Slack and individual defendants under Sections 11 and 12(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 based on shares issued under a new rule from the New York Stock Exchange allowing companies to make shares available to the public through a direct listing. Plaintiff alleges that Slack's registration statement was inaccurate and misleading because it did not alert prospective shareholders to the generous terms of Slack's service agreements, which obligated Slack to pay for service disruptions; nor did it disclose that these service disruptions were frequent in part because Slack guaranteed 99.99% uptime; and the statement downplayed the competition Slack was facing from Microsoft Teams at the time of its direct listing.The panel concluded that plaintiff had standing to bring a claim under Sections 11 and 12(a)(2) because his shares could not be purchased without the issuance of Slack's registration statement, thus demarking these shares, whether registered or unregistered, as "such security" under Sections 11 and 12 of the Act. The panel explained that because standing existed for plaintiff's section 11 claim against Slack, standing also existed for a dependent section 15 claim against controlling persons. The panel did not resolve the issue of whether plaintiff has sufficiently alleged the other elements of Section 12 liability. View "Pirani v. Slack Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Securities Law
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Plaintiffs obtained short-term, high-interest loans from lenders owned by the Tribes. The standard loan contracts contained an agreement to arbitrate any dispute arising under the contract and a delegation provision requiring an arbitrator—not a court—to decide “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of [the loan] agreement or [arbitration agreement].” The contracts stated that they were governed by tribal law and that an arbitrator must apply tribal law. Plaintiffs filed class-action RICO complaints against the Tribal Lenders. The district court denied the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, reasoning that the arbitration agreement as a whole in each contract was unenforceable because it prospectively waived plaintiffs’ right to pursue federal statutory claims by requiring arbitrators to apply tribal law.The Ninth Circuit reversed. Rather than asking first whether the arbitration agreement was enforceable as a whole, the court must consider first the enforceability of the delegation provision specifically. The delegation provision was enforceable because it did not preclude plaintiffs from arguing to an arbitrator that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable under the prospective-waiver doctrine. The general enforceability issue must, therefore, be decided by an arbitrator. The choice-of-law provisions were not to the contrary because they did not prevent plaintiffs from pursuing their prospective-waiver enforcement challenge in arbitration. View "Brice v. Plain Green, LLC" on Justia Law

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Schaefer, who had a long history of mental illness, ignited a homemade explosive device when officers attempted to arrest him. Charged with assault on a federal officer (18 U.S.C. 111(a)–(b)) and possession of a “destructive device,” (26 U.S.C. 5841, 5861(d), 5871) Schaefer spent 18 months with a rotating cast of counsel. Weeks before trial, he sought to proceed pro se. After holding a “Faretta” hearing, the court ruled that Schaefer unequivocally, knowingly, and intelligently waived his right to counsel. Schaefer changed his mind once the jury was empaneled and attempted to reinvoke his right to counsel. Finding that Schaefer was attempting to manipulate the proceedings, the court denied the request but continued the appointment of advisory counsel.The Ninth Circuit affirmed his convictions. The district court ensured that Schaefer understood the nature of the charges and the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation. Although the court inaccurately identified the minimum sentence, if a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel, he must have substantially understood the approximate range of his penal exposure. The district court was mindful of Schaefer’s conduct throughout and did not abuse its discretion in declining to reappoint counsel nor in denying Schaefer’s motion to compel the government to produce its trial materials. Schaefer sought those materials after learning, post-trial, that the government’s legal assistant previously worked for the state public defender’s office and had participated in a “substantive interview” with Schaefer for a state prosecution months before the explosion. The state prosecution was unrelated to obtaining the explosive materials involved in the federal case. The court rejected Schaefer’s arguments that the statutes were intended to cover only “military-type weapons” and an argument under the Speedy Trial Act. View "United States v. Schaefer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Environmental organizations challenged a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit issued by the EPA for Idaho Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) under the Clean Water Act. On CAFOs, manure is typically stored in lagoons; waste that leaks from lagoons can reach groundwater that can reach navigable waters. Since the 1970s, the EPA has regulated both CAFO production areas (animal confinement, storage, lagoons) and land-application areas (fields where manure and process wastewater are applied as fertilizer).The Ninth Circuit held that the challenge was timely, rejecting the EPA’s contention that the Permit largely relied on a 2003 Rule. The Permit lacked sufficient monitoring provisions to ensure compliance with the Permit’s “zero discharge” requirements for both production and land-application areas. EPA's discretion in crafting appropriate monitoring requirements for each NPDES permit is not unlimited. The Permit had sufficient monitoring requirements for above-ground discharges from production areas; CAFOs were required to perform daily inspections. The Permit had no monitoring provisions for underground discharges from production areas. While the Permit flatly prohibited discharges from land-application areas during dry weather it had no monitoring provisions, although the record showed that such discharges can occur during irrigation of fertilized CAFO fields. View "Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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In 2006, a California death row inmate sued, arguing that California’s execution protocol violated the Eighth Amendment. The district court stayed the execution. After the state promulgated a new execution protocol, the District Attorneys of three counties unsuccessfully sought to intervene. While the District Attorneys’ appeal was pending, Governor Newsom withdrew California’s execution protocol and placed a moratorium on executions. