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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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In late August 2020, Yazzie initiated an action challenging Arizona's Receipt Deadline pursuant to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, and the Arizona Constitution's election clause. The complaint alleges that Navajo Nation reservation residents face myriad challenges to voting by mail where many on-reservation members do not have home mail service. Rather, to receive or send mail, they must travel to a post office. Furthermore, socioeconomic factors, educational disadvantages, and language barriers make both the travel to the post office—which requires access to a car—and the completion of mail ballots difficult. Yazzie also claims that these mail ballots take disproportionately longer to reach the county recorder's office because of the slower mail service on the reservation. In late September 2020, the district court denied Yazzie's motion for preliminary injunction based on its finding that Yazzie did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits or raise serious questions going to the merits of Yazzie's VRA claim.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Yazzie's request for a preliminary injunction. The panel did not address the district court's analysis of the VRA claim because it concluded that Yazzie and the other plaintiffs lack standing. The panel stated that not only does Yazzie fail to make a clear showing of a concrete and particularized injury, noticeably absent in the record is any particularized allegation with respect to any of the six individual plaintiffs. The panel also stated that, importantly, this case is not a putative class action filed on behalf of the Navajo Nation members who reside on the reservation. In this case, Yazzie failed to establish injury-in-fact for at least one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The panel concluded that also missing is a clear showing that the alleged injury is redressable by a favorable decision by this court. View "Yazzie v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the City of Simi Valley's regulations prohibiting mobile billboards on public property unless they qualify as authorized emergency or construction-related vehicles. The district court dismissed plaintiff's claims on the pleadings.The Ninth Circuit held that the City's mobile billboard regulations favor certain speakers where allowing certain speakers to park mobile billboards on public property but not others reflects a content preference. On its face, the Authorized Vehicle Exemption is content neutral, but to execute its purpose, the City enacted an ordinance that prefers speakers likely to spread messages consistent with its purpose. The panel stated that this is a prudent preference, a reasonable rationale, and a content-based choice that triggers strict scrutiny. Therefore, the panel vacated the district court's order granting the City's motion to dismiss regarding plaintiff's First Amendment claims. Because the district court concluded the ordinances were content neutral, it evaluated the sufficiency of plaintiff's complaint against the wrong standard. The panel remanded plaintiff's claims for the district court to reconsider it under the strict scrutiny standard. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not err by declining plaintiff's request to remand his state law claims to state court. View "Boyer v. City of Simi Valley" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a prospective stay of the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining the Secretary's enforcement of the October 5, 2020 deadline prescribed in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 16-120(A), where the district court held that it was unconstitutional as applied during the COVID-19 pandemic. The injunction extended the registration deadline by 18 days to October 23, 2020, and ordered that anyone registering by that date be allowed to vote in the November 3 election.The panel applied the Nken factors to determine whether to grant a stay pending appeal, holding that there is a sufficiently high likelihood of success on appeal where there has been no facial challenge to the statutory registration deadline; the statutory deadline does not impose a "severe burden" on plaintiffs' asserted rights and does not trigger strict scrutiny; the administrative burdens on the state imposed by an October 23 registration deadline are significant; and, even if the burden on voter registration were greater and the burden on the government less, plaintiffs' extremely late filing relative to the deadline is a factor supporting the government's likelihood of success on the merits. Finally, the remaining factors governing issuance of a stay also weigh in the Secretary's favor.The panel granted the Secretary's specific request for a prospective stay, with a two-day grace period. In this case, the Secretary maintains that a retroactive stay would be unfair and might cause irreparable harm to Arizona's voters and damage the public interest. Furthermore, a retroactive stay would replicate some of the injuries that the injunction itself produced, and a retrospective stay would be problematic given that early voting has begun; the Supreme Court has recently employed the remedy of a prospective stay in similar election law cases; and the Supreme Court's election law jurisprudence counsels for deference to politically accountable state officials charged with the responsibility for conducting elections. View "Mi Familia Vota v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

