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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiff protested outside the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon. He alleged that federal officers unlawfully arrested protesters and used excessive force, including by indiscriminately using tear gas against peaceful protesters. Together with other protesters, he brought this action against Defendant, then the Director of the Federal Protective Service’s Northwest Region, under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The district court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss.   The Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that no Bivens cause of action is available in this case. Applying the two-step analysis set forth in Egbert v. Boule, 142 S. Ct. 1793 (2022), the panel held that a Bivens remedy could not be extended to this case because it presented a new context, and at least two independent factors indicated that the court was less equipped than Congress to determine whether the damages action should proceed.   The court wrote this case differed from Bivens because (1) Defendant, a high-level supervisor, was of a different rank than the agents in Bivens; (2) Defendant’s alleged actions, which consisted of ordering or acquiescing in unconstitutional conduct, took place at a higher level of generality than the actions of the agents in Bivens; and (3) the legal mandate under which Defendant acted differed from that of the agents in Bivens in that Defendant was directing a multi-agency operation to protect federal property and was carrying out an executive order. Allowing a Bivens action to proceed in this case could expose sensitive communications between Defendant and other high-level executive officers. View "MARK PETTIBONE, ET AL V. GABRIEL RUSSELL, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The case at issue began in 1994 when Plaintiffs sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Governor (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging widespread violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act (collectively “ADA”). The district court concluded that California prisons were failing to provide legally required accommodations, and this court affirmed. In these appeals, Defendants challenged two orders in which the district court found ongoing violations of disabled prisoners’ rights at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility (“RJD”) and at five additional prisons (“Five Prisons”) resulting from Defendants’ failure to investigate adequately and discipline staff misconduct. The district court entered injunctions requiring Defendants to adopt additional remedial measures at the six prisons.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed one district court order, and affirmed in part and vacated in part a second district court order. The panel first rejected Defendants’ threshold contention that the district court did not have authority to issue either of the orders because the orders addressed misconduct that was “categorically distinct” from the allegations of wrongdoing in the Complaint. The panel determined that the new allegations in the motions at issue here were closely related to those in the operative Complaint and alleged misconduct of the same sort—that Defendants failed to accommodate class members’ disabilities, in direct contravention of the ADA. The panel affirmed the particular provisions of each order that address the prisons’ investigatory and disciplinary failures. The panel concluded that the district court abused its discretion by ordering Defendants to reform their pepper-spray policies at the Five Prisons and vacated that portion of the order. View "JOHN ARMSTRONG, ET AL V. GAVIN NEWSOM, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Escondido Union School District (“Escondido”) appealed the district court’s ruling that Escondido denied D.O. a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) by failing to timely assess him for autism. An administrative law judge ruled that Escondido’s delay in assessing D.O. for autism was neither a procedural violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”) nor a denial of a free appropriate public education, or FAPE. The district court reversed the ALJ in part, holding that Escondido’s four-month delay in assessing D.O. constituted a procedural violation of IDEA and that this procedural violation denied D.O. a FAPE by depriving him of educational benefits.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment ruling. The panel concluded that Escondido’s duty to propose an assessment in an area of suspected disability was triggered on December 5, 2016, when Escondido was put on notice that D.O. might be autistic by Dr. M.D., who had completed an assessment and report. The panel concluded that Escondido’s subsequent four-month delay in proposing an autism assessment plan did not violate any California statutory deadlines or any federal statutory timeline. The panel held that Escondido’s delay did not constitute a procedural violation of IDEA because Escondido did not fail to assess D.O., and some delay in complying with IDEA’s procedural requirement is permissible. The panel held that the district court erred in determining that Escondido’s delay was due, at least in part, to the subjective skepticism of its staff. The panel also held that even if the delay were a procedural violation of FAPE, it did not deny D.O. a FAPE. View "D.O. V. ESCONDIDO UNION SCHOOL DIST." