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

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, for lack of jurisdiction, of an admiralty action seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability for a boating accident. The panel concluded that the alleged tort here did not occur on navigable waters and thus the complaint is not cognizable under the district court's admiralty jurisdiction. In this case, the accident occurred on Holter Lake, which is located on a stretch of the Missouri River that is completely obstructed by Hauser dam at one end and Holter dam at the other, precluding it from serving as an artery of interstate commerce. Therefore, Holter Lake is not navigable for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction, and a cause of action sounding in tort is not cognizable under admiralty jurisdiction unless the alleged wrong occurs on navigable waters. View "In the Matter of Caleb Garrett" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Elliot Broidy and his investment firm filed suit against the State of Qatar and various other defendants after Qatari agents allegedly hacked into plaintiffs' computer servers, stole their confidential information, and leaked it to the media in a retaliatory effort to embarrass plaintiff and thereby to neutralize his ability to continue to effectively criticize the Qatari regime and its alleged support of terrorism.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The panel concluded that neither the FSIA's exception to immunity for tortious activity nor its exception for commercial activity applied in this case and thus Qatar was immune from jurisdiction. The panel explained that all of plaintiffs' tort claims were barred under the discretionary function exclusion from the tortious activity exception because the challenged conduct was discretionary in nature or involved an element of judgment or choice, and the judgment was of the kind that the exception was designed to shield. Furthermore, plaintiffs' claims were based on the alleged surreptitious intrusion into their servers and email accounts in order to obtain information and the dissemination of such information to others, including persons in the media. The panel explained that such conduct did not qualify as commercial activity under the FSIA. View "Broidy Capital Management v. State of Qatar" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging a highway improvement project proposed by Caltrans, claiming that the project failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. The district court determined that Caltrans arbitrarily and capriciously relied upon the 2010 Environmental Assessment (2010 EA), as supplemented and revised, and enjoined Caltrans from continuing the Project until it finalized an appropriate environmental impact statement (EIS). The district court then entered a final judgment against Caltrans.The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment to plaintiffs because none of the purported inadequacies it identified rendered the revised EA arbitrary or capricious. The panel was satisfied that Caltrans took a hard look at the consequences of the Project, and adequately considered the relevant factors. In this case, the district court's rationale for requiring an EIS was predicated on its erroneous conclusions about the Project's effects on redwood tree health and possible increases in truck traffic and noise. Therefore, the district court erred in finding Caltrans' EA arbitrary and capricious and in setting aside the 2017 finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The panel reversed the district court's judgment requiring Caltrans to produce an EIS and enjoining it from continuing the Project until it has done so. View "Bair v. California Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Five defendants appealed their convictions for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances under 21 U.S.C. 846 and 841. The en banc court concluded that the jury instruction in this case was erroneous, clarifying the requirements for conspiracy under section 846 and the facts that trigger the penalties under section 841(b)(1)(A)–(B).The en banc court explained that to convict defendants of conspiracy under section 846 in this case, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant agreed with another person that some member of the conspiracy would commit a section 841(a) offense, and that each defendant had the requisite intent necessary for a section 841(a) conviction. The en banc court further explained that a defendant convicted of conspiracy under section 846 is subject to a penalty under section 841(b)(1)(A)–(B) if the government has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the underlying section 841(a)(1) offense involved the drug type and quantity set forth in section 841(b)(1)(A)–(B). The government does not have to prove that the defendant had any knowledge or intent with respect to those facts. The en banc court clarified that a conviction under section 846 does not require proof of a level of criminal intent greater than that required for the underlying offense merely because it is a conspiracy conviction. The en banc court overruled United States v. Becerra, 992 F.2d 960 (9th Cir. 1993), and its progeny to the extent they depart from this decision.In this case, the erroneous jury instructions could amount to harmless error if there was overwhelming evidence that each defendant entered into an agreement involving the requisite drug type and quantity. Given the numerous issues raised on appeal and the extensive record from the ten-day jury trial, the en banc court found it appropriate to return this case to the three-judge panel to reconsider both the harmless error issue and the balance of the issues raised by the parties in light of this opinion, and to enter an appropriate judgment. View "United States v. Collazo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2019, DHS issued a rule that defines the term "public charge" to include those who are likely to participate, even for a limited period of time, in non-cash federal government assistance programs. At issue are preliminary injunctions issued by two district courts enjoining DHS's rule. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction of the District Court for the Northern District of California covering the territory of the plaintiffs. The panel affirmed in part and vacated in part the preliminary injunction of the District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, vacating the portion of the injunction that made it applicable nationwide.After determining that plaintiffs have Article III standing and that the interest of plaintiffs in preserving immigrants' access to supplemental benefits is within the zone of interests protected by the "public charge" statute, the panel concluded that plaintiffs have demonstrated a high likelihood of success in showing that the Rule is inconsistent with any reasonable interpretation of the statutory public charge bar and therefore is contrary to law. The panel also concluded that the Rule's promulgation was arbitrary and capricious as well as contrary to law within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The panel explained that DHS adopted the Rule, reversing prior, longstanding public policy, without adequately taking into account its potential adverse effects on the public fisc and the public welfare. Furthermore, the remaining injunction factors favor plaintiffs where plaintiffs have established that they likely are bearing and will continue to bear heavy financial costs because of withdrawal of immigrants from federal assistance programs and consequent dependence on state and local programs, and there was no error in finding that the balance of equities and public interest support an injunction.The panel vacated the portion of the Eastern District's injunction making it applicable nationwide, explaining that a nationwide injunction was not appropriate in this case because the impact of the Rule would fall upon all districts at the same time, and the same issues regarding its validity have been and are being litigated in multiple federal district and circuit courts. Finally, because the panel held that the Rule violates the APA as contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious, it similarly did not address the Rehabilitation Act. View "City and County of San Francisco v. USCIS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against various parties under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process after the police department destroyed some of his firearms by smelting them. