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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order granting respondent's petition for panel rehearing and denying as moot her petition for rehearing en banc, (2) a superseding opinion affirming the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his California conviction for first-degree murder, and (3) a partial dissent/concurrence.The panel concluded that the prosecutor's repeated statements to the jury during final argument that the presumption of innocence no longer applied were misstatements of clearly established law as articulated by the Supreme Court. However, the panel deferred to the state court's finding, applying the Darden standard, that there was not a reasonable probability of a different outcome had the prosecutor not misstated the law. The panel also concluded that the state court did not err under Dunn v. United States, 442 U.S. 100 (1979), in upholding the jury's arguably inconsistent verdict. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's denial of relief. View "Ford v. Peery" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for CoreCivic in an action brought by plaintiff under Nevada state law for torts related to his year-long detention in a private prison without a court hearing. The district court granted CoreCivic's summary judgment motion on the ground that CoreCivic did not cause plaintiff's prolonged detention.The panel concluded that a jury could reasonably find that CoreCivic's actions caused plaintiff's prolonged detention. In this case, a rational jury could find that, in failing to notify the Marshals of plaintiff's detention and in dissuading and preventing him from seeking other help, CoreCivic was a cause of his pre-hearing detention as required to establish claims for false imprisonment, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The panel also concluded that a jury could find that CoreCivic breached a duty to plaintiff, and thus plaintiff has established triable issues as to his negligence claim. Furthermore, a jury could reasonably find CoreCivic's actions extreme and outrageous, and thus plaintiff has established triable issues as to his claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. View "Rivera v. Corrections Corporation of America" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit amended its opinion, ordered the amended opinion to be filed concurrently with the panel's order, and denied a petition for rehearing en banc.In the amended opinion, the panel held that Bivens remedies were available in the circumstances of this case, where a United States citizen claimed that a border patrol agent violated the Fourth Amendment by using excessive force while carrying out official duties within the United States and violated the First Amendment by engaging in retaliation entirely unconnected to his official duties. Plaintiff owns, operates, and lives in a bed and breakfast near the United States-Canada border in Blaine, Washington. Plaintiff alleged that a border patrol agent entered plaintiff's property to question guests and used excessive force on plaintiff, ultimately retaliating against plaintiff by, among other things, contacting the IRS to seek an investigation into plaintiff's tax status.The panel agreed with the district court's assumption that plaintiff's Fourth Amendment excessive force claim is a "modest extension" of Bivens cases in a new context. The panel did not find that special factors counseled hesitation such that a Bivens action in this new context is foreclosed. In this case, plaintiff, a United States citizen, is bringing a conventional Fourth Amendment excessive force claim arising out of actions by a rank-and-file border patrol agent on plaintiff's own property in the United States. The panel explained that this context is a far cry from the contexts in Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843, 1857 (2017), and Hernandez v. Mesa, 140 S. Ct. 735, 743 (2020), where the Supreme Court found that special factors counseled against a Bivens action. In regard to the First Amendment claim, the panel noted that although the Supreme Court wrote in Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250 (2006), that Bivens extends to First Amendment retaliation claims when federal law enforcement officials have no innocent motives for their action, the panel recognized that the Supreme Court has not expressly so held. In this case, plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim arose in a new context and the panel found no special factor making it inadvisable to find a cognizable Bivens claim in this new context. Finally, the panel considered the available alternative remedies -- intentional-tort claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a trespass claim against Agent Egbert, or injunctive relief -- and concluded that none of these suggested remedies defeats a Bivens action. View "Boule v. Egbert" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a prison officer based on qualified immunity in an action brought by plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that defendant violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights by screening and intermittently checking in on plaintiff's phone conversations with the attorney he had hired to bring lawsuits on his behalf.The panel concluded that defendant was entitled to qualified immunity because she did not violate any Fourth Amendment right that was clearly established at the time of her challenged conduct. In this case, the panel exercised its discretion to consider only the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis. The panel explained that plaintiff has not cited any precedent that has placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. In this case, there is no Supreme Court case considering whether a prison official's monitoring of an inmate's legal calls in this manner violates the inmate's Fourth Amendment rights. Furthermore, plaintiff has not pointed to any Ninth Circuit precedent holding that monitoring the beginning of an inmate's calls to ensure their legal character and then intermittently checking on those calls to confirm their continuing legal character violates a prisoner's Fourth Amendment rights. Consequently, the panel declined to address the merits of plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim. Finally, the panel briefly responded to the concurrence's argument that plaintiff's claim warranted a merits decision even though such a decision could not affect the case's outcome. View "Witherow v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Petitioner had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. The district court granted a certificate of appealability as to five claims, and the panel later issued a certificate of appealability as to a sixth.The panel concluded that petitioner is not entitled to relief on any of the certified claims. In this case, petitioner is not entitled to relief on Claim 1, which was predicated on the alleged denial of his Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, where fairminded jurists applying the governing beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard could conclude that the absence of a jury trial did not affect either the finding of the (F)(6) aggravating factor or the determination that the mitigating evidence was not sufficiently substantial to call for leniency. The panel also rejected Claim 2, which alleged that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel in presenting mitigation defense during the penalty phase; Claim 8, which