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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The case involves Marlon Alonzo Smith, a native and citizen of Guyana, who was found removable as an alien convicted of an aggravated felony. Smith challenged the authenticity and reliability of three documents the agency relied upon for its removability ruling: a Form I-213, Record of Deportable Alien; an FBI rap sheet; and a criminal judgment. He argued that these documents were not authenticated by any method and that an amendment to 8 C.F.R. § 287.6(a) made mandatory a requirement that domestic official records be authenticated.The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) concluded that Smith had not preserved his challenge to the authenticity of three of the Government’s exhibits, and they sufficed to establish his removability. The BIA also rejected Smith’s due process arguments and concluded that substantial evidence supported the denial of relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied Smith's petition for review. The court found that Smith did not preserve his challenge to the authenticity of the documents, and they were sufficient to establish his removability. The court also rejected Smith's due process arguments and concluded that substantial evidence supported the denial of CAT protection. The court did not resolve the issue of whether the amendment to 8 C.F.R. § 287.6(a) made mandatory a requirement that domestic official records be authenticated, leaving that analysis for another day. View "SMITH V. GARLAND" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians ("Tribe") and their appeal against a district court's order that determined their usual and accustomed fishing grounds ("U&As") under the Treaty of Point Elliott did not include certain marine waters. The Tribe argued that their U&As extended beyond the Stillaguamish River and included marine waters to the east of Whidbey Island. The Tribe presented documentary evidence and expert testimony about the historical locations and activities of the Stillaguamish Tribe. However, the district court concluded that the Tribe had not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that they customarily fished in the disputed marine waters at and before treaty times.The district court's decision was based on the law of the case as set forth in United States v. Washington and its various sub-proceedings. The court applied the standard set forth in United States v. Washington for determining a tribe’s U&As, which required the Tribe to demonstrate that it fished the claimed waters before and at treaty time. The court concluded that the Tribe's evidence was too speculative to meet that standard.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the district court correctly applied the law of the case. However, the appellate court could not affirm the district court's factual findings or conclusions of law due to the lack of sufficient detail in the order. The appellate court vacated the order of the district court and remanded the case for further factual findings as to the Tribe’s evidence of villages, presence, and fishing activities in the disputed marine waters. View "STILLAGUAMISH TRIBE OF INDIANS V. STATE OF WASHINGTON" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Ronald Hittle, was the Fire Chief for the City of Stockton, California. He alleged that he was terminated from his position due to his religion, specifically his attendance at a religious leadership event. The City of Stockton, former City Manager Robert Deis, and former Deputy City Manager Laurie Montes were named as defendants. The City had hired an independent investigator, Trudy Largent, to investigate various allegations of misconduct against Hittle. Largent's report sustained almost all of the allegations, including Hittle's use of city time and a city vehicle to attend a religious event, his failure to properly report his time off, potential favoritism of certain Fire Department employees based on a financial conflict of interest not disclosed to the City, and endorsement of a private consultant's business in violation of City policy.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The court found that Hittle failed to present sufficient direct evidence of discriminatory animus in the defendants' statements and the City's notice of intent to remove him from City service. The court also found that Hittle failed to present sufficient specific and substantial circumstantial evidence of religious animus by the defendants.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that employment discrimination claims under Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act are analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. The court concluded that Hittle failed to present sufficient direct evidence of discriminatory animus in the defendants' statements and the City's notice of intent to remove him from City service. Hittle also failed to present sufficient specific and substantial circumstantial evidence of religious animus by the defendants. The court found that the district court's grant of summary judgment in the defendants' favor was appropriate where the defendants' legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for firing Hittle were sufficient to rebut his evidence of discrimination, and he failed to persuasively argue that these non-discriminatory reasons were pretextual. View "HITTLE V. CITY OF STOCKTON" on Justia Law