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their suit subject to conditions.The Ninth Circuit first held that this appeal was not mooted by Governor Newsom’s Order or by the stipulated dismissal. Nothing prevented Governor Newsom, or a future Governor, from withdrawing the Order and proceeding with preparations for executions. The suit could be revived upon the occurrence of any of three events specified in the Stipulation.The district court properly denied intervention as of right under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a) because the District Attorneys had not shown a significant protectable interest in the litigation. California law does not authorize them to defend constitutional challenges to execution protocols. The litigation concerned only the method by which the state may perform executions. The District Attorneys have neither the authority to choose a method of execution nor to represent the state entity that makes that choice. The district court properly denied permissive intervention under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(b): there was no common question of law or fact between the District Attorneys’ claim or defense and the main action; intervention would delay the already long-drawn-out litigation. View "Cooper v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Alcaraz was born in Mexico in 1979 and entered the U.S. illegally when he was eight years old. In 1999, Alcaraz, who lacked legal immigration status, was involved in a domestic incident with his girlfriend, which led to a nolo contendere California felony conviction. He was removed, re-entered illegally in 2003, was deported again, and was caught attempting to re-enter in 2013.In 2018, the Ninth Circuit granted Alcaraz’s petition for review from a BIA order denying his applications for withholding of removal and deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture. The court concluded that the BIA erred in not requiring the DHS to make a good-faith effort to make available key government witnesses for Alcaraz’s cross-examination and in not deeming true Alcaraz’s testimony before the Immigration Judge, absent an express adverse credibility determination from the IJ. The Supreme Court reversed that judgment upon the second basis for granting the petition. On remand, the Ninth Circuit again granted Alcaraz’s petition for review in part, citing the BIA’s failure to require the DHS to make a good faith effort to present the author of the probation report or the declarant for Alcaraz’s cross-examination and the prejudice generated therefrom. The court remanded for a hearing that comports with the requirements of 8 U.S.C. 1229a(b)(4)(B), expressing no opinion on whether Alcaraz is entitled to withholding of removal. View "Alcaraz-Enriquez v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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After plaintiff and Thunder Studios filed suit against defendants in federal district court, the jury found that defendants committed the tort of stalking under California Civil Code 1708.7. In this case, defendants hired protestors, organized leafletting, hired a van to drive around Los Angeles with a message on its side, and published emails online to make the public aware of their views of plaintiff’s business practices.The Ninth Circuit held that defendants' speech and speech-related conduct was protected under the First Amendment and was therefore excluded from section 1708.7. The panel explained that the First Amendment applied to the speech and speech-related conduct of defendants, who were outside the United States at all relevant times, because their speech and speech-related conduct were directed at and received by California residents. The panel need not, and did not, here consider under what other circumstances a noncitizen living abroad has standing to claim the protections of the First Amendment. The panel also held that none of defendants' conduct constituted a "true threat" outside the protection of the First Amendment. Therefore, because defendants' conduct in California was constitutionally protected under section 1708.7(b)(1), there is no "pattern of conduct" that can support a judgment based on a violation of the California statute. Accordingly, the panel reversed and remanded with instructions. View "Thunder Studios, Inc. v. Kazal" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction of an action brought under the Quiet Title Act (QTA) against the United States, seeking to confirm that an easement granted to plaintiffs' predecessors-in-interest did not permit public use of the Robbins Gulch Road, and to enforce the government's obligations to patrol and maintain the road against unrestricted public use.The panel reaffirmed that the QTA's statute of limitations is jurisdictional and dispositive in this case. The panel explained that prior Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent are still controlling, even though for other statutes the Supreme Court has more recently set forth a seemingly different framework for assessing whether a statute of limitations is jurisdictional. Furthermore, the jurisdictional question and the merits question are not so intertwined that dismissal was improper because the determination of jurisdiction is not dependent on the merits of plaintiffs' claims. Finally, the panel rejected plaintiffs' remaining contentions, which are addressed in a separate memorandum disposition filed simultaneously with this opinion. View "Wilkins v. United States" on Justia Law