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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s dismissal of her claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging that a sheriff’s deputy used excessive force in arresting her. The district court held that Plaintiff’s claim was barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), because Plaintiff was convicted of willfully resisting, delaying, or obstructing the deputy during the same interaction in violation of Cal. Penal Code section 148(a)(1).   The en banc Ninth Circuit court reversed the district court’s summary judgment for Defendants. The court held that because the record did not show that Plaintiff’s section 1983 action necessarily rested on the same event as her criminal conviction, success in the former would not necessarily imply the invalidity of the latter.   Heck would bar Plaintiff from bringing an excessive force claim under section 1983 if that claim were based on force used during the conduct that was the basis for her section 148(a)(1) conviction. Crucially, the criminal jury was told that it could find Plaintiff guilty based on any one of four acts she committed during the course of her interaction with the Deputy. Because the jury returned a general verdict, it is not known which act it thought constituted an offense. Although any of the four acts could be the basis for the guilty verdict, Plaintiff’s section 1983 action was based on an allegation that the Deputy used excessive force during only the last one. The court held that if Plaintiff were to prevail in her civil action, it would not necessarily mean that her conviction was invalid; and the action was therefore not barred by Heck. View "GABBI LEMOS V. COUNTY OF SONOMA" on Justia Law

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The Arizona Department of Corrections issued Order 914, under which the Department may prohibit inmates from receiving mail containing “sexually explicit material.” The Department invoked the order to redact several issues of Prison Legal News, a monthly journal for prison inmates that covers developments in the criminal justice system. The publisher of Prison Legal News sued the Department under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, arguing that Order 914 violates the First Amendment on its face and as applied to Prison Legal News. The district court granted summary judgment to the publisher and entered a permanent injunction requiring the Department to amend its order and allow distribution of the issues that had been censored.   The Ninth Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part, vacated the permanent injunction in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court concluded that most of the order’s relevant prohibitions are facially constitutional under the First Amendment and that most of the as-applied challenges lack merit.   The court held that the penological interests in jail security and rehabilitation were legitimate and the order was neutral in the sense relevant to the analysis set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). The court determined, however, that one aspect of the order swept more broadly than could be explained by the Department’s penological objectives: section 1.2.17’s ban on content that “may” cause sexual arousal or be suggestive of sex. That provision was not rationally related to the Department’s interests. As to one portion of the May 2017 issue, the court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for the Department. View "PRISON LEGAL NEWS V. CHARLES RYAN" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, one of whom is a former Montana State Senator, operate a website that tracks the voting records of Republican state legislators in Montana. Based on the travel expenses Plaintiffs incurred in giving presentations about the website, Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices determined that Plaintiffs had formed a “political committee” under Montana law, subject to numerous reporting obligations.   Montana law broadly defines a “political committee,” in relevant part, as “a combination of two or more individuals . . . who receives a contribution or makes an expenditure” to “support or oppose” a candidate or a ballot issue. An expenditure of $250 or less does not create a political committee. Nor will expenditures that qualify as “de minimis acts,” which do not count towards the $250 threshold.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment for Montana state defendants and held that Montana Administrative Rule 44.11603, under which Plaintiffs were required by the Montana Commission of Political Practices to register as a political action committee, is unconstitutionally vague as applied to Plaintiffs.   The court held that Montana’s administrative scheme did not give Plaintiffs fair notice that when they traveled around Big Sky Country without pay to give presentations, their purchases of fast food, fuel, and lodging at a roadside motel were not considered de minimis expenses associated with volunteer services. The court wrote that nothing in Montana law suggests that only those persons providing volunteer services or efforts within an organizational structure of a group are exempted from a political committee designation. View "ED BUTCHER V. AUSTIN KNUDSEN" on Justia Law

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In 2011-2013, Fierro made six requests to be placed into protective custody, insisting that he was at risk of harm because he had received threats from the Border Brothers, a gang active throughout Arizona’s prisons. All six requests were denied. Fierro was physically assaulted in the prison yard by two other prisoners, at least one of whom was a suspected member of the Border Brothers. Fierro brought suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court instructed the jury to “give deference to prison officials in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that, in their judgment, are needed to preserve discipline and to maintain internal security in a prison.”The Ninth Circuit vacated a verdict in favor of the prison officials. The evidence at trial reflected a genuine dispute whether the decisions to deny Fierro’s requests for protective custody were made pursuant to a security-based policy, and, if so, whether the decisions were an unnecessary, unjustified, or exaggerated response to security concerns, so the district court’s deference instruction was erroneous. View "Fierro v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Amber Machowski was an individual with a disability who used a wheelchair for mobility. Defendant 333 N. Placentia Property, LLC, was the owner of a property in Fullerton, California, on which a business establishment known as City Market Liquor II was located. When Machowski attempted to patronize the store, she encountered architectural barriers that prevented her from making full use and enjoyment of the premises. Machowski sued Defendant, asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The complaint sought injunctive relief, statutory damages under the Unruh Act, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. After Defendant failed to respond to the complaint, Machowski applied for the entry of default judgment, seeking injunctive relief and statutory damages. Machowski’s application for default judgment did not seek an award of attorney’s fees. Instead, it advised the district court that “plaintiff will separately file a motion for her attorney fees and costs once this application is granted and judgment has been entered.” The district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Machowski’s Unruh Act claim, granted default judgment on her ADA claim, ordered injunctive relief, and sua sponte awarded Machowski $1000 in attorney’s fees under Central District of California Local Rule 55-3. Machowski timely appealed the fee award. The Ninth Circuit held that where, as here, a prevailing party advises the district court that it is opting out of the fee schedule and will seek by motion, an award of reasonable attorney's fees, the district court abuses its discretion by disregarding the plaintiff's choice and sua sponte awarding fees under the fee schedule. Accordingly, the fee award was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Machowski v. 333 N. Placentia Property, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Defendant officer, under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, alleging that Defendant violated Plaintiff’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when the officer used a roadblock to stop Plaintiff, who was suspected of committing a minor traffic violation, from fleeing on a bicycle. The district court construed Plaintiff’s allegations as asserting a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim and found that his claim was plausible.