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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought after the death of Arizona Senator John McCain, challenging the constitutionality of an Arizona statute that governs appointments and elections in the aftermath of a vacancy in the United States Senate. Plaintiffs argued that the November 2020 vacancy election date and the 27-month interim appointment duration violate the time constraints implicit in the Seventeenth Amendment. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this challenge based on failure to state a claim, because there was no authority for invalidating the state statute on this basis. Although the panel found plaintiffs' interpretation a possible one based on the text and history of the Seventeenth Amendment, the panel concluded that it was foreclosed by binding precedents. Plaintiffs also argued that the November 2020 vacancy election date impermissibly burdens their right to vote as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this challenge based on failure to state a claim, because important state regulatory interests justify what was a reasonable and nondiscriminatory restriction on plaintiffs' right to vote. Finally, plaintiffs challenge Arizona's statutory mandates that the Governor must make a temporary appointment and must choose a member of the same party as the Senator who vacated the office. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this challenge based on failure to state a claim, and rejected plaintiffs' interpretation of the relevant Seventeenth Amendment language. The panel also affirmed the district court's dismissal of the challenge based on lack of standing where there was no harm on the basis of representation by a Republican and no redressability where the Republican Governor would appoint a Republican anyway. View "Tedards v. Ducey" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying defendant's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims under the Equal Pay Act (EPA). The en banc court held that plaintiff's prior rate of pay was not a "factor other than sex" that allows Fresno County's Office of Education to pay her less than male employees who perform the same work. The en banc court also held that only job-related factors may serve as affirmative defenses to EPA claims. The en banc court wrote that the express purpose of the Act was to eradicate the practice of paying women less simply because they are women, and that allowing employers to escape liability by relying on employees' prior pay would defeat the purpose of the Act and perpetuate the very discrimination the EPA aims to eliminate. Therefore, the en banc court held that an employee's prior pay cannot serve as an affirmative defense to a prima facie showing of an EPA violation. The en banc court overruled Kouba v. Allstate Ins. Co., 691 F.2d 873 (9th Cir. 1982), which held that prior pay could qualify as an affirmative defense if the employer considered prior pay in combination with other factors and used it reasonably to effectuate a business policy. View "Rizo v. Yovino" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of PragerU's action alleging that YouTube and its parent company, Google, violated the First Amendment and the Lanham Act, as well as state laws, when YouTube tagged several dozen of PragerU's videos as appropriate for the Restricted Mode. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of the First Amendment claim, holding that, despite YouTube's ubiquity and its role as a public-facing platform, YouTube is a private forum, not a public forum subject to judicial scrutiny under the First Amendment. In Manhattan Cmty. Access Corp. v. Halleck, 139 S.Ct. 1921, 1930 (2019), the Supreme Court held that merely hosting speech by others is not a traditional, exclusive public function and does not alone transform private entities into state actors subject to First Amendment constraints. The panel explained that the Internet does not alter this state action requirement of the First Amendment. The panel also held that PragerU's false advertising claim under the Lanham Act also failed, because none of PragerU's alleged actions were actionable under the Act. In this case, YouTube's statements concerning its content moderation policies, as well as its designation of certain of plaintiff’s videos for Restricted Mode, do not constitute "commercial advertising or promotion." Furthermore, the panel stated that the fact that certain PragerU videos were tagged to be unavailable under Restricted Mode does not imply any specific representation about those videos. Finally, the panel wrote that YouTube's braggadocio about its commitment to free speech constitutes opinions that are not subject to the Act. View "Prager University v. Google LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition for habeas relief based on lack of jurisdiction. Petitioner claimed actual innocence of his sentence as a career offender. The panel held that petitioner's appeal was not moot, because petitioner had a nontrivial argument for reducing his supervised release period under 18 U.S.C. 3583(e). The panel also held that petitioner has made a cognizable claim that he is actually innocent of a noncapital sentence for purposes of qualifying for the escape hatch, and that he has not had an unobstructed procedural shot at presenting the claim. The panel clarified that Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), and Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254 (2013), apply retroactively when a court reviews a criminal judgment in the course of addressing a section 2241 petition or a first section 2255 motion. The panel concluded that petitioner may file a petition for habeas corpus under section 2241 and the panel remanded for reconsideration of petitioner's claim on the merits. View "Allen v. Ives" on Justia Law

