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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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California’s AB 5 codified the “ABC test” for ascertaining whether workers are classified as employees or independent contractors. The ABC test permits businesses to classify workers as independent contractors only if they meet certain conditions. If a business cannot make that showing, its workers are deemed employees, and the business must comply with specific requirements and state and federal labor laws. AB5 and its amendments, California Labor Code 2778, establishes certain occupational exemptions. Freelance writers, photographers, and others received a narrower exemption than offered to certain other professionals. The Association sued, asserting that AB5 effectuates content-based preferences for certain kinds of speech, burdens journalism, and burdens the right to film matters of public interest.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Section 2778 regulates economic activity rather than speech. It does not, on its face, limit what someone can or cannot communicate. Nor does it restrict when, where, or how someone can speak. The statute is aimed at the employment relationship—a traditional sphere of state regulation. Although the ABC classification may impose greater costs on hiring entities, which could mean fewer overall job opportunities for certain workers, such an indirect impact on speech does not necessarily rise to the level of a First Amendment violation. The court rejected an assertion that the law singled out the press as an institution and was not generally applicable. The legislature’s occupational distinctions were rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. View "American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc. v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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California AB 32 phases out private detention facilities within the state. Because of fluctuations in immigration, ICE relies exclusively on private detention centers in California. AB 32 carves out exceptions for the state’s private detention centers. The United States and GEO, which operates private immigration detention centers, sued. The district court ruled largely in favor of California.The Ninth Circuit reversed. California is not simply exercising its traditional police powers, but rather impeding federal immigration policy. . Under the Supremacy Clause, state law must fall if it stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress. The presumption against preemption does not apply to areas of exclusive federal regulation, such as the detention of immigrants. California did more than just exercise its traditional state police powers – it impeded the federal government’s immigration policy. Congress granted the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security broad discretion over immigrant detention, including the right to contract with private companies to operate detention facilities. AB 32 also discriminated against the federal government in violation of the intergovernmental immunity doctrine by requiring the federal government to close all its detention facilities, while not requiring California to close any of its private detention facilities until 2028. View "GEO Group, Inc., v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the seizure of their car and the deprivation of its use for five months violated their rights to due process under the federal and state constitutions. In this case, the police stopped plaintiffs' son while he was driving their car, found marijuana in the car, and arrested the son. The car was then seized pursuant to Arizona state law and eventually returned five months later. The district court dismissed all claims.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's determination that plaintiffs' claims were barred because they did not file a notice of claim under A.R.S. 12-821.01, concluding that this statute does not apply to claims for declaratory judgment or for injunctive relief. The panel confidently predicted that the Arizona Supreme Court would hold that where only nominal damages are sought, no claim must be filed under section 12-821.01 before filing suit. In regard to the district court's alternative basis for dismissal, the panel reversed the dismissal of plaintiffs' biased adjudicator claims. The panel explained that the saving construction adopted by the district court cannot be reconciled with the statutory language, and that on the facts as recited in the complaint, Deputy Navajo County Attorney Moore's undisclosed, unreviewable determination that plaintiffs' petition was untimely denied them a meaningful opportunity to be heard by an unbiased adjudicator.In regard to the biased enforcer claims, the panel agreed with the district court that the Navajo County Drug Task Force was not amenable to suit under Arizona law, and thus dismissal was proper. However, both the biased adjudicator and biased enforcer nominal damages claims against Moore and Moore's supervisor for violations of Arizona due process could proceed. Finally, the panel rejected Arizona's invitation on cross-appeal to issue an advisory ruling that its civil forfeiture scheme is facially constitutional. Accordingly, the panel reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Platt v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit withdrew a per curiam opinion filed August 4, 2021; filed an amended per curiam opinion affirming the district court's dismissal of the 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition; denied a petition for panel rehearing; and denied on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc where petitioner challenged two sentencing enhancements—under 18 U.S.C. 2251(e) and 18 U.S.C. 3559(e)(1)—applied after his conviction on multiple counts of federal sex offenses.The panel held that petitioner's claim is foreclosed because he relies on Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), and United States v. Dahl, 833 F.3d 345 (3d Cir. 2016), to challenge his sentencing enhancement under 18 U.S.C. 3559(e)(1), yet he concedes that both of those decisions came down before he had exhausted his original section 2255 motion. The panel concluded that the legal basis for petitioner's claim arose before he had exhausted his section 2255 motion, and thus he cannot show that he did not have an unobstructed procedural shot at presenting his challenge to the section 3559(e)(1) sentencing enhancement. The panel rejected petitioner's claim for an extension of Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), in the context of a section 2241 petition as foreclosed under Buenrostro v. United States, 697 F.3d 1137, 1140 (9th Cir. 2012). Finally, because petitioner cannot show he lacked an unobstructed procedural shot with respect to the section 3559(e)(1) mandatory life sentencing enhancement, the panel did not need to reach the actual innocence prong for that enhancement or either prong for the section 2251(e) enhancement. The panel granted respondent's motion for judicial notice. View "Pavulak v. von Blanckensee" on Justia Law

