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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Plaintiffs alleged that the bail schedule set by the San Francisco Superior Court, an arm of the state, violated their equal protection and due process rights, 42 U.S.C. 1983 because it failed to take into account pre-arraignment detainees’ inability to pay pre-set mandatory bail amounts. Following years of litigation, the district court enjoined the Sheriff, who had Eleventh Amendment immunity from damages, from enforcing the bail schedule and any other state determination that made the existence or duration of pre-trial detention dependent on the detainee’s ability to pay. The court then awarded a reduced lodestar amount of attorney’s fees ($1,950,000.00) to the class and held California responsible for payment.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the award, rejecting arguments that the state was not liable for fees because it was dismissed from the case on the ground of Eleventh Amendment immunity and did not otherwise participate in the litigation. Despite Eleventh Amendment immunity, the Sheriff could be sued in her capacity as a state official for injunctive relief, and the state could be assessed a reasonable attorney’s fee under 42 U.S.C. 1988. The state had the necessary notice and an opportunity to respond to claims that the official-capacity suit against the Sheriff could properly be treated as a suit against California. View "Buffin v. City & County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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In 1982, Sanders was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Sanders’s attorney, Hoover, had never represented a capital defendant before and conducted a minimal penalty phase investigation. Sanders told Hoover that he viewed a life without parole (LWOP) sentence as unacceptable and that he did not want Hoover to present a penalty defense. Hoover presented no evidence and made no argument during the penalty phase.The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of habeas relief and remanded for a penalty phase trial. Hoover performed deficiently by failing to perform even a rudimentary investigation into Sanders’s social history, failing to obtain reasonably available records, and failing to ensure that Sanders’s decision to forego a penalty phase defense was informed and knowing. Hoover failed to adequately advise Sanders about the penalty phase. There is a reasonable likelihood that Sanders would have changed his mind had Hoover informed and advised him about the penalty phase, and that there is a reasonable likelihood that at least one juror would have changed her mind and voted to impose an LWOP sentence. View "Sanders v. Davis" on Justia Law

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After attempting without success to raise her concerns about unsafe medical practices with her employer (ENTA), Armstrong filed a complaint with the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NOSHA). Armstrong alleges that ENTA retaliated against her, leading her to file a second complaint. When Armstrong withdrew her complaint before ENTA learned of it, fearing further retaliation, NOSHA notified ENTA about the complaint. More retaliation followed. When she filed a third whistleblowing complaint, NOSHA ended the investigation. ENTA fired Armstrong.The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of Armstrong’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 procedural due process claim. Although Armstrong was an at-will employee, Nevada's whistleblower protections can support a property interest in continued employment. Armstrong might be able to plausibly allege a relationship between Nevada officials and her termination sufficient to sustain a “direct participation” or “setting in motion” theory. Armstrong had a property right in the investigation of her complaint; she plausibly alleged that the process she received was essentially nonexistent. Armstrong did not sufficiently allege a substantive due process claim based on a liberty interest. Armstrong did not plausibly allege that the defendants’ actions entirely precluded Armstrong’s ability to work as a human resources professional elsewhere. The court erred in dismissing a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim. View "Armstrong v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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A 12-year-old girl called 911 to report that her mother's boyfriend, Cortesluna, was threatening her and her family with a chainsaw and that they were hiding from him in a bedroom that he was trying to enter. Cortesluna subsequently brought 42 U.S.C. 1983 excessive force claims concerning his arrest.In 2020, the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of officer Leon. Even taking Cortesluna's version of the facts as true, a reasonable jury would find that Leon's acts were objectively reasonable in the circumstances. Leon faced an immediate threat; Cortesluna had a knife in his pocket and had lowered his hands towards the knife when the first shot came from the beanbag shotgun; his hands remained near the knife in his pocket at the time of the second beanbag shot. The court found that there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether the force that officer Rivas-Villegas used when he kneeled on Cortesluna's back was excessive. Officer Kensic lacked any realistic opportunity to intercede or to stop the excessive force.On remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the federal claims against Rivas-Villegas and remanded for consideration of the other elements of a Monell claim. With respect to state-law claims relating to Rivas-Villegas’s conduct, and other remaining claims, including against other defendants, the 2020 opinion remains intact. View "Cortesluna v. Leon" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Buck robbed approached a mail carrier, ordered her at gunpoint to put mail in a bag, and fled. Days later, Buck, with accomplices, shot a mail carrier in the head. Buck was convicted on two counts of assaulting a mail carrier with intent to steal mail, 18 U.S.C. 2114(a); attempted murder of a mail carrier, section 1114; and using a firearm during and in relation to a “crime of violence,” section 924(c)(1). He was sentenced to concurrent 210-month terms on the assault and attempted murder convictions, a consecutive 60-month term for the first 924(c) conviction, and a consecutive 240-month term for the second 924(c) conviction. Section 924(c)(1) then imposed a five-year consecutive term of imprisonment for the first offense, and a 20-year term for the second. In 2016, Buck argued, under 28 U.S.C. 2255, that his 2114(a) convictions did not qualify as crimes of violence under section 924(c)(3) and that his sentence for Count 4 should be limited to 60 months, rather than 240 months. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Applying the modified categorical approach, the court reasoned Buck was convicted of assault with intent to steal mail with the aggravating element of placing the mail carrier’s life in jeopardy by the use of a dangerous weapon, which satisfies 924(c)(3)(A)’s elements clause. Neither the jury instructions nor section 2114(a) contain any suggestion that mere recklessness would suffice; section 2114(a) requires intentional wrongdoing. View "United States v. Buck" on Justia Law