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This case arose after the death of George Floyd and the resulting nationwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The events at issue here stem from the BLM protests in Portland, Oregon where the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Marshals Service deployed federal law enforcement agents to the city.Plaintiffs' second amended complaint alleged that the Federal Defendants "intentionally targeted and used physical force and other forms of intimidation against journalists and authorized legal observers for the purpose of preventing or deterring them from observing and reporting on unreasonably aggressive treatment of lawful protestors." The district court entered a TRO against the Federal Defendants on July 23, 2020. On August 10, plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Federal Defendants, and the district court entered a preliminary injunction with terms largely identical to the terms of the July 23 TRO. On August 25, the district court denied the Federal Defendants' motion for a stay of the preliminary injunction pending appeal. On appeal, a divided three-judge motions panel issued an order on August 27 granting the Federal Defendants' motion for an administrative stay of the injunction pending resolution of their emergency motion for a stay pending appeal.The Ninth Circuit denied the Federal Defendants' emergency motion for stay pending appeal and lifted the administrative stay entered August 27, 2020. The panel held that the Federal Defendants have not made a strong showing that their standing argument is likely to succeed. The panel also held that the Federal Defendants have not made a strong showing required by Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 433-434 (2009), that they are likely to succeed on the merits of plaintiffs' First Amendment retaliation claim and First Amendment right-of-access claim. The panel further held that the Federal Defendants have not shown that they are likely to suffer irreparable injury as a result of the district court's preliminary injunction. Finally, the panel held that a stay of the district court's injunction would substantially injure both the City and the plaintiffs. View "Index Newspapers LLC v. United States Marshals Service" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted emergency motions for a stay pending appeal of the district court's injunction enjoining Ariz. Rev. Stat. 16-548(A), which requires early voters to have signed their ballots by 7:00 PM on Election Day in order to have their votes counted. On September 10, 2020, less than two months before the upcoming presidential election, the district court enjoined the law and ordered Arizona to create and to institute a new procedure that would grant voters who failed to sign their ballots up to five days after voting has ended to correct the error.The panel held that the Nken factors weigh in favor of a stay. In this case, the State has shown that it is likely to succeed on the merits where Arizona's Election Day signature deadline imposes, at most, a "minimal" burden on those who seek to exercise their right to vote. Under the Anderson-Burdick framework for evaluating ballot-access laws, the panel concluded that the State has made a strong showing that its ballot-signature deadline reasonably advances important regulatory interests. Even though plaintiffs contend that the changes to Arizona's law will likely affect only a small number of voters and create a relatively low administrative burden on the State, the panel explained that the State's probability of success on the merits is high. Furthermore, the public interest is well served by preserving Arizona's existing election laws and plaintiffs stand to face only a minimal burden. View "Arizona Democratic Party v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the County's motion to dismiss a claim brought by plaintiff under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Plaintiff alleges that the County's failure to hire, train, and supervise its Sheriff's deputies resulted in two deputies severely beating plaintiff during his arrest. Plaintiff contends that the County tolerated and ignored the proliferation of racially motivated "cliques" or "gangs" within the Sherriff's Department which led to the excessive force used.The panel held that California Government Code 945.3 tolled plaintiff's claim while his criminal charges were pending even if he filed his complaint outside the two year statute of limitations. Section 945.3 provides that a person charged with a criminal offense may not bring a civil action against a peace officer or the public entity employing a peace officer "based upon" conduct of the peace officer relating to the offense for which the accused is charged while the charges against the accused are pending before a superior court. The panel explained that, because there can be no Monell claim based on excessive force without an underlying constitutional violation by the officers, the peace officer's conduct in violation of the Constitution here becomes the "necessary logical condition" to formulate a Monell claim. Therefore, section 945.3's "based upon" language applies to plaintiff's Monell claim, and his claim was properly tolled until the dismissal of his criminal charges. View "Lockett v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied Karen Denise Chades's application for leave to file a second or successive habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(1). Chades was convicted of first degree murder in California state court. In her application, Chades claimed that she was denied