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Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1)(B) and 10(c) apply in habeas proceedings. The en banc court reversed the district court's dismissal of petitioner's amended habeas corpus petition as time-barred. Petitioner challenged his Nevada state conviction for theft-related offenses, asserting multiple claims, including the ineffective assistance of counsel. The en banc court held that claims in petitioner's amended petition that share core operative facts in common with those in his original petition relate back to the original petition and should not have been dismissed. However, the en banc court did not typically consider in the first instance issues not discussed by the district court, and thus the en banc court remanded for the district court to consider which of the claims in the amended petition are supported by facts incorporated into the original petition. View "Ross v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs' challenges to HHS's 2019 Final Rule, implementing Title X of the Public Health Service Act, failed in light of Supreme Court approval of the 1988 regulations and the Ninth Circuit's broad deference to agencies' interpretations of the statutes they are charged with implementing. Section 1008 of Title X prohibits grant funds from being used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning. Specifically, plaintiffs challenged the "gag" rule on abortion counseling, where a counselor providing nondirective pregnancy counseling "may discuss abortion" so long as "the counselor neither refers for, nor encourages, abortion." The Final Rule also requires providers to physically and financially separate any abortion services from all other health care services. The panel held that the Final Rule is a reasonable interpretation of Section 1008; it does not conflict with the 1996 appropriations rider or other aspects of Title X; and its implementation of the limits on what Title X funds can support does not implicate the restrictions found in Section 1554 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The panel also held that the Final Rule is not arbitrary and capricious because HHS properly examined the relevant considerations and gave reasonable explanations; because plaintiffs will not prevail on the merits of their legal claims, they are not entitled to the extraordinary remedy of preliminary injunction; and thus the district courts' preliminary injunction orders are vacated and the cases are remanded for further proceedings. View "California v. Azar" on Justia Law

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A policy that allows transgender students to use school bathroom and locker facilities that match their self-identified gender in the same manner that cisgender students utilize those facilities does not infringe Fourteenth Amendment privacy or parental rights or First Amendment free exercise rights, nor does it create actionable sex harassment under Title IX. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action challenging an Oregon public school district's Student Safety Plan as violating the Constitution and numerous other laws. The Plan allowed transgender students to use school bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers that match their gender identity rather than the biological sex they were assigned at birth. The panel held that plaintiffs failed to state a federal claim upon which relief can be granted, and that the district court's carefully-crafted Student Safety Plan seeks to avoid discrimination and ensure the safety and well-being of transgender students. The panel held that there is no Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy to avoid all risk of intimate exposure to or by a transgender person who was assigned the opposite biological sex at birth; a policy that treats all students equally does not discriminate based on sex in violation of Title IX, and the normal use of privacy facilities does not constitute actionable sexual harassment under Title IX just because a person is transgender; the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide a fundamental parental right to determine the bathroom policies of the public schools to which parents may send their children, either independent of the parental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children or encompassed by it; and the school district's policy is rationally related to a legitimate state purpose, and does not infringe plaintiffs' First Amendment free exercise rights because it does not target religious conduct. View "Parents for Privacy v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Riverside County in an action brought by Calvary Chapel, alleging a facial challenge to a county zoning ordinance under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The panel held that Calvary Chapel has failed to establish a prima facie violation of RLUIPA's equal terms provision on a facial challenge. The panel stated that, consistent with Riverside County's representations both in its briefs and at oral argument, Calvary Chapel was not prohibited from pursuing its religious practices under the zoning ordinance. In this case, Riverside County's zoning ordinance permits religious assemblies as special occasion facilities, and thus the ordinance does not treat religious assemblies on less than equal terms with secular assemblies. Finally, the panel declined to consider Calvary Chapel's new nondiscrimination claim on appeal in the first instance. View "Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying qualified immunity to a police officer in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the officer used excessive force when he shot and severely wounded plaintiff after a slow-speed car pursuit. The panel held that a reasonable jury could conclude that the officer violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force. In this case, taking the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, and giving due deference to the officer's assessment of the danger presented by the situation he confronted, the officer did not have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that plaintiff posed a threat of serious physical harm to any of the officers. The panel also held that plaintiff’s right to be free from the use of excessive force was clearly established at the time of the shooting. View "Orn v. City of Tacoma" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action brought by plaintiff, alleging that a Juvenile Corrections Officer violated her constitutional rights. Plaintiff alleged that the officer made sexual comments to her, groomed her for sexual abuse, and looked at her inappropriately while she was showering. The panel held that, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, plaintiff has presented sufficient facts to establish a violation of her right to bodily privacy, right to bodily integrity, and right to be free from punishment as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The panel also held that the district court erred when it concluded that there was no evidence supporting a causal link between the supervisor's conduct and the officer's alleged violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights. Therefore, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Vazquez v. County of Kern" on Justia Law