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The case involves pension plan participants, Evelyn Wilson and Stephen Bafford, who alleged that the plan administrator, the Administrative Committee of the Northrop Grumman Pension Plan, violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by not providing pension benefit statements automatically or on request, and by providing inaccurate pension benefit statements prior to their retirements. The district court initially dismissed the case, but on appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and vacated in part the dismissal, allowing the plaintiffs to file amended complaints.Upon remand, the plaintiffs filed amended complaints, but the district court dismissed their claims again. The plaintiffs appealed once more to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit held that the lower court's prior mandate did not preclude the plaintiffs from pleading their claim for violation of ERISA on remand. The court also held that the plaintiffs stated a viable claim under ERISA by alleging that the plan administrator provided substantially inaccurate pension benefit statements.The court rejected the administrator’s argument that there were no remedies available for the ERISA violations the plaintiffs alleged. As a result, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "BAFFORD V. ADMINISTRATIVE CMTE. OF THE NORTHROP GRUMMAN PLAN" on Justia Law

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The case involves Ninoska Suate-Orellana, who was ordered to be removed to Honduras in 2011 after her asylum application was denied. She reentered the U.S. illegally in 2014, and the Department of Homeland Security reinstated her prior removal order. Suate-Orellana filed a motion for reconsideration and termination of the underlying removal order, arguing that the Notice to Appear (NTA) in the original immigration proceedings was deficient under 8 U.S.C. § 1229(a)(1) because it did not state the time or date of her hearing. The immigration judge denied the motion, and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed her appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted Suate-Orellana’s petition for review of the BIA’s dismissal. The court found that Suate-Orellana had exhausted her claim that her NTA was statutorily deficient. The court also held that 8 U.S.C. § 1231(a)(5), which bars reopening or review of an order of removal that has been reinstated, is not jurisdictional. The court concluded that the government had forfeited its claim that § 1231(a)(5) barred reopening in this case. The case was remanded to the BIA for reconsideration of the merits of Suate-Orellana’s claim in light of intervening authorities. View "SUATE-ORELLANA V. GARLAND" on Justia Law

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A group of retirement and pension funds filed a consolidated putative securities class action against PG&E Corporation and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (collectively, PG&E) and some of its current and former officers, directors, and bond underwriters (collectively, Individual Defendants). The plaintiffs alleged that all the defendants made false or misleading statements related to PG&E’s wildfire-safety policies and regulatory compliance. Shortly after the plaintiffs filed the operative complaint, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, automatically staying this action as against PG&E but not the Individual Defendants. The district court then sua sponte stayed these proceedings as against the Individual Defendants, pending completion of PG&E’s bankruptcy case.The district court for the Northern District of California issued a stay of the securities fraud action against the Individual Defendants, pending the completion of PG&E's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. The court reasoned that the stay would promote judicial efficiency and economy, as well as avoid the potential for inconsistent judgments. The plaintiffs appealed this decision, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by entering the stay.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal under the Moses H. Cone doctrine because the stay was both indefinite and likely to be lengthy. The appellate court found that the district court abused its discretion in ordering the stay as to the Individual Defendants. The court held that when deciding to issue a docket management stay, the district court must weigh three non-exclusive factors: the possible damage that may result from the granting of a stay, the hardship or inequity that a party may suffer in being required to go forward, and judicial efficiency. The appellate court vacated the stay and remanded for the district court to weigh all the relevant interests in determining whether a stay was appropriate. View "PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT ASS'N OF NEW MEXICO V. EARLEY" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a law student, Douglas Pell, who was studying at an unaccredited law school and was required to pass the First Year Law Students Exam (FYLSX) as a prerequisite to bar admission. Due to personal circumstances, Pell was unable to take the exam until his sixth opportunity. Despite passing on his first attempt, he was denied credit for 39 hours of courses he had completed after his first year of law school because he did not pass the FYLSX within the first three opportunities. Pell petitioned the State Bar of California for a hearing to excuse his delay and waive the forfeiture of his credits, but his petition was denied without explanation. Instead of petitioning the California Supreme Court to review the State Bar's decision, Pell filed a complaint in federal court.The United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed Pell's case, agreeing with the State Bar that Pell had not suffered a cognizable deprivation under federal law. The court held that the California Supreme Court has exclusive original jurisdiction over matters of admission, and challenges regarding the FYLSX or its authorizing statute must be brought by original petition to the California Supreme Court. The State Bar's denial of Pell's petition for a hearing and a waiver of his credit forfeiture was taken in the Bar's advisory role and did not result in a cognizable deprivation of a protected right or property interest.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 agreed that Pell's federal claims must be dismissed for failure to state a claim, as the State Bar's actions did not cause Pell to suffer a cognizable deprivation under federal law. However, the court held that the district court erred in dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court also reversed the dismissal of Pell's state law claim under California's Unruh Act and remanded the case to the district court to exercise its discretion over whether to retain supplemental jurisdiction or dismiss the claim without prejudice so that it may be pursued in state court. View "Pell v. Nunez" on Justia Law

