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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiff filed suit against defendants, alleging 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law claims arising from Defendant Stringer's fatal shooting of plaintiff's son, Michael Dozer. The district court entered judgment for defendants after the jury returned a special verdict finding that Stringer did not use excessive force or act negligently. The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, holding that the district court abused its discretion in excluding plaintiff's proposed testimony under Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 402. In this case, the district court excluded as irrelevant plaintiff's testimony about her percipient observations of Dozer's past behavior, which she offered to prove that Stringer should have recognized that Dozer was exhibiting signs of mental illness at the time of their encounter and therefore that the shooting was unreasonable. The panel also rejected defendants' alternative argument that plaintiff's proposed testimony was an improper lay opinion under Rule 701. Finally, the panel held that the district court's evidentiary error was not harmless and a new trial was warranted. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Crawford v. City of Bakersfield" on Justia Law

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The en banc court affirmed the district court's grant of sentencing relief based on petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim, holding that the California Supreme Court unreasonably applied clearly established federal law when it concluded that petitioner received constitutionally adequate representation at the penalty phase of his trial. The en banc court held that the only reasonable interpretation of Supreme Court precedent and the facts of this case lead to the following conclusions: (1) that counsel failed in their duty to undertake a reasonable investigation at the penalty phase of petitioner's trial; (2) that counsel's choices cannot be rationalized as "strategic" or "tactical;" and (3) that any reasonably competent attorney would have discovered and introduced the substantial and compelling mitigating evidence that existed. The en banc court held that no fair-minded jurist would conclude otherwise. The en banc court also held that the California Supreme Court's conclusion that petitioner suffered no prejudice was objectively unreasonable. Without having heard the substantial and compelling mitigating evidence, the en banc court held that the jury could not fairly gauge petitioner's moral culpability at sentencing. View "Andrews v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the city and police department officials in an action brought by plaintiff, who was 74 years old at the time, challenging the issuance and execution of a search warrant on her home, as well as her detention incident to the search. In this case, officers acted pursuant to a search warrant to investigate an illegal marijuana operation. The panel held that there was probable cause to search plaintiff's mobile home based on the informant's reliability and the probability that probative evidence or contraband would be found in the residences on the property, including the mobile home. Therefore, the search warrant's breadth was co-extensive with the scope of the probable cause and was not overbroad. The panel also held that the officers acted reasonably when they continued to search plaintiff's mobile home because the probable cause to search the mobile home did not depend on the suspect living there. Rather, the panel held that the officers had probable cause to continue the search because they could still reasonably believe that the entire property was suspect and that the property was still under the suspect's common control. Furthermore, the panel held that the duration of the detention, about an hour, was reasonable. Finally, none of plaintiff's alleged omissions amounted to judicial deception. View "Blight v. City of Manteca" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the city's requirement that individuals obtain permits before they use sound amplifying devices within the city. In this case, plaintiff wanted to use a bullhorn to amplify his voice during protests of alleged animal mistreatment at Six Flags Discovery Park. Determining that the case was not moot even in light of the city's recent amendment, the panel held that the district court abused its discretion by concluding that plaintiff was unlikely to succeed on the merits of his claim that the permit requirement imposed an unconstitutional prior restraint on public speech. In this case, although the permit requirement furthered the city's significant interests, it was not narrowly tailored because it covered substantially more speech than necessary to achieve those interests. The panel also held that the district court abused its discretion by failing to recognize a police officer's threat of criminal sanctions against plaintiff as irreparable harm. Furthermore, the district court abused its discretion in concluding that the balance of equities did not tip in plaintiff's favor. Finally, the panel held that it was well within the public interest to issue a preliminary injunction. View "Cuviello v. City of Vallejo" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of police officers in an action brought by a victim of domestic abuse under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law. The panel held that the officers' conduct violated plaintiff's constitutional right to due process by affirmatively increasing the known and obvious danger plaintiff faced. However, the panel held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clear at the time that their conduct was unconstitutional. The panel held that the state-created danger doctrine applies when an officer reveals a domestic violence complaint made in confidence to an abuser while simultaneously making disparaging comments about the victim in a manner that reasonably emboldens the abuser to continue abusing the victim with impunity. The panel also held that the state-created danger doctrine applies when an officer praises an abuser in the abuser's presence after the abuser has been protected from arrest, in a manner that communicates to the abuser that the abuser may continue abusing the victim with impunity. View "Martinez v. City of Clovis" on Justia Law