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity Defendant. The court held that the question of whether Defendant used excessive force against Plaintiff would be a question for a factfinder. The roadblock was a use of intermediate force that was capable of inflicting significant pain and causing serious injury. Given the circumstances, a jury could conclude that Defendant should have taken additional steps to stop Plaintiff before using an intermediate level of force given Plaintiff’s minor offense and the lack of any safety risk to de Defendant or anyone else. However, even if Defendant did use excessive force, the law as it existed at the time of the incident did not clearly establish that his actions violated the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, Defendant was entitled to qualified immunity. View "PRESTON SEIDNER V. JONATHAN DE VRIES" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of her minor daughter, alleged that Defendant, an employee of the Kauai County Police Department, deceived the Hawaii family court when she assisted the non-custodial father of Plaintiff’s daughter in obtaining a temporary restraining order that prevented Plaintiff, the sole custodial parent, from having any contact with her daughter. Plaintiff further alleged that Defendant conspired with the noncustodial father and state officials to extract the daughter from her school and place her in the father’s custody without Plaintiff’s knowledge or court order.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss, on the basis of qualified immunity, an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging violations of Plaintiff’s right to familial association.The court stated that although Defendant may ultimately prove that Plaintiff’s allegations were false, at the pleading stage, the court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. When the alleged events in this case occurred, the law clearly established that a parent and child’s constitutional right to familial association is violated when a state official interferes with a parent’s lawful custody through judicial deception. The law also clearly established that a state official cannot remove a child from a lawful custodial parent without consent or court order unless the official has reasonable cause to believe that the child is in imminent danger and, even then, the scope and duration of the removal must be reasonable. Here, Plaintiff plausibly alleged that Defendant violated these rights by deliberately failing to inform the family court of a custody order. View "HANNAH DAVID V. GINA KAULUKUKUI" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment for the County of San Bernardino and County investigator in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging Defendants violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights during his murder investigation and prosecution, resulting in his erroneous conviction for the murder of his wife.   Plaintiff alleged that County of San Bernardino investigator fabricated evidence against him by planting. Plaintiff further alleged claims for municipal liability pursuant to Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), against the County, arguing that the County’s customs and policies, and the absence of better customs and policies, resulted in the alleged constitutional violations.   The court held that because the district court erred by failing to find potential civil rights liability as to the investigator, its derivative ruling as to potential County liability under Monell should also be reversed. The court further held that the district court erred by not addressing whether Plaintiff could show that he suffered a constitutional injury by the County unrelated to the individual officers’ liability under Section 1983.   Plaintiff put forth at least two Monell claims that were not premised on a theory of liability: (1) that the County’s policy of prohibiting coroner investigators from entering a crime scene until cleared by homicide detectives resulted in the loss of exculpatory time-of-death evidence, and (2) that the lack of any training or policy on Brady by the Sheriff’s Department resulted in critical exculpatory evidence being withheld by the prosecution. The court, therefore, remanded to the district court to consider these claims. View "WILLIAM RICHARDS V. COUNTY OF SAN BERNARDINO" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights
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Several public-sector employees filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 seeking to recover any agency fees taken from their paychecks by the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association and Santa Clara County. Specifically, Plaintiffs sought a refund for fees paid before the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) (prohibiting public-sector unions from collecting compulsory agency fees).In the district court, Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment, claiming they were entitled to a good-faith defense because their actions were expressly authorized by then-applicable United States Supreme Court law and state law. Plaintiffs appealed.On appeal, Plaintiffs acknowledge that Danielson v. Inslee, 945 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. 2019) precludes their claim against the Union. The Ninth Circuit held that the rule announced in Danielson also applies to municipalities because "precedent recognizes that municipalities are generally liable in the same way as private corporations in sec. 1983 actions." Thus, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' claim against both the Union and the County. View "SEAN ALLEN V. SANTA CLARA CNTY CORR. POA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was raped by a fellow student two weeks after starting at the University of Washington. Plaintiff later learned that two other students had reported the same individual for unwanted sexual advances and contact. Plaintiff filed Title IX and common-law negligence claims against the University in the district court, which granted summary judgment to the University after finding that the University did not owe Plaintiff a duty of care. Plaintiff appealed.The Ninth Circuit certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court:1. Does Washington law recognize a special relationship between a university and its students giving rise to a duty to use reasonable care to protect students from foreseeable injury at the hands of other students?2. If the answer to question 1 is yes, what is the measure and scope of that duty? View "MADELEINE BARLOW V. STATE OF WASHINGTON" on Justia Law