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 denial of qualified immunity to police officers in an action brought by plaintiff, seeking damages incurred during a SWAT team search of her house and alleging claims for unreasonable search, unreasonable seizure, and conversion. The panel assumed, without deciding, that defendants violated plaintiffs' rights and held that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because those rights were not clearly established at the time. Given the factors that suggested voluntary consent, the panel held that a lack of consent was not clearly established and that a lack of consent was not so obvious that the requirement of similar precedent can be overcome. Furthermore, given that defendants thought they had permission to enter plaintiff's house to apprehend a dangerous, potentially armed, and suicidal felon barricaded inside, it was not obvious, in the absence of a controlling precedent, that defendants exceeded the scope of plaintiff's consent by causing the tear gas canisters to enter the house in an attempt to flush the felon out into the open. View "West v. City of Caldwell" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for PAR in an action brought by plaintiff, a profoundly deaf individual who is a licensed real estate salesperson, under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Arizonans with Disabilities Act (AzADA). Plaintiff alleged that PAR failed to comply with federal and state laws when it denied plaintiff's requests for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter at continuing education courses. The panel held that PAR was not entitled to summary judgment because engaging in dialogue with plaintiff did not satisfy its obligations under the ADA, and there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether PAR offered an auxiliary aid or service that would provide effective communication to plaintiff. The panel remanded for the district court to consider in the first instance whether providing an ASL interpreter would result in an undue burden. View "Tauscher v. Phoenix Board of Relators, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an Arizona state prisoner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief, challenging his conviction for four counts of first degree murder and his capital sentence. The panel held that the record failed to establish that plaintiff's pre-trial counsel were incompetent or provided constitutionally deficient representation. Therefore, petitioner's challenges to his waiver of counsel and guilty pleas, as both claims were premised on constitutionally inadequate representation, failed. The panel also held that there was no reasonable probability that state post-conviction proceedings would have turned out differently if petitioner had advanced a pre-trial ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and the panel could not excuse the procedural default of that claim. Furthermore, the state court reasonably concluded that sentencing counsel was not ineffective, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing on that claim. Finally, the panel held that any causal nexus during petitioner's sentencing was harmless. View "Djerf v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Koala brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the University student government's passage of the Media Act, which eliminated registered student organization (RSO) funding for all print media, violated its First Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit held that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar The Koala's claims and the relief The Koala sought was consistent with the Ex parte Young doctrine. The panel saw no reason why the rule articulated in the Free Speech cases cited -- that the government may not withhold benefits for a censorious purpose -- should not apply when the state singles out and burdens the press by revoking a subsidy, particularly where, as here, the record includes unusually compelling allegations that the government acted with discriminatory intent. Therefore, the second amended complaint's (SAC) Free Press Clause claim was sufficient to survive defendants' motion to dismiss because it alleged that the Media Act was passed for the express purpose of silencing a newspaper, and that defendants singled out The Koala for a disparate financial burden. The panel also held that the allegations in the SAC, and in the documents incorporated by reference into the SAC, supported the conclusion that defendants created a limited public forum encompassing all student activity funding, not one constrained to only media funds. Furthermore, the complaint sufficiently alleged a claim for First Amendment retaliation where The Koala's article was clearly protected speech, the Media Act chilled The Koala's speech, and The Koala adequately alleged a nexus between its speech and the Associated Students' alleged retaliatory conduct. Accordingly, the panel reversed in part and vacated in part. View "The Koala v. Khosla" 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 husband and wife, alleging civil rights violations. