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

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The case revolves around Gabriel Mirabal, a prisoner at a federal correctional institution in Victorville, California, who was convicted of two counts of assaulting a federal officer resulting in bodily injury. The incident occurred when Mirabal and another inmate, Erik Rojo, passed through metal detectors after lunch. A dispute arose over which inmate wore a white shirt and which wore a brown shirt, as the color of the shirt was linked to the initiation of the assault. The government consistently portrayed Mirabal as the person in the white shirt, while Mirabal maintained that he was clad in brown. Mirabal's defense was predicated upon the theory that he acted in self-defense, a theory that was practically unavailable to the white-shirted individual who joined the fight after it started.In the lower courts, the government filed a motion in limine to exclude the original factual basis under Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 403, and 802. The district court granted the government’s motion, reasoning that the original factual basis constituted inadmissible hearsay. The court held that Rule 801(d)(1)(A)’s hearsay exclusion for prior inconsistent statements did not apply to the original factual basis because Rojo was not called to testify at Mirabal’s trial. And it reasoned that Rule 801(d)(2)’s hearsay exclusion for an admission of a party opponent did not apply to the “opinion” of a prosecutor.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in excluding the sworn statement of a government attorney as hearsay at Mirabal’s trial. The court stated that in a criminal case, the sworn statement of a government attorney in a plea agreement or sentencing memorandum is a party admission, excluded from the definition of hearsay under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2). The court further held that the error was not harmless. As a result, Mirabal’s conviction was vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "USA V. MIRABAL" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project (BMBP) sued the U.S. Forest Service, alleging that the Service's approval of the Walton Lake Restoration Project violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Forest Management Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The Forest Service developed the project to replace trees infested with laminated root rot and bark beetles with disease-resistant trees. In 2016, the Service contracted with T2, a private company, for logging to implement the decision. BMBP filed this action challenging the 2020 decision notice. The Service filed an administrative record (AR) in 2021.BMBP argued that the AR was incomplete, contending that deliberative materials were part of the “whole record” and that a privilege log was required if they were not included in the AR. BMBP also argued that all documents in the 2016 AR should be in the AR for this case. The court held that deliberative materials are generally not part of the AR absent impropriety or bad faith by the agency. The court also held that BMBP’s arguments failed to overcome the presumption of regularity.The court then addressed whether the Service violated NEPA by approving the Project. The court held that BMBP failed to establish that the logging contract with T2 improperly committed resources under any standard. The court also rejected BMBP’s contention that the EA diluted the significance of some impacts by analyzing them on too large a scale. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court and lifted the previous stay of its order dissolving the preliminary injunction. View "BMBP V. JEFFRIES" on Justia Law

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The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency (SCVWA), a public water agency, sued Whittaker Corporation for contaminating groundwater that the agency pumps from wells. The jury found Whittaker liable for negligence, trespass, public nuisance, and private nuisance, and awarded damages for past harm and restoration or repair costs. The jury verdict was reduced to $64,870,000 due to SCVWA’s fault for failure to mitigate damages and an offset for a settlement between SCVWA and a third party. After a bench trial on the statutory claims, the district court denied SCVWA relief under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and apportioned costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to SCVWA and Whittaker.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the jury award on Whittaker’s appeal. On SCVWA’s cross-appeal, the court affirmed in part, holding that the district court’s denial of injunctive relief under RCRA, denial of prejudgment interest, and denial of attorneys' fees were proper. However, the court reversed in part, holding that the district court erred in denying SCVWA a finding of liability against Whittaker for one category of incurred response costs under CERCLA and by denying SCVWA declaratory relief under CERCLA. The court remanded the case for the district court to amend its judgment. View "SANTA CLARITA VALLEY WATER AGENCY V. WHITTAKER CORPORATION" on Justia Law

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The case involves the family of Joseph Perez, who died after law enforcement officers, under the direction of a paramedic, used their body weight to restrain him while he was prone to secure him to a backboard for hospital transport. The family sued the City and County of Fresno, individual law enforcement officers, and the paramedic, alleging violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the officers and paramedic were entitled to qualified immunity. The court held that at the time of Perez's death in 2017, the law did not clearly establish that the officers' actions would be unconstitutional. The court also found that the paramedic was entitled to qualified immunity because the law did not clearly establish that a paramedic acting in a medical capacity to restrain a person for medical transport could be held liable for a constitutional violation. The court dismissed the plaintiffs' Monell claims, finding insufficient evidence that the City and County were deliberately indifferent to their duty to properly train their officers.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the law did not clearly establish, nor was it otherwise obvious, that the officers' actions, directed by medical personnel, would violate Perez's constitutional rights. The court also held that the paramedic was acting in a medical capacity during the incident, and the law did not clearly establish that medical personnel are liable for constitutional torts for actions taken to provide medical care or medical transport. The court concluded that the plaintiffs produced insufficient evidence to support their municipal liability claim against the City and the County based on a failure-to-train theory. View "PEREZ V. CITY OF FRESNO" on Justia Law