effective assistance of counsel in her federal habeas proceedings because her habeas counsel did not adequately press her ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim against her trial counsel.The panel held that it has no authority under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) to authorize Chades to file a second or successive application. In this case, Chades concedes that her application does not meet the statutory exceptions under which a second or successive claim can be reviewed. The panel declined to accept Chades' invitation to hold that the panel nevertheless has jurisdiction to entertain her request directly under the Constitution, because doing so would necessarily require the panel to find that the provisions in section 2244 that bar Chades's application are unconstitutional as applied to her. The panel concluded that the statute does not impermissibly preclude judicial review of an inmate's constitutional challenges, but rather acts as a mere regulation of repetitious requests for relief.The panel raised sua sponte the question of whether a single member of the panel could construe Chades's request as a habeas corpus application and transfer it to a district court for further proceedings. Regardless of whether a transfer is properly done by a panel or by an individual judge, the panel each declined to transfer here. Finally, the panel noted that Chades is not left entirely without a forum for airing her due process claim while seeking habeas relief. View "Chades v. Hill" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's first-degree murder conviction and remanded with instructions to conditionally grant the writ. In this case, the prosecutor told the jury at the end of his closing-argument rebuttal that the presumption of innocence no longer applied.The panel applied petitioner's claim pursuant to Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168 (1986), de novo, holding that the prosecutor's repeated statements, endorsed by the trial judge, that the presumption of innocence no longer applied violated due process under Darden. The panel stated that a holding of a due process violation under Darden necessarily entails a conclusion that the prosecutor's misstatements of the law were prejudicial. The panel also held that the Court of Appeal unreasonably concluded under Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967), that the prosecutor’s misstatements of the law were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Ford v. Peery" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in an action brought by plaintiffs under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law, alleging that her constitutional rights were violated when she was, among other things, subjected to a strip search upon arriving at a prison to visit her boyfriend.The panel held that the defendant who performed the strip search violated plaintiff's rights under the Fourth Amendment where defendant subjected plaintiff to the search without giving her the option of leaving the prison rather than being subjected to the search. However, the panel held that defendant is protected by qualified immunity because there has been no controlling precedent in this circuit, or a sufficiently robust consensus of persuasive authority in other circuits, holding that prior to a strip search a prison visitor—even a visitor as to whom there is reasonable suspicion—must be given an opportunity to leave the prison rather than be subjected to the strip search. Furthermore, because there is little to no likelihood that plaintiff might again be subjected to a strip search under comparable circumstances, prospective declaratory and injunctive relief are unavailable. Finally, plaintiff's other alleged causes of action all fail. View "Cates v. Stroud" on Justia Law

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After Sonny Lam was shot and killed inside his home by a police officer, Sonny's father filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law alleging that the officer used excessive deadly force. In this case, a jury specifically found that Sonny had stabbed the officer in the forearm with a pair of scissors prior to the first shot, that the officer had retreated after firing the first shot, and that Sonny did not approach the officer with scissors before the officer fired the fatal second shot.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and held that the district court properly denied the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law on qualified immunity as to plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim where the law was clearly established at the time of the shooting that an officer could not constitutionally kill a person who did not pose an immediate threat. Furthermore, the law was also clearly established at the time of the incident that firing a second shot at a person who had previously been aggressive, but posed no threat to the officer at the time of the second shot, would violate the victim's rights. Therefore, the facts as found by the jury adequately supported the conclusion that a Fourth Amendment violation had occurred.The panel reversed the district court's denial of the officer’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law on the Fourteenth Amendment claim of loss of a familial relationship with Sonny, because there was insufficient evidence in the record to show that defendant acted with a purpose to harm unrelated to a legitimate law enforcement objective. The panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not commit plain error in its evidentiary rulings. View "Lam v. City of Los Banos" on Justia Law