Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The United States challenged California's enactment of three laws expressly designed to protect its residents from federal immigration enforcement: AB 450, which requires employers to alert employees before federal immigration inspections; AB 103, which imposes inspection requirements on facilities that house civil immigration detainees; and SB 54, which limits the cooperation between state and local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded that AB 450's employee-notice provisions neither burden the federal government nor conflict with federal activities, and that any obstruction caused by SB 54 is consistent with California's prerogatives under the Tenth Amendment and the anticommandeering rule. Therefore, the panel affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction as to these laws. The panel also affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction as to those provisions of AB 103 that duplicate inspection requirements otherwise mandated under California law. However, the panel held that one subsection of AB 103—codified at California Government Code section 12532(b)(1)(C)—discriminates against and impermissibly burdens the federal government, and so is unlawful under the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity. Therefore, the panel reversed the preliminary injunction order as to this part and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. California" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of habeas relief as to the penalty phase, because petitioner's counsel rendered ineffective assistance by not investigating and presenting mitigating evidence at the penalty phase. Applying de novo review, the panel held that counsel did not properly investigate petitioner's background, and thus the trial court at the penalty phase was not presented with substantial mitigation evidence regarding petitioner's education and incarceration, his diffuse brain damage, and his history of substance abuse. The panel held that this raised a reasonable probability that, had the trial court been presented with the mitigation evidence in the first instance, the outcome would have been different. In this case, petitioner may have been spared the death penalty and been imprisoned for life instead. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to grant relief against the death penalty. View "Washington v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a federal civil rights action against defendants, alleging numerous federal constitutional violations and a disparate impact claim under the Fair Housing Act. Almost simultaneously, the city filed a nuisance complaint in state court against plaintiffs and the city filed a motion for abstention, or in the alternative, a motion to dismiss the federal action. The county filed a nearly identical motion the next day. The district court granted both the city and the county's motions, concluding that abstention was appropriate under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Determining that it had jurisdiction over the appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court properly abstained under Younger in every aspect, except with respect to the allegedly unreasonable search, which must be severed from the other claims. In this case, Younger abstention was appropriate as to all claims except the unreasonable search claim, because success by plaintiffs on such claims would invalidate the code enforcement proceeding. In regard to the unreasonable search claim, the district court erred in abstaining because the relief sought on alleged Fourth Amendment violations did not meet the Court's requirement that the relief have the practical effect of enjoining the state court proceeding. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Herrera v. City of Palmdale" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting the officers' motion for summary judgment in an action alleging that police officers violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments when they stole plaintiffs' property after conducting a search and seizure pursuant to a warrant. The panel held that it need not, and did not, decide whether the officers violated the Constitution. Rather, the panel held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because, at the time of the incident, there was no clearly established law holding that officers violate the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment when they steal property that is seized pursuant to a warrant. The panel noted that five other circuits had addressed the issue of whether the theft of property covered by the terms of a search warrant and seized pursuant to that warrant violates the Fourth Amendment. However, in the absence of binding authority or a consensus of a persuasive authority on the issue, the panel held that it was not clearly established that the officers' alleged conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. Likewise, plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claim failed. View "Jessop v. City of Fresno" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Salvation Army, in an employment discrimination action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The panel held that the religious organization exemption (ROE) applied to the Salvation Army; the ROE reached claims for retaliation and hostile work environment; and the ROE barred plaintiff's claims because the ROE was nonjurisdictional and subject to procedural forfeiture, and may be first raised at summary judgment absent prejudice. Absent prejudice resulting from the failure to timely raise the defense, the panel held that the Salvation Army permissibly invoked the ROE at summary judgment and it foreclosed plaintiff's Title VII claims. The panel also held that plaintiff failed to make out a claim under the ADA because the Salvation Army was under no obligation to engage in an interactive process in the absence of a disability. In this case, after plaintiff's clearance for work, she failed to show that she was disabled. View "Garcia v. Salvation Army" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the school district in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the