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Hyde, a 26-year-old with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and ADHD, took six prescription medications. After his arrest on suspicion of DUI, Hyde submitted to a blood draw. He tested negative for alcohol but positive for amphetamines, consistent with his prescriptions. After several hours without his medications, Hyde charged the door, fell, and injured his head. Hyde emerged from his cell calmly, then sprinted away. He reached a dead end, Officers deployed their Tasers multiple times, then tackled Hyde. After Hyde was in a restraint chair, Pralgo again used his Taser. Callahan-English used her arms to force Hyde’s head into a restraint hold. Minutes later Hyde rolled his head back, gasping for air, as officers passed by. He stopped breathing. Officers tried to revive him. Days later, Hyde died. Hyde’s causes of death included blunt force injuries, kidney damage caused by muscle breakdown, enlarged heart, and coronary artery atherosclerosis.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part the denial of a motion to dismiss a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. Officers Pralgo and Callahan-English used excessive force and violated clearly established law when they used a Taser and put Hyde in a head restraint after Hyde, handcuffed and shackled, posed no threat. Other officers reasonably used force when Hyde resisted. The complaint did not adequately allege that the officers knew of Hyde’s mental health condition or that he was in distress after the altercation; qualified immunity barred the claim that they violated Hyde’s right to adequate medical care. With respect to the failure-to-train and municipal liability claims, the court stated that an inadequate training policy itself cannot be inferred from a single incident. View "Hyde v. City of Wilcox" on Justia Law

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Jackson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking in exchange for the government’s promise to recommend a sentencing range of 120–180 months’ imprisonment. Despite assuring the court during the plea colloquy that there was no “side agreement,” Jackson later argued that he relied on the government’s oral promise that it would not offer his codefendant (Young) a lesser sentence. Young was offered a 90-month sentence. Jackson also claimed ineffective assistance based on his attorney’s failure to ensure that the government’s oral promise was made a part of the record. The district court denied Jackson’s 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, first holding that Jackson’s notice of appeal was valid because his requests for a certificate of appealability, received before the FRAP 4(a)(1)(B) deadline, made clear his intention to appeal; his 2255 motion was not an improper “second or successive” motion because the underlying factual circumstances did not occur until after an earlier 2255 motion was resolved. The record was not sufficient to overcome the presumption that Jackson’s written plea agreement and his sworn plea colloquy statements described the complete agreement. Jackson’s claim was also barred by a collateral attack waiver. The district court abused its discretion by failing to consider Jackson’s pro se letter as a request to amend his section 2255 motion to add a claim of ineffective assistance. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's orders denying defendants' motion to set aside a default judgment and awarding attorney fees to plaintiffs in an action concerning governance of Newtok Village, a federally recognized Alaskan Native tribe. The panel held that subject matter jurisdiction has not been shown where plaintiffs' claims as pleaded simply do not arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. Nor is a substantial question of federal law present. The panel concluded that the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA), which confers jurisdiction on federal district courts to hear disputes regarding self-determination contracts, applies only to suits by Indian tribes or tribal organizations against the United States, and does not authorize an action by a tribe against tribal members. The panel explained that, as currently framed, this case does not arise under federal law and must therefore be dismissed without prejudice to permit amendment under a proper basis of federal jurisdiction. Furthermore, the district court did not have the power to award plaintiffs its attorney fees in the first instance. View "Newtok Village v. Patrick" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's Arizona conviction and death sentence for first-degree murder. Petitioner contends that his counsel did not investigate and present mitigating evidence at the penalty phase, including evidence of diffuse brain damage, childhood abuse, and substance abuse.The panel applied Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), and concluded that petitioner has not shown either that his trial counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient or that the deficiencies were prejudicial. In this case, there is no showing that the education records nor the incarceration records contain meaningful mitigation evidence; petitioner has not met his burden of showing that counsel erred by not investigating and presenting evidence of his childhood abuse; petitioner's allegation that counsel erred by not investigating and presenting evidence of his substance abuse fails because counsel was not timely informed of his substance abuse; and petitioner has not shown that counsel erred by not seeking a psychological evaluation. View "Washington v. Shinn" on Justia Law

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Orange County jail inmates brought 42 U.S.C. 1983 and other federal claims based on alleged failure to combat COVID-19. The district court granted provisional class certification and issued a preliminary injunction under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which automatically expired 90 days after being issued.The Ninth Circuit dismissed an appeal as moot because the injunction and provisional class certification are no longer in effect. While the Supreme Court’s emergency stay of the preliminary injunction may have prevented the injunction from having any further effect, it did not toll the 90-day limit unambiguously detailed in the PLRA. The court rejected the County’s assertion that the appeal fell within an exception to mootness because the issue was capable of repetition but evading review, noting that circumstances had changed since the original injunction issued, Given the Supreme Court’s stay of the injunction, the chance that plaintiffs would successfully acquire another preliminary injunction, at least without significantly worse conditions than previously existed, is remote. The provisional class certification expired along with the preliminary injunction. View "Ahlman v. Barnes" on Justia Law