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff is a paraplegic man, disability advocate, and serial litigant. Plaintiff cannot walk, so he uses a wheelchair to get around and drives a van that deploys a ramp from the passenger side. For Langer to park and exit his vehicle, a parking lot must have an accessible parking space with an adjacent access aisle. When Plaintiff comes across a place that he believes is not compliant with the ADA, he takes photos to document the condition of the premises and often sues. Plaintiff is a “serial” ADA litigant, a fact featured prominently at trial, and he has filed close to 2,000 ADA lawsuits in the thirty-two years since Congress enacted the ADA. Plaintiff sued the Defendants over the lack of accessible parking, bringing claims under Title III of the ADA and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. Defendants filed a trespass counterclaim against Plaintiff. The district court held a one-day bench trial and, at its conclusion, entered judgment for the Defendants.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. First, the panel held that Plaintiff had Article III standing to bring his claim for injunctive relief under Title III of the ADA. The panel held that to establish standing, a plaintiff suing a place of public accommodation must show actual knowledge of an access barrier or ADA violation and must show a sufficient likelihood of injury in the future. The panel also held that so-called “serial litigants” can have tester standing to sue for Title III violations because a plaintiff’s motive for going to a place of public accommodation is irrelevant to standing. View "CHRIS LANGER V. MILAN KISER, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Defendant kidnapped Doe, then age twelve, and drove her from California to Nevada knowing that she would engage in prostitution. The defendant entered into a written plea agreement pursuant to which, in exchange for the government’s promise to drop five serious criminal charges, he would plead guilty to two lesser crimes (interstate travel in aid of unlawful activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1952(a)(3)(A)) and would pay Doe restitution. The district court nonetheless concluded that it lacked statutory authority to order Defendant to pay restitution to Doe.   The panel filed (1) an order amending its opinion, denying a petition for panel rehearing, and denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc; and (2) an amended opinion granting Jane Doe’s petition for a writ of mandamus pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 3771(d)(3), a provision of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. The panel published the opinion to reiterate what this court held in two cases decided three decades ago: 18 U.S.C. Section 3663(a)(3) grants statutory authority to district courts to award restitution whenever a defendant agrees in a plea agreement to pay restitution.   The panel held that the district court’s holding that it lacked statutory authority to order restitution was legal error. The panel granted the mandamus petition and instructed the district court to address, in the first instance, Defendant’s evidentiary challenges and other arguments concerning the appropriate amount of restitution. View "JANE DOE V. USDC-NVL" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was terminated from her employment as a Revenue Officer at the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) for assessed Unauthorized Access of Taxpayer Data (“UNAX”) offenses. After unsuccessfully pursuing an internal Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) complaint, Plaintiff brought suit against the Treasury Secretary in the United States District Court for the Central District of California alleging that her termination was based on impermissible criteria of age and national origin in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, respectively. The district court granted summary judgment to the Treasury Secretary on the grounds that Plainitff: (1) failed to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination; and (2) failed to show that the IRS Management’s proffered reasons for terminating her were pretext for age or national origin discrimination.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel wrote that at step one of the legal framework for a discrimination action, the district court found that none of Plaintiff’s evidence established a prima facie case of age discrimination. The panel agreed with the district court that most of Plaintiff’s evidence comprised “circumstantial evidence”—her superior’s alleged exaggeration of her offenses, assignment of menial tasks, selection of draconian penalties. The panel held, however, that the record was not devoid of direct evidence of age discrimination. The panel was satisfied that the record taken as a whole supported Plaintiff’s prima facie case of age discrimination. The panel held that the Secretary’s proffered reasons for its action was sufficient. View "JOAN OPARA V. JANET YELLEN" on Justia Law

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A Huntington Beach City Councilperson appointed Plaintiff to the city’s Citizen Participation Advisory Board (“CPAB”). Each councilperson appoints one member to the seven-person CPAB and may remove that member without cause. After being appointed to the CPAB, Plaintiff was photographed at an immigrants’ rights rally standing near individuals whom the councilperson believed to be “Antifa.” After determining that Plaintiff’s public denouncement of Antifa was insufficient, the councilperson removed Plaintiff from the CPAB, citing lack of shared values.   Plaintiff sued the City of Huntington Beach, claiming retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights to free speech, association, and assembly and alleging the councilperson’s demand for a public statement amounted to unconstitutionally compelled speech. The district court dismissed the complaint.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim, the panel held that the First Amendment does not protect a volunteer member of a municipal advisory board from dismissal by the city councilperson who appointed her and who is authorized under a city ordinance to remove her. The panel held that given the statutory structure and duties of the CPAB, the public could readily infer that a CPAB member’s actions and statements while serving in the role reflected the current views and goals of the appointing councilperson. Like each of her fellow board members, Plaintiff was the “public face” of her appointor. She could therefore be dismissed for lack of political compatibility. The panel further rejected Plaintiff’s compelled speech claim. View "SHAYNA LATHUS V. CITY OF HUNTINGTON BEACH" on Justia Law

