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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for prison officials in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that defendants violated plaintiff's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when they failed to protect him from an attack by another inmate. The panel held that defendants violated plaintiff's Eighth Amendment right to be protected from serious harm while incarcerated. The panel also held that a reasonable fact-finder would be able to conclude that defendants were subjectively aware of the substantial risk of serious harm to plaintiff, and failed to respond reasonably; any reasonable prison official in the defendants' position would know that the actions defendants took, and failed to take, violated the Eighth Amendment; none of the defendants can claim ignorance to a prisoner's right to be protected from violence at the hands of other inmates where that right has been clearly established in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. at 833 (1994). Finally, the panel noted that throughout proceedings in the district court plaintiff struggled to obtain discovery from defendants. On remand, plaintiff should have another opportunity to seek the materials he requested previously, and the panel encouraged the district court to appoint him counsel. View "Wilk v. Neven" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to TRAX in a disability discrimination action brought by plaintiff under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). After TRAX terminated plaintiff from her position as a Technical Writer allegedly due to an inability or unwillingness to accommodate her disability, TRAX discovered during the course of litigation that plaintiff lacked the requisite bachelor's degree for her position. The panel held that, although McKennon v. Nashville Banner Publishing Co., 513 U.S. 352 (1995), held that after-acquired evidence cannot establish a superseding, non-discriminatory justification for an employer's challenged actions, after-acquired evidence remains available for other purposes, including to show that an individual is not qualified under the ADA. Because plaintiff did not satisfy one of the prerequisites for her position, she is not "otherwise qualified," and TRAX was not obligated to engage in the interactive process. View "Anthony v. TRAX International Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied an application under 28 U.S.C. 2244(b) for leave to file a second or successive habeas corpus petition challenging the applicant's 2005 Washington state sentencing judgment. The panel held that the habeas petition applicant seeks to file is a second or successive petition under Magwood v. Patterson, 561 U.S. 320 (2010), because removal of the victim-restitution condition from applicant's sentencing judgment did not create a new, intervening judgment under Washington law. Therefore, in order to proceed with his habeas petition, applicant must satisfy the requirements for filing a second or successive petition under section 2244(b)(2), which he cannot do. In this case, none of the arguments raise in the petition related to a new constitutional rule. Likewise, each of applicant's arguments raises a procedural error that, even if proven true, has no bearing on his guilt. View "Colbert v. Haynes" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a petition for federal habeas relief brought by petitioner, challenging his California state murder conviction and death sentence. Petitioner alleges that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel at the penalty phase because his lawyers failed to present additional evidence of his family history and social background. The panel held that reasonable jurists could conclude that admission of this evidence would not have led to a reasonable probability of a different sentence and thus petitioner was not prejudiced by any deficiency in counsel's performance. The panel granted petitioner's motion to expand the certificate of appealability as to four additional claims. The panel held that the state court reasonably concluded that a mens rea defense theory would not have been reasonably probable to persuade the jury to acquit. Even assuming that counsel rendered deficient performance in failing to conduct further investigation, it was eminently reasonable for the court to conclude that petitioner failed to show that the omission of this argument adversely affected the outcome. Finally, the panel held that petitioner was not prejudiced by his counsel's failure to obtain a transport order and funding authorization for EEG tests and a PET scan during the guilt or penalty phase. View "Berryman v. Wong" on Justia Law