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Genaro Medina-Luna, a Mexican national, was charged with attempted reentry by a removed noncitizen, a violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326, after he was found concealed in the trunk of a car at the Otay Mesa, California Port of Entry. Medina-Luna had been previously removed from the United States five times between 2006 and 2022. He waived his right to a grand jury indictment and pleaded guilty unconditionally. The district court sentenced him to 41 months of imprisonment, a downward variance from the Guideline range of 63–78 months, considering his sincere family reasons for reentry and overcoming methamphetamine addiction.Medina-Luna appealed his sentence, raising two issues: the validity of his waiver of the right to a grand jury indictment and the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Medina-Luna waived his right to appeal the validity of his waiver of indictment by entering an unconditional guilty plea. The court overruled a previous decision, United States v. Travis, which characterized any defect in the waiver of indictment as jurisdictional, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Cotton, which held that defects in an indictment do not deprive a court of jurisdiction.Regarding the substantive reasonableness of the sentence, the court found no abuse of discretion. The district court had considered the statutory factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), acknowledged Medina-Luna's sincere family reasons for reentry, and his overcoming of methamphetamine addiction. The court affirmed the 41-month sentence, which was the sentence Medina-Luna himself had requested. The appeal was dismissed in part and affirmed in part. View "United States v. Medina-Luna" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Ryan S., filed a class action lawsuit against UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries (collectively, “UnitedHealthcare”) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). He alleged that UnitedHealthcare applies a more stringent review process to benefits claims for outpatient, out-of-network mental health and substance use disorder (“MH/SUD”) treatment than to otherwise comparable medical/surgical treatment. Ryan S. asserted that by doing so, UnitedHealthcare violated the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (“Parity Act”), breached its fiduciary duty, and violated the terms of his plan.The district court granted UnitedHealthcare’s motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) based primarily on its conclusions that Ryan S. failed to allege that his claims had been “categorically” denied and insufficiently identified analogous medical/surgical claims that he had personally submitted and UnitedHealthcare had processed more favorably.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part the district court’s judgment. The panel concluded that Ryan S. adequately stated a claim for a violation of the Parity Act. The panel explained that an ERISA plan can violate the Parity Act in different ways, including by applying, as Ryan S. alleged here, a more stringent internal process to MH/SUD claims than to medical/surgical claims. The panel also concluded that Ryan S. alleged a breach of fiduciary duty. However, as Ryan S. failed to identify any specific plan terms that the alleged practices would violate, the panel affirmed the dismissal of his claims based on a violation of the terms of his plan. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ryan S. v. UnitedHealth Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves three consolidated appeals by Dexcom, Inc., a California-based company, against the decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California to remand three product liability actions back to California state court. The remand was based on the forum defendant rule, which prohibits removal based on diversity jurisdiction if any of the defendants is a citizen of the state where the action is brought.Dexcom had removed the cases to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction after the complaints were submitted electronically but before they were officially filed by the clerk of court. Dexcom argued that the forum defendant rule did not bar removal because it had not yet been “joined and served” as a defendant.The district court held that an electronically submitted complaint is not “filed” in California state court until it is processed and endorsed or otherwise acknowledged as officially filed by the clerk of the court. Therefore, Dexcom’s removals were ineffectual attempts to remove cases that did not yet exist as civil actions pending in state court. As a result, the district court had the power to grant the plaintiffs’ eventual motions to remand based on a perceived violation of the forum defendant rule, even though the motions were brought 31 days after Dexcom’s initial (ineffectual) notices of removal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeals for lack of jurisdiction, as the district court had the power under § 1447(c) to order remand based on the forum defendant rule. View "Casola v. Dexcom, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Amazon and its delivery service partners (DSPs), who are business entities that entered into Delivery Service Program Agreements with Amazon. These agreements contained an arbitration provision, stipulating that disputes arising from the agreements would be resolved by binding arbitration conducted by the American Arbitration Association, rather than in court. The plaintiffs, who are or were DSPs, argued that the Federal Arbitration Act's (FAA) "transportation worker exemption" applied to them, which would exempt them from the FAA's coverage and allow them to bring their dispute to court.The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington rejected the plaintiffs' argument and granted Amazon's motion to compel arbitration, dismissing the case without prejudice. The plaintiffs appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the FAA's "transportation worker exemption" did not extend to business entities or to commercial contracts like the DSP Agreement. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. The court found that the arbitration agreement contained a delegation provision, which incorporated AAA rules delegating threshold issues to the arbitrator. The court concluded that the delegation provision was between sophisticated parties, incorporated the AAA rules, and therefore must be enforced. Thus, the plaintiffs' remaining unconscionability arguments directed at the arbitration agreement as a whole must be decided by the arbitrator. View "FLI-LO Falcon, LLC V. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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Six defendants were convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud for their sales companies' tactics in selling printer toner. The government's case was based on the argument that a representative from the sales company would call a business, falsely imply that the sales company was the business's regular supplier of toner, and falsely state that the price of toner had increased. The representative would then state that the business could lock in the old price by purchasing more toner that day. The defendants argued that this theory of fraud was overbroad because it permitted the jury to convict even though all of the businesses received the toner they ordered at the agreed price.The case was heard in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where the defendants were found guilty on all counts. The defendants appealed their convictions, arguing that the government's theory of fraud was overbroad.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the defendants, holding that the government's theory of fraud was overbroad because it did not require the jury to find that the defendants deceived customers about the nature of the bargain. The court vacated the defendants' convictions and remanded the case back to the lower court. View "United States v. Milheiser" on Justia Law

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The case involves shareholders of Genius Brands International, Inc., a children's entertainment company, who alleged that the company violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by making fraudulent statements and omissions. The shareholders claimed that Genius concealed its relationship with a stock promoter, PennyStocks.com, misrepresented its relationship with Arnold Schwarzenegger, exaggerated the frequency of its show Rainbow Rangers on Nickelodeon Jr., falsely suggested that Disney or Netflix would acquire Genius, and overstated its rights to the works of comic book author Stan Lee.The United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the shareholders' complaint, finding that they failed to adequately allege that Genius's representations were misleading or that they caused the shareholders' losses.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the shareholders adequately alleged that Genius's representations regarding PennyStocks were misleading and that they caused the shareholders' losses with respect to the Rainbow Rangers, Disney/Netflix, and Stan Lee claims. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the claim regarding Genius's relationship with Schwarzenegger, finding that the shareholders did not adequately allege loss causation. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Alavi v. Genius Brands International, Inc." on Justia Law