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants sued in their individual capacities. The district court also concluded that plaintiff could not maintain his Monell failure-to-train claim against the municipal defendants and granted summary judgment in favor of them.The Ninth Circuit held that a rational trier of fact could find that plaintiff's due process rights were violated when his firearms were seized and destroyed. In this case, given the fact that plaintiff continued to assert a claim of right to the firearms and reasonably believed that the LAPD was still reviewing the documentation he provided, he was entitled to know that the LAPD intended to seek an order permitting destruction of the remaining firearms at issue. A reasonable jury could find that plaintiff was entitled to notice, and Officer Edwards, who filed the application for an order to destroy the firearms and failed to provide plaintiff with notice, violated plaintiff's due process rights. Furthermore, the panel had no doubt that Officer Edwards had fair notice that his conduct violated plaintiff's due process right to notice, and thus Officer Edwards was not entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment on this claim. The panel also reversed plaintiff's Monell failure-to-train claim against Defendants Beck, Feuer, and the City. The panel affirmed the judgment as to Defendants Aubry and Tompkins, remanding for further proceedings. View "Wright v. Beck" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for panel rehearing, denied on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc, and filed an Amended Opinion and Concurrence.The panel affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for knowingly engaging in sexual contact with another person without that other person's permission on an international flight, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2244(b). The panel rejected defendant's contention that the district court erred in giving the Ninth Circuit Model Instruction on the elements of section 2244(b), which does not require that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant subjectively knew that his victim did not consent to his conduct. The panel rejected defendant's reading of the statute as contrary to its text, the structure of the statutory scheme and its very purpose in penalizing those who sexually prey upon victims on the seas or in the air within federal jurisdiction. Because unwanted sexual contact of the type defendant engaged in—touching first, and asserting later that he "thought" the victim consented—is precisely what section 2244(b) criminalizes, the panel rejected defendant's claim of instructional error. Furthermore, the Supreme Court's recent decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), does not alter the panel's conclusion. The panel also concluded that the police had probable cause to arrest defendant, that he was properly Mirandized, and that the district court acted within its discretion in refusing to read back to the jury portions of the victim's testimony. View "United States v. Price" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in an action brought by plaintiff under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Plaintiff alleged that P&F violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect a debt that was no longer owed and that P&F's agent, AAS, violated the FDCPA in attempting to collect the debt.Walls v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 276 F.3d 502 (9th Cir. 2002), precludes claims under the FDCPA. The panel held that Walls does not extend to this circumstance because plaintiff's FDCPA claims are based on the wholly independent ground of full payment, rather than being premised on a violation of the discharge order. View "Manikan v. Peters & Freedman, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for accessing, possessing, and distributing child pornography. The panel held that defendant arguably waived his Franks claim and that any error was not plain. The panel rejected defendant's claim under Wardius v. Oregon, 412 U.S. 470 (1973), where defendant, not the Government, benefited more from the district court's enforcement of the parties' agreement to disclose the identity of testifying witnesses. The panel rejected defendant's remaining evidentiary challenges and held that the district court did not err in denying his motion for a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct.The panel also held that the district court did not err, let alone plainly err, in imposing a lifetime term of supervised release. As to the substance of the Special Conditions, the Government concedes that remand is required to conform the written judgment to the oral pronouncement of Special Conditions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. So conformed, the Government also concedes Special Conditions 5 and 8 must be vacated and remanded for the district court to reconsider. Finally, the district court's imposition of Special Condition 7, requiring defendant to submit to searches of his property and person by his probation officer, was not an abuse of discretion. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Rusnak" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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DaVita filed suit under the private cause of action under the Medicare Secondary Payer provisions (MSP), alleging that defendants reduced the payment amount for Patient 1's dialysis because of Medicare eligibility as soon as Patient 1 became eligible for Medicare, without waiting the mandatory thirty months. But the reduced payment amount remained greater than the Medicare rate, so Medicare never made any secondary payments. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that the MSP's private cause of action is available only when Medicare has made a payment.Reviewing de novo, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court erroneously dismissed the complaint on that ground. The panel explained that the statutory text, congressional purpose, and regulatory clues make clear that Congress did not intend payment by Medicare to be a prerequisite to bringing a private cause of action under the MSP. The private cause of action encompasses situations in which a primary plan impermissibly takes Medicare eligibility into account too soon, even if Medicare has not made any payments. Accordingly, the panel vacated in large part and remanded for further proceedings. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal with respect to the 10-month period after Patient 1 dropped coverage under Virginia Mason's Plan. View "DaVita, Inc. v. Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital" on Justia Law

Posted in: Health Law