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Appellant sought habeas corpus relief, arguing that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel because the defense lawyer who represented him in his child molestation trial in Arizona state court was ineffective. After the jury reported that it was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial, the jury requested permission to resume deliberations. Appellant's counsel did not object and the jury convicted appellant on all grounds. The Ninth Circuit held that appellant's counsel was not ineffective because, on the facts of this case, it was a reasonable prediction that appellant had a better chance of a more favorable verdict from the existing jury on the existing trial record than he would from a retrial. View "May v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of a petition for habeas corpus as time-barred. The panel held that the district court erred in its refusal to consider whether petitioner's claimed impairment was the cause of the untimeliness of the federal filing, despite his representation by state habeas counsel, and that the district court applied the wrong legal standard in evaluating whether state habeas counsel's misconduct supported equitable tolling. In this case, because the district court thought abandonment was required, it did not consider whether petitioner's state habeas counsel's misconduct qualified as an "extraordinary circumstance" under all the facts of this case. Accordingly, the panel remanded for the appropriate analysis. View "Milam v. Harrington" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action, alleging constitutional violations arising from the County's enforcement of its billboard ordinance through an abatement proceeding. The panel agreed with the district court that all the elements required for Younger abstention were present where the abatement proceeding was ongoing, constitutes a quasi-criminal enforcement action, implicates an important state interest in its land-use ordinances and in providing a uniform procedure for resolving zoning disputes, and allows litigants to raise a federal challenge. Furthermore, plaintiffs' federal action could substantially delay the abatement proceeding, thus having the practical effect of enjoining it. The panel also affirmed the district court's order awarding attorney's fees and costs. The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that plaintiffs' action was frivolous at the outset. The panel also held that the County was the prevailing party where the district court's Younger-based dismissal effected a material change in the parties' relationship because it eliminated the possibility that plaintiffs' federal lawsuit would halt or impede the County's abatement proceeding. View "Citizens for Free Speech, LLC v. County of Alameda" on Justia Law

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The en banc court affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition as untimely. Petitioner argued that he was entitled to extend the one-year limitations period set forth in 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1) by equitable tolling for the 66 days between the date his conviction became final in the state appellate court and the date when his attorney informed him of that unsuccessful appeal and provided him with the state appellate record. The en banc court held that petitioner failed to exercise reasonable diligence during the 10 months available after he received his record from his attorney and before the time allowed by the statute of limitations expired. In view of the historic practice of courts of equity and modern Supreme Court precedent governing equitable tolling, the en banc court made two related holdings. First, for a litigant to demonstrate "he has been pursuing his rights diligently," and thus satisfies the first element required for equitable tolling, he must show that he has been reasonably diligent in pursuing his rights not only while an impediment to filing caused by an extraordinary circumstance existed, but before and after as well, up to the time of filing his claim in federal court. Second, and relatedly, it is only when an extraordinary circumstance prevented a petitioner acting with reasonable diligence from making a timely filing that equitable tolling may be the proper remedy. In this case, the en banc court held that petitioner was not entitled to relief. View "Smith v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a 42 U.S.C. 1983 petition raising an as-applied challenge to the Expedited Conversion Program. The Program allows property owners to convert their tenancy-in-common properties into condominium properties on the condition that the owners agree to offer any existing tenants lifetime leases in units within the converted property. The panel held that plaintiffs' takings challenge was unripe, because plaintiffs did not ask the City for an exemption from the lifetime lease requirement, and thus failed to satisfy the separate finality requirement in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985). The finality requirement survived Knick v. Township of Scott, 139 S. Ct. 2162 (2019), and consequently continues to be a requirement for bringing regulatory takings claims such as plaintiffs' in federal court. Furthermore, plaintiffs knowingly waived their right to seek an exemption and their arguments to the contrary were unpersuasive. View "Pakdel v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition in which petitioner alleged that the trial judge dismissed the juror for race-related reasons and so ran afoul of the prohibition on racial discrimination in jury selection. As a preliminary matter, the panel held that Haney v. Adams, 641 F.3d 1168 (9th Cir. 2011), did not bar consideration of the merits of petitioner's equal protection claim where he challenged a judge's jury strike for cause, rather than an attorney's peremptory challenge. On the merits, the panel held that the state courts correctly determined that the judge's concerns reflected the juror's own statements of race-related bias, not discriminatory reliance by the judge on the juror's race. Likewise, petitioner's due process and Sixth Amendment claims also failed. View "Rodriguez Infante v. Martel" on Justia Law