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Diamond S.J. Enterprise, Inc., which operates a nightclub in San Jose, California, had its license suspended for thirty days by the city following a shooting outside the club. The city held an administrative hearing and found that Diamond had operated its venue in a way that caused the shooting and created a public nuisance, violating San Jose's entertainment business licensing provisions. Diamond filed a complaint in federal court, alleging First Amendment and due process violations.The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, which dismissed Diamond's claims and granted summary judgment for the City of San Jose. The district court ruled that the challenged provisions did not implicate First Amendment rights and that the city had satisfied due process requirements.The case was then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The appellate court affirmed the district court's decision, holding that Diamond's facial attack on the city's public entertainment business licensing provisions failed because the provisions did not give city officials unbridled discretion that created a risk of censorship. The court also held that Diamond failed to state a procedural due process claim, as the licensing scheme provided Diamond with notice, an opportunity to be heard, the ability to present and respond to evidence, and a pre-deprivation appeal, followed by post-deprivation review by the California Superior Court. View "Diamond S.J. Enterprise, Inc. v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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In 2022, the California Legislature directed Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to extend operations at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, despite PG&E's previous plans to cease operations. However, the deadline for a federal license renewal application for continued operation had already passed. PG&E requested an exemption from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to this deadline, which the NRC granted. The NRC found that the exemption was authorized by law, would not pose an undue risk to public health and safety, and that special circumstances were present. The NRC also concluded that the exemption met the eligibility criteria for a categorical exclusion, meaning no additional environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act was required.Three non-profit organizations, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Friends of the Earth, and the Environmental Working Group, petitioned for review of the NRC's decision. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals first addressed whether it had jurisdiction to hear a direct appeal from an NRC exemption decision. The court held that it did have jurisdiction, as the substance of the exemption was ancillary or incidental to a licensing proceeding. The court also concluded that the petitioners had Article III standing to bring the case, as they alleged a non-speculative potential harm from age-related safety and environmental risks, demonstrated that Diablo Canyon would likely continue operations beyond its initial 40-year license term, and alleged members’ proximity to the facility.On the merits, the court held that the NRC’s decision to grant the exemption was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. The court also held that the NRC did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in invoking the National Environmental Policy Act categorical exclusion when issuing the exemption decision. The court concluded that the NRC was not required to provide a hearing or meet other procedural requirements before issuing the exemption decision because the exemption was not a licensing proceeding. The court denied the petition for review. View "SAN LUIS OBISPO MOTHERS FOR PEACE V. UNITED STATES NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION" on Justia Law

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In February 2022, Workers United sought to represent 90 employees at a Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle. Due to rising COVID-19 cases, the Regional Director ordered a mail-ballot election, which took place in April 2022. Starbucks refused to recognize and bargain with the union, arguing that the Regional Director should have ordered an in-person election. The Regional Director overruled Starbucks' objection and certified the election results. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Starbucks' refusal to recognize and bargain with the union constituted unfair labor practices in violation of Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act.The NLRB's decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Starbucks argued that the court lacked jurisdiction over the enforcement application because the NLRB had severed the question of whether to adopt a compensatory remedy. The court rejected this argument, holding that the NLRB's order was final and reviewable under 29 U.S.C. § 160(e).Starbucks also claimed that the Regional Director abused his discretion by ordering a mail-ballot election instead of an in-person one. The court rejected this argument as well, holding that the Regional Director had correctly applied the NLRB's own law in deciding to hold a mail-ballot election. The court affirmed the NLRB's finding that Starbucks had violated Section 8(a)(5) by refusing to bargain. The court granted the NLRB's application for enforcement of its order directing Starbucks to recognize and bargain with the union. View "NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD V. SIREN RETAIL CORPORATION DBA STARBUCKS" on Justia Law