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The State appealed the district court's grant of federal habeas relief to petitioner, a state prisoner sentenced to death for the sexual assault, abuse, and felony murder of a four year old girl. The Ninth Circuit held that 28 U.S.C. 2254(e)(2), which precludes evidentiary hearings on claims that were not developed in state court proceedings, did not prohibit the district court from considering the evidence adduced at the Martinez v. Ryan hearing to determine the merits of petitioner's underlying ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) claim. The panel explained that when a district court holds an evidentiary hearing to determine whether a petitioner's claim is excused from procedural default under Martinez, it may consider that same evidence to grant habeas relief on the underlying claim. The panel also held that the district court did not err in determining that the assistance provided by petitioner's counsel was constitutionally deficient where he failed to perform an adequate pretrial investigation into whether the victim's injuries were sustained during the time she was with petitioner, and petitioner has demonstrated prejudice due to counsel's failures. In regard to Count Four, this failure only affected the jury's determination that petitioner had acted intentionally or knowingly, but not his underlying guilt on the lesser included offense of reckless misconduct. Therefore, the panel affirmed the grant of habeas relief, but vacated the district court's remedy, remanding for further proceedings. View "Jones v. Shinn" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an action alleging that the FAA wrongfully terminated plaintiff. Plaintiff filed her action in the district court within the 30-day statutory limitations period, but she mistakenly named only the FAA and her former supervisor as defendants. Because plaintiff's action alleged claims of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, she should have named the head of the executive agency to which the FAA belonged, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. After the statute of limitations had expired, the FAA moved to dismiss and Secretary Chao then filed her own motion to dismiss. The Ninth Circuit held that plaintiff was entitled to relation back under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(2). The panel held that the district court adopted an overly technical interpretation of the term "process" as used in Rule 15(c)(2). Rather, the panel held that the notice-giving function of "process" under Rule 15(c)(2) was accomplished whether or not the summons accompanying the complaint was signed by the clerk of court. Furthermore, the requirements for relation back were met here where both the United States Attorney and the Attorney General were sufficiently notified of the action within Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m)'s 90-day period. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Silbaugh v. Chao" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction barring enforcement in several states of final federal agency rules that exempt employers with religious and moral objections from the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) requirement that group health plans cover contraceptive care without cost sharing. As a preliminary matter, the panel held that the plaintiff states had Article III standing to sue and that the appeal was not moot. The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that the plaintiff states were likely to succeed on the merits of their Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claim or, at the very least, raised serious questions going to the merits. At the preliminary injunction stage, the panel held that the evidence was sufficient to hold that providing free contraceptive services was a core purpose of the Women's Health Amendment and that nothing in the statute permitted the agencies to determine exemptions from the requirement. Therefore, given the text, purpose, and history of the Women's Health Amendment, the district court did not err in concluding that the agencies likely lacked statutory authority under the ACA to issue the final rules. The panel also held that, regardless of the question of the agencies' authority under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the accommodation process likely did not substantially burden the exercise of religion. Furthermore, because appellants likely failed to demonstrate a substantial burden on religious exercise, there was no need to address whether the government had shown a compelling interest or whether it has adopted the least restrictive means of advancing that interest. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that the states were likely to suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction, and that the balance of equities tipped sharply in favor of the plaintiff states and that the public interest tipped in favor of granting the preliminary injunction. View "California v. The Little Sisters of the Poor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging both their inclusion on the No Fly List and the sufficiency of the procedures available for contesting their inclusion on the list. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the government and held that the district court properly rejected plaintiffs' as-applied vagueness challenges. The panel held that the No Fly List criteria are not impermissibly vague merely because they require a prediction of future criminal conduct or because they do not delineate what factors are relevant to that determination. Rather, the criteria are reasonably clear in their application to the specific conduct alleged in this case, which includes, for one or more plaintiffs, associating with and financing terrorists, training with militant groups overseas, and advocating terrorist violence. The panel weighed the Mathews v. Eldridge factors and held that the procedures provided to the plaintiffs were constitutionally sufficient and any error was nonprejudicial. Finally, the panel held that the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs' substantive due process claims for lack of jurisdiction under 49 U.S.C. 46110(a), which places review of TSA orders in the courts of appeals rather than the district court. View "Kashem v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his Nevada conviction and death sentence for four counts of first degree murder. Given that petitioner's underlying ineffective assistance of counsel claims lack merit, the panel need not resolve whether the relevant Nevada law was adequate or if it is, whether petitioner can overcome his procedural default and obtain federal review of the merits of his ineffective assistance claims. Even if the panel held in petitioner's favor in either of those questions and reached the merits of the claims, the panel would affirm the district court's denial of relief. The panel also held that the Nevada Supreme Court's determination -- that petitioner's constitutional rights were not violated when the state's expert made reference during his testimony to test results that he had obtained from petitioner's expert -- was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of controlling Supreme Court case law. Furthermore, the panel rejected petitioner's claim regarding change of venue, the testimony of the mother of the victim, and improper statements by the prosecutor. Finally, the panel declined to expand the certificate of appealability. View "Floyd v. Filson" on Justia Law