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Ballou filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting that Police Chief McElvain discriminated against her because of her gender by intentionally subjecting her to internal affairs investigations to preclude her eligibility for promotion and then declining to promote her to sergeant even though she was the most qualified candidate.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of McElvain’s qualified immunity summary judgment motion. Ballou sufficiently alleged unconstitutional sex discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and established a prima facie claim for disparate treatment. McElvain’s articulated reasons for not promoting Ballou were pretextual. The court rejected, as “profoundly mistaken,” McElvain’s argument that to state an equal protection claim, proof of discriminatory animus alone was insufficient. The existence of a comparator is not a prerequisite to stating a disparate treatment claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. Based on Circuit precedent, any reasonable officer would recognize that discriminatorily conducting an investigation to stall a promotion is unconstitutional. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider whether McElvain was entitled to qualified immunity on the Equal Protection claim that she suffered retaliation for opposing sex discrimination. The court affirmed the denial of qualified immunity on Ballou’s First Amendment retaliation claim. Ballou’s speech opposing sex discrimination in the workplace was inherently speech on a matter of public concern, protected by the First Amendment. View "Ballou v. McElvain" on Justia Law

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Miller, an assistant city attorney, advised the City of Eugene not to renew contracts with DePaul, a qualified nonprofit agency for individuals with disabilities (QRF) under an Oregon law that requires cities to contract with QRFs in certain circumstances. DePaul sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that it held a clearly established constitutionally protected property interest in two 12-month security-service contracts. In 2016, Eugene had decided to modify its security services by requiring that the security service employees be armed and decided not to renew the contracts.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court and held that Miller was entitled to qualified immunity. No court has considered DePaul’s novel argument that the Oregon QRF statute created a protected property interest in city contracts. Nor does the QRF statute on its face definitively resolve that question. DePaul did not provide any precedent addressing Oregon’s QRF statute or anything closely related. There was no precedent clear enough that every reasonable official would interpret the QRF statute as creating a protected property interest in DePaul’s annual contracts. There was also no precedent considering whether the QRF statute allows the city to end a contract if it seeks new services, such as armed security. View "DePaul Industries v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Melnik, a Nevada prisoner, was charged with unauthorized or inappropriate use of the prison mail system after prison officials intercepted two envelopes addressed to him that contained methamphetamine in secret compartments in the enclosed letters. Melnik asked several times to examine the envelopes or copies of the envelopes, but those requests were denied or ignored. At the prison disciplinary hearing, images of the envelopes and information about their contents were the only evidence presented. Melnik testified that he was innocent and had been framed by other inmates but was found guilty.Melnik filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against six former or current employees of the Nevada Department of Corrections, alleging they denied him the ability to examine the evidence before the prison disciplinary proceeding. The defendants sought summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of their motion. Melnik had a constitutional right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to be permitted to examine documentary evidence for use in the prison disciplinary hearing; that right was clearly established at the time when Melnik was denied access to the material. View "Melnik v. Dzurenda" on Justia Law

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After being spotted in a stolen car, Sanders fled from the police. He led them on a car chase, then on a foot chase. An officer eventually caught up to Sanders, who continued to struggle. An officer then commanded a police dog to bite Sanders’s leg. Sanders was finally subdued and charged with resisting arrest. Sanders ultimately pled “no contest” and filed a civil rights action alleging the use of the police dog was excessive force.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims barred by Heck v. Humphrey, under which a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim must be dismissed if a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence unless the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. While a defendant cannot be convicted of resisting arrest if an officer used excessive force at the time of the acts resulting in the conviction, Sanders could not stipulate to the lawfulness of the dog bite as part of his plea and then use the same act to allege an excessive force claim under section 1983. View "Sanders v. City of Pittsburg" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Demetrulias was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of Miller. Demetrulias claimed that he killed Miller in a struggle initiated by Miller when Demetrulias visited his home to collect a $40 debt. The prosecution maintained that Demetrulias stabbed Miller in the commission of a robbery.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas corpus relief. Even if Demetrulias’s argument that the trial court violated his due process rights by allowing the prosecution to introduce victim character evidence in a preemptive attack on Demetrulias’s assertion of self-defense. is not barred by procedural default, the admission of the statements did not amount to constitutional error. The challenged testimony was brief and non-inflammatory and did not seek to portray Demetrius as evil but portrayed the victims as non-violent, Demetrulias also argued that if the court had given a claim-of-right instruction, the jury would have had a legal basis for finding that Demtrulias intended to collect a debt, not to rob Miller, thereby negating the specific intent to prove robbery, and would have acquitted Demetrulias of the sole special circumstance charge. Any error in failing to give the instruction was harmless as was any error in failing to give a requested instruction of voluntary manslaughter based on heat-of-passion. The California Supreme Court could reasonably have concluded that trial counsel made a reasonable strategic decision in not presenting evidence of organic brain damage and mental health diagnoses. View "Demetrulias v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Google, as required by 18 U.S.C. 2258A(f), reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that Wilson had uploaded images of apparent child pornography to his email account as attachments. No one at Google had opened or viewed Wilson’s attachments; its report was based on an automated assessment that the images Wilson uploaded were the same as images other Google employees had earlier viewed and classified as child pornography. Someone at NCMEC then, also without opening or viewing them, sent Wilson’s email attachments to the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, where an officer viewed the attachments without a warrant. The officer then applied for warrants to search Wilson’s email account and Wilson’s home, describing the attachments in detail in the application.The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of Wilson’s motion to suppress. The government’s warrantless search of Wilson’s email attachments was not justified by the private search exception to the Fourth Amendment. The government search exceeded the scope of the antecedent private search because it allowed the government to learn new, critical information that it used first to obtain a warrant and then to prosecute Wilson; the government agent viewed email attachments even though no Google employee had done so. The government has not established that what a Google employee previously viewed were exact duplicates of Wilson’s images. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law