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The City of Costa Mesa (“City”) began amending its zoning code to reduce the number and concentration of sober living homes in its residential neighborhoods. Two of its new ordinances—Ordinances 14-13 and 15-11 (“Ordinances”)—made it unlawful to operate sober living homes without a permit. Appellants SoCal Recovery, LLC (“SoCal”) and RAW Recovery, LLC (“RAW”) (together, “Appellants”) operate sober living homes in Costa Mesa, California, for persons recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Appellants alleged that two new City ordinances and the City’s enforcement practices discriminated against them on the basis of disability under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Granting the City’s motions for summary judgment, the district court found that Appellants did not establish that residents in their sober living homes were actually disabled, or that the City regarded their residents as disabled.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment. The panel held that Appellants and other sober living home operators can satisfy the “actual disability” prong of the ADA, FHA, or FEHA on a collective basis by demonstrating that they serve or intend to serve individuals with actual disabilities; they need not provide individualized evidence of the actual disability of their residents. Rather, they can meet their burden by proffering admissible evidence that they have policies and procedures to ensure that they serve or will serve those with actual disabilities and that they adhere or will adhere to such policies and procedures. prong of the disability definition. View "SOCAL RECOVERY, LLC, ET AL V. CITY OF COSTA MESA, ET AL" on Justia Law

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A police officer (Officer) in Los Angeles, shot and killed a man during a failed arrest in the men’s locker room of a gym. Before the district court, the Officer maintained that he killed the man because the man was pummeling the Officer’s partner, and the Officer feared the man’s next blow would kill her. The Officer also claimed that he yelled “stop” before shooting, but no such warning can be heard on the officers’ body-cam recordings. The man’s mother sued the Officer for his allegedly unreasonable use of deadly force. The district court denied the Officers’ motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, and the Officer timely appealed.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order denying, on summary judgment, qualified immunity to the Officer. The court held that the district court properly denied the Officer’s request for qualified immunity for two reasons. First, the district court recognized that a reasonable jury could reject the police officer’s account of the shooting because there were significant discrepancies between their versions of events and other evidence in the record. Second, the court wrote that it has long held that the Fourth Amendment requires officers to warn before using deadly force when practicable. The defense cannot argue that it was not possible for the Officer to give the man a deadly force warning because the Officer’s sworn statements show that he had time to tell Dorsey to “stop.” Therefore, the district court correctly ruled that a jury could decide that the Officer’s use of deadly force violated clearly established law. View "PAULETTE SMITH V. EDWARD AGDEPPA, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was a long-time teacher in the Evergreen School District #114 (District) in Vancouver, Washington. Before the 2019–2020 school year began, he attended two days of teacher training and brought with him a MAGA hat. The question, in this case, is whether the First Amendment was violated when a principal told Plaintiff he could not bring his Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat with him to teacher-only trainings on threat of disciplinary action and when the school board affirmed the denial of the teacher’s harassment complaint filed against the principal.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendants in Plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 action. The panel first concluded that Plaintiff was engaged in speech protected by the First Amendment because the undisputed facts demonstrated that his MAGA hat conveyed a message of public concern, and he was acting as a private citizen in expressing that message. The record failed to establish, however, that the school district’s Chief Human Resource Officer, took any adverse employment action against Plaintiff, and for this reason, Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim against that defendant failed as a matter of law.   Further, any violation of Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights by the principal was clearly established where longstanding precedent held that concern over the reaction to controversial or disfavored speech itself does not justify restricting such speech. For these reasons, the panel reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the principal. View "ERIC DODGE V. EVERGREEN SCHOOL DISTRICT #114, ET AL" on Justia Law