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from the police seizure of firearms from their residence after detaining husband for a mental health evaluation in response to a 911 call. The panel held that that wife's Second Amendment claim was barred by issue preclusion under California law, because the California Court of Appeal had considered and rejected a Second Amendment argument identical to this one. The panel also held that the warrantless seizure of the guns did not violate the Fourth Amendment where the officers had probable cause to detain involuntarily an individual experiencing an acute mental health episode and to send the individual for evaluation, they expected the individual would have access to firearms and present a serious public safety threat if he returned to the home, and they did not know how quickly the individual might return. In this case, the urgency of a significant public safety interest was sufficient to outweigh the significant privacy interest in personal property kept in the home, and a warrant was not required. View "Rodriguez v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that DOC defendants violated the Eighth Amendment rights of all prisoners with serious mental illness who are confined to the Montana State Prison. The panel held that the complaint, which describes the horrific treatment of prisoners, was supported by factual allegations more than sufficient to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face under Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In this case, the complaint alleged, among other things, that prisoners with serious mental illness are denied diagnosis and treatment of their conditions; described a distressing pattern of placing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement for "weeks and months at a time" without significant mental health care; and alleged the frequent, improper use of this punishment for behavior arising from mental illness. Furthermore, the district court had mistaken this case for another case brought by plaintiff against a different defendant. Therefore, the panel remanded for further proceedings and reassigned the case to a different district court judge. View "Disability Rights Montana v. Batista" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by independent presidential candidate Roque De La Fuente challenging two California ballot access laws, Cal. Elec. Code 8400, 8403. These Ballot Access Laws require independent candidates to collect signatures from one percent of California's registered voters to appear on a statewide ballot. The panel held that De La Fuente had standing because he suffered a concrete injury that was not merely speculative. On the merits, the panel held that California's overall scheme did not significantly impair ballot access. Rather, the laws were generally applicable, even-handed, politically neutral, and aimed at protecting the reliability and integrity of the election process. The panel also held that the Ballot Access Laws reasonably relate to California's important regulatory interests in managing its democratic process and are proportionate to California's large voter population. View "De La Fuente v. Padilla" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal with prejudice of a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action brought by three former nursing home residents and a nonprofit advocacy group who alleged that the residents were subjected to unlawful "dumping." The panel held that nursing home residents may challenge, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, a state's violation of the Medicaid Act's requirement that states participating in Medicaid provide for a fair mechanism for hearing appeals on transfers and discharges of residents of nursing homes covered by Medicaid. Applying the Blessing factors, the panel held that the provisions in the Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments (FNHRA) created a statutory right enforceable under section 1983. However, the present complaint did not allege a plausible violation of the FNHRA appeals provision as the panel has constructed it, but dismissal with prejudice and without leave to amend was not appropriate unless it was clear on de novo review that the complaint could not be saved by amendment. Because the residents' failure to state a claim could perhaps be cured by repleading, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Anderson v. Ghaly" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against a police officer, the police chief, and the city after the officer shot and killed Fridoon Nehad. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment with respect to the Fourteenth Amendment claims, reversed with respect to the remaining claims, and remanded. The panel held that triable issues remain regarding the reasonableness of the officer's use of deadly force, specifically (1) the officer's credibility; (2) whether Nehad posed a significant, if any, danger to anyone; (3) whether the severity of Nehad's alleged crime warranted the use of deadly force; (4) whether the officer gave or Nehad resisted any commands; (5) the significance of the officer's failure to identify himself as a police officer or warn Nehad of the impending use of force; and (6) the availability of less intrusive means of subduing Nehad. The panel held that these factual questions precluded a grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity, because it was well established at the time that the use of deadly force under the circumstances was objectively unreasonable. The panel also held that plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence of police department customs, practices, and supervisory conduct to support a finding of entity and supervisory liability, and the district court never afforded plaintiffs an opportunity to be heard before granting summary judgment on the negligence and wrongful death claims sua sponte. View "Nehad v. Browder" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order dismissing a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action brought by plaintiff, a state prisoner, for failure to pay the required filing fee. The district court concluded that at least three of plaintiff's prior actions were dismissed based on failure to state a claim or because they were frivolous. Therefore, the district court held that 28 U.S.C. 1915(g) barred plaintiff from bringing this action in forma pauperis. The panel held, however, that one of plaintiff's previous actions was not dismissed for a qualifying reason under section 1915(g). The previous action was dismissed for lack of standing and dismissal for lack of standing is a dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which was not a ground enumerated in section 1915(g). Therefore, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Hoffmann v. Pulido" on Justia Law