district violated a student and his parents' First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights when it expelled the student for one year. The student was expelled for creating a hit list of students that "must die." Under the circumstances of this case, including the nature of the hit list, the student's access to firearms, and the close proximity of the student's home to the high school, the decision to discipline the student for his off-campus speech did not violate his constitutional right to free speech. The panel clarified that courts considering whether a school district may constitutionally regulate off-campus speech must determine, based on the totality of the circumstances, whether the speech bears a sufficient nexus to the school. The panel stated that there is always a sufficient nexus between the speech and the school when the school district reasonably concludes that it faces a credible, identifiable threat of school violence. Furthermore, a student's lack of intent to convey his off-campus speech to any third party is relevant to an evaluation of whether the speech constitutes a credible threat, but is not dispositive. In this case, taken as a whole, the considerations that guide application of the nexus test supported the school district. Finally, the parents' claims alleging violations of their substantive due process failed because their fundamental right to choose the student's educational forum was not infringed by the school district's discipline of the student. View "McNeil v. Sherwood School District 88J" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of HomeAway.com and Airbnb Inc.'s (the Platforms) lawsuits challenging the City of Santa Monica’s Ordinance 2535, which imposes various obligations on companies that host online platforms for short-term vacation rentals. The panel held that the district court properly dismissed the Platforms' complaints for failure to state a claim and dismissed as moot the appeals from the denial of preliminary injunctive relief. The panel rejected the Platforms' claim that the ordinance was preempted by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because it required them to monitor and remove third-party content, and held that neither express preemption nor obstacle preemption applied to the ordinance. The panel also rejected the Platforms' contention that the ordinance impermissibly infringed upon their First Amendment rights, and held that the ordinance regulated nonexpressive conduct, specifically booking transactions, not free speech. The panel held that, even assuming the ordinance would lead the Platforms to voluntarily remove some advertisements for lawful rentals, there would not be a severe limitation on the public's access to lawful advertisements, especially considering the existence of alternative channels like Craigslist. The panel reasoned that such an incidental burden was far from a substantial restriction on the freedom of speech. View "HomeAway.com v. City of Santa Monica" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment to a former employee of the California State Board of Equalization, based on qualified immunity, in an action alleging that the employee violated clearly established law by participating in a search of plaintiff's business following an altercation between the parties. The altercation led to the execution of a search warrant at Advanced Building by CHP officers. The panel held that the employee violated clearly established law by participating in the search. Even assuming that state law permitted warrantless inspections of business records, the panel held that the intrusive search here would not withstand scrutiny under the Fourth Amendment. In this case, no analogously pervasive regulation or special governmental interest justified a diminished expectation of privacy. The panel held that the administrative search exception did not apply and the employee's presence was not necessary to aid in the officers' execution of the warrant. View "Advanced Building & Fabrication, Inc. v. California Highway Patrol" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief to petitioner, who was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Petitioner argued that the Arizona Supreme Court unconstitutionally affirmed his death sentence by failing to consider mitigating evidence of his longstanding alcohol and substance abuse. The panel held that the Arizona Supreme Court's decision was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent. The panel held that the Arizona Supreme Court violated Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982), by impermissibly requiring that petitioner establish a causal connection between his longstanding substance abuse and the murder before considering and weighing the evidence as a nonstatutory mitigating factor. Because the error was not harmless, the panel reversed the district court's judgment with respect to petitioner's death sentence. View "Spreitz v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Guam law, alleging procedural due process and equal protection violations in connection with plaintiff's attempts to be compensated for ancestral land taken by the government of Guam for the operation of A.B. Won Pat International Airport. As a preliminary matter, the Ninth Circuit held that the GIAA Defendants were not a proper party in this appeal and must be dismissed, because the GIAA was not named in either count that was at issue in this appeal. On the merits, the panel held that none of the Guam Public Laws raised by plaintiff, individually, read together, or read together with Chapter 80 of the Guam Code Annotated, gave rise to a protected property interest for purposes of a due process analysis. In regard to plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims, the panel held that the classifications established in the Chapter 80 statutory scheme survived rational basis review. In this case, the Guam legislature's Chapter 80 statutory scheme focused on the additional issues presented by the claims of the In-Use Class and related rationally to legislative facts considered at the time to be true. View "Crawford v. Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport Authority, Guam" on Justia Law