alleged that petitioner's waiver of the privilege against self-incrimination was not knowing and voluntary; Claim 4, which alleged ineffective assistance of counsel with the same factual predicate as Claim 8; Claim 7, which alleged that Arizona courts violated the Eighth Amendment by applying an impermissible "causal nexus" test when assessing non-statutory mitigating circumstances; and Claim 12, which alleges that the sentencing court violated petitioner's Eighth Amendment rights. View "Sansing v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two prisoners on Idaho's death row, filed suit seek information concerning Idaho's execution procedures. Plaintiffs claim that the deprivation of execution-related information itself constitutes a violation of their constitutional and statutory rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court determined that plaintiffs' claims were unripe because they have ongoing post-conviction litigation, the outcome of which remains uncertain.The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims. As to ripeness, Idaho acknowledges that both plaintiffs are close to exhausting their post-conviction appeals and intends to proceed with their executions; plaintiffs claim the state's refusal to provide certain information violates their rights now; and the state has issued a revised execution protocol, from which the court can readily determine now whether plaintiffs' alleged rights, if they exist, have been violated. In these circumstances, the panel concluded that plaintiffs' claims are ripe. Given the unusual timeline of events in this case, the panel must also consider mootness. Because Idaho has now issued a revised Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that explains the procedures and drugs the state will use, these claims are moot. Applying the ripeness and mootness principles to each of plaintiffs' specific claims, the panel concluded that Claim One, Claim Two, part of Claim Four, part of Claim Five, and Claim Seven are ripe. The panel found the rest moot. Furthermore, the panel lacked jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state law claims. View "Pizzuto v. Tewalt" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioners' habeas corpus petitions challenging their California state-court murder convictions. In this case, the key prosecution witness was an informant who said that both men had confessed to the crime. At trial, the witness invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify, so the trial court read to the jury a transcript of the witness's preliminary-hearing testimony. The California Court of Appeal affirmed petitioners' convictions, holding that they had an adequate opportunity to cross-examine the witness when he testified at the preliminary hearing, so the introduction of his testimony at trial did not violate their Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against them.The panel granted a certificate of appealability on the issue of whether the admission of the witness's preliminary hearing testimony violated petitioners' Sixth Amendment right to confrontation, and concluded that the state court's decision was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Applying a deferential standard of review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDA), the panel concluded that it was not unreasonable for the California Court of Appeal to determine that the questions petitioners wanted to ask the witness would not have given the jury a significant different impression of the witness's credibility. Furthermore, even assuming that the timing of the prosecution's disclosures implicated the Confrontation Clause, the California Court of Appeal could reasonably conclude that questioning based on those disclosures would not have materially enhanced the effectiveness of the cross-examination. View "Gibbs v. Covello" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, who was thirteen years old at the time, confessed to a murder he did not commit, he was convicted in juvenile court and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment. The California Court of Appeal reversed the conviction, concluding that plaintiff's confession should have been suppressed by the juvenile court because detectives failed to respect his unambiguous request for an attorney. All parties now agree that plaintiff did not commit the murder.Plaintiff subsequently filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the three LAPD Detectives who conducted the interrogation in which plaintiff confessed to killing the victim, alleging violations of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity on the Fifth Amendment claims that the officers continued to question plaintiff after he invoked his right to silence and that they engaged in unconstitutional coercive questioning tactics. However, the panel reversed the denial of qualified immunity on defendant's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim because it was not clearly established that the abusive interrogation techniques used by the officers rose to the level of "abuse of power that shocks the conscience." The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Tobias v. Arteaga" on Justia Law

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After defendants were charged with attempting to enter the United States illegally, the government prosecuted them on the normal criminal docket. Defendants moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the government should have prosecuted them through the Central Violations Bureau (CVB) process, but the district court denied the motion.The Ninth Circuit held that the government did not violate defendants' right to equal protection by prosecuting illegal border crossings on the normal criminal docket. The panel explained that the policy does not discriminate against a protected class or infringe a fundamental right. Instead, it distinguishes between defendants based on their criminal conduct—in this case, illegally entering the United States. And since criminal defendants are not a protected class, at most the rational basis test applies. Applying the rational basis test, the panel concluded that the government's decision to prosecute first-time illegal entry separately from other petty offenses passes constitutional muster. In this case, defendants have not carried their burden to negate "every conceivable basis" which might support the government’s decision to prosecute them on the normal criminal docket. Therefore, the government's policy is supported by a rational basis and does not violate equal protection. View "United States v. Ayala-Bello" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a stay and abeyance pending exhaustion of unexhausted claims under Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269 (2005). In this case, petitioner filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition challenging the constitutionality of his conviction and capital sentence. The district court concluded that petitioner lacked good cause under Rhines for his failure to exhaust because his state postconviction counsel's ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) was not sufficiently egregious. However, the panel subsequently held in Blake v. Baker, 745 F.3d 977 (9th Cir. 2014), that IAC by a petitioner's state-court counsel satisfies the good cause standard under Rhines. Therefore, the district court erred in applying the standard the panel later rejected in Blake and the panel remanded for the district court to apply the proper standard. View "Bolin v. Baker" on Justia Law