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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's successive habeas corpus petition challenging the Idaho Supreme Court's 2008 decision that his execution was not barred under an Idaho law prohibiting the execution of intellectually disabled offenders. Petitioner sought relief under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), which held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of intellectually disabled persons. The panel held that the record did not establish that the state court's adjudication of petitioner's Atkins claim resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding. Therefore, the district court properly denied habeas relief because section 2254(d) was not satisfied. Finally, the panel noted that its decision did not preclude the Idaho courts from reconsidering these questions in light of Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. 701 (2014); Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S. Ct. 2269 (2015); and Moore v. Texas, 137 S. Ct. 1039 (2017), which were all decided after the state court's decision View "Pizzuto v. Blades" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action alleging claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The panel held that plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), because their section 504 and ADA claims concerned whether the child was provided appropriate education services. In this case, plaintiffs settled their IDEA case without receiving an administrative decision on whether plaintiffs' son needed the placement they now assert was required for him to receive a free and appropriate public education. View "Paul G. v. Monterey Peninsula Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Association filed suit challenging Montana's electioneering disclosure laws on First Amendment grounds. Under Montana law, an organization that makes an expenditure of more than $250 on a single electioneering communication must register as a political committee, subject to certain organizational and disclosure requirements. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Montana except with respect to one provision. Like the disclosure provisions the panel approved in Human Life of Washington Inc. v. Brumsickle, 624 F.3d 990, 1016 (9th Cir. 2010), and Yamada v. Snipes, 786 F.3d 1182 (9th Cir. 2015), the panel held that most of Montana's disclosure and related requirements are substantially related to important governmental interests connected with informing the electorate. However, the panel held that only Montana's requirement that organizations designate a treasurer registered to vote in Montana is constitutionally infirm. In this case, the requirement was not substantially related to any important governmental interest, and was severable from the rest of the disclosure regime. View "National Association for Gun Rights, Inc. v. Mangan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied an application for authorization to file a second or successive 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition. The panel held that the Supreme Court has not made Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014), which held that a warrant is generally required to search a cell phone's data, retroactive. Therefore, the applicant has not made a prima facie showing that his application to file a section 2254 petition met the requirements of 18 U.S.C. 2244(b)(2)(A). View "Young v. Pfeiffer" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the petition for habeas corpus relief challenging petitioner's capital sentence. Petitioner's conviction for first degree murder and related burglary and kidnapping counts stemmed from his armed robbery of a jewelry store. The panel agreed with, and followed, the district court's application of Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170 (2011), and based its decision only on the record before the California Supreme Court (including the trial court record) and did not consider the evidence presented in the federal court evidentiary hearing. The panel held that there were reasonable grounds to support the denial of relief by the state court on petitioner's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. In this case, the California Supreme Court did not unreasonably apply federal law by determining that counsel's performance was not constitutionally deficient for failing to investigate mitigation evidence regarding petitioner's mother and petitioner's mental impairments. Furthermore, petitioner was not prejudice by counsel's performance. View "Livaditis v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Nevada's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) motion for relief from the district court's judgment granting on remand petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his first degree murder conviction. At issue was whether the Nevada Supreme Court has, since the panel's prior decision in this case, changed the elements for first-degree murder in Nevada in 1991, when petitioner's murder conviction became final. The panel held that intervening Nevada Supreme Court cases did not change the law or undermine Riley I. Therefore, because there was no change in the law that affected Riley I's interpretation of the required elements for first-degree murder in Nevada, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the state's motion. View "Riley v. Filson" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of habeas relief on a certified claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase. Petitioner was convicted and sentenced to death by a California jury on two counts of first-degree murder for killings he committed during a carjacking. The panel held that the California Supreme Court unreasonably applied clearly established federal law in denying petitioner's claim for ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase. Reviewing de novo counsel's performance under Strickland v. Washington, the panel held that counsel rendered deficient performance by failing adequately to investigate petitioner's good character and social history, and he had no reasoned or tactical excuse for not doing so. The panel also held that counsel rendered deficient performance by not investigating petitioner's claim of self-defense in the jail homicide to counter the State's use of it as aggravation evidence. Furthermore, the state court's conclusion that petitioner failed to show prejudice was objectively unreasonable. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions. View "Avena v. Chappell" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order refusing to compel the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs to place the Aqua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians on a list of federally recognized tribes published in the Federal Register. The panel held that the Tribe failed to exhaust the regulatory process under 25 C.F.R. 83 to obtain federal recognition. Instead, the Tribe argued that the Part 83 process did not apply because they sought "correction" of the list, not recognition. However, the panel held that framing the issue as one of "correction" was unsupported by the applicable regulations and case law. In regard to the Tribe's equal protection and Administrative Procedure Act claims, the panel held that Interior had a rational basis for not making an exception to the Part 83 process for the Tribe. The panel concluded that it was rational for the Interior to ask the Tribe to demonstrate through the Part 83 process how they are a "distinct Community" from the Pala Band of Mission Indians and "politically autonomous" so that Interior may make the federal-recognition determination, and Interior's explanation for treating the Tribe differently from other tribes passed muster. View "Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians of the Pala Reservation v. Sweeney" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a Guam resident who challenged a provision of Guam's 2000 Plebiscite Law that restricted voting to "Native Inhabitants of Guam." Rice v. Cayetano, 528 U.S. 495 (2000), and Davis v. Commonwealth Election Comm'n, 844 F.3d 1087 (9th Cir. 2016), respectively invalidated laws in Hawaii and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands limiting voting in certain elections to descendants of particular indigenous groups because those provisions employed ancestry as a proxy for race in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. The panel held that Guam's 2000 Plebiscite Law is subject to the requirements of the Fifteenth Amendment, and that the classification "Native Inhabitants of Guam" serves as a proxy for race. Therefore, Guam's limitations on the right to vote in its political status plebiscite to "Native Inhabitants of Guam" violates the Fifteenth Amendment. View "Davis v. Guam" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for habeas corpus relief challenging petitioner's Arizona state murder conviction and death penalty. Applying deferential review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), the panel held that the district court properly held that petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was not violated when his trial counsel elected not to challenge petitioner's competency to waive counsel, despite counsel's knowledge that he had a history of mental health issues; the district court properly concluded that petitioner's due process rights were not violated by the state trial court's failure to hold a competency hearing sua sponte; and the district court properly held that the Arizona Supreme Court's opinion concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying petitioner's final continuance motion was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. The panel expanded the certificate of appealability (COA) to include the question of whether petitioner's constitutional rights were violated at trial through use of restraints, but affirmed the denial of the writ on that issue. The panel declined to expand the COA further. View "Dixon v. Ryan" on Justia Law