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

Articles Posted in Contracts
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In this case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the plaintiff's wife died during a scuba and snorkeling tour from Lahaina Harbor to Molokini Crater, an atoll off the coast of Maui, Hawaii. Before the tour, the plaintiff and his wife each signed a waiver document releasing their rights to sue the defendants. The plaintiff's claims were based on gross negligence and simple negligence. The defendants argued that the waiver and release were an affirmative defense to the claims based on simple negligence. However, the district court struck the defense, stating that the liability waivers were void under 46 U.S.C. § 30527(a), which prohibits certain liability waivers for vessels transporting passengers between ports in the United States or between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order and held that the term "between ports in the United States" in 46 U.S.C. § 30527(a) refers to transportation between at least two separate ports in the United States. Therefore, the statute does not apply to vessels that transport passengers away from and back to a single port without stopping at any other port. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "EHART V. LAHAINA DIVERS, INC." on Justia Law

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Abraham Bielski, a user of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, brought a lawsuit alleging that Coinbase failed to investigate the unauthorized transfer of funds from his account. Coinbase attempted to compel arbitration based on an arbitration agreement in its User Agreement, which included a delegation provision stating that any dispute arising out of the agreement, including enforceability, should be decided by an arbitrator, not a court. Bielski argued that the delegation provision and arbitration agreement were unenforceable due to unconscionability. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a party must specifically reference and challenge the delegation provision for a court to consider it, and that a party may use the same arguments to challenge both the delegation provision and the arbitration agreement, as long as they articulate why the argument invalidates each specific provision. The court also held that when evaluating whether a delegation provision is unconscionable under California law, a court must interpret the provision in the context of the entire agreement, which may require examining the underlying agreement. After analyzing the Coinbase delegation provision in context, the court determined that it was not unconscionable. The court reversed the district court’s order denying Coinbase’s motion to compel arbitration. View "BIELSKI V. COINBASE, INC." on Justia Law

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United Aeronautical Corporation and Blue Aerospace, LLC (collectively, Aero) filed suit against the United States Air Force and Air National Guard (collectively, USAF) in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Aero alleges that USAF has for some time violated federal procurement regulations and the Trade Secrets Act by improperly using Aero’s intellectual property. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the Contract Disputes Act (CDA), precludes jurisdiction over Aero’s action by vesting exclusive jurisdiction over federal-contractor disputes in the Court of Federal Claims.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel agreed with the district court that the Contract Disputes Act “impliedly forbids” jurisdiction over Aero’s claims by vesting exclusive jurisdiction over federal-contractor disputes in the Court of Federal Claims. A claim falls within the scope of the CDA’s exclusive grant of jurisdiction if (1) the plaintiff’s action relates to (2) a procurement contract and (3) to which the plaintiff was a party. Here, Aero’s claims that USAF improperly received and used MAFFS data (1) relate to the DRA, (2) the DRA is a procurement contract, and (3) Aero is a contractor for purposes of the DRA. The panel held that the test set forth in Megapulse, Inc. v. Lewis, 672 F.2d 959 (D.C. Cir. 1982), is limited to determining whether the Tucker Act—which grants exclusive jurisdiction to the Court of Federal Claims over breach-of-contract actions for money damages—“impliedly forbids” an ADA action because Megapulse addressed implied preclusion only pursuant to the Tucker Act, not pursuant to the CDA. View "UNITED AERONAUTICAL CORP., ET AL V. USAF, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Saloojas, Inc. (“Saloojas”) filed five actions against Aetna Health of California, Inc. (“Aetna”), seeking to recover the difference in cost between its posted cash price for COVID-19 testing and the amount of reimbursement it received from Aetna. Saloojas argues that Section 3202 of the CARES Act requires Aetna to reimburse out-of-network providers like Saloojas for the cash price of diagnostic tests listed on their websites. The district court dismissed this action on the ground that the CARES Act does not provide a private right of action to enforce violations of Section 3202.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that the CARES Act does not provide a private right of action to enforce violations of Section 3202. Saloojas correctly conceded that the CARES Act did not create an express private right of action. The panel held that there is not an implied private right of action for providers to sue insurers. The use of mandatory language requiring reimbursement at the cash price does not demonstrate Congress’s intent to create such a right. The statute does not use “rights-creating language” that places “an unmistakable focus” on the individuals protected as opposed to the party regulated. View "SALOOJAS, INC. V. AETNA HEALTH OF CALIFORNIA, INC." on Justia Law

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The Estate of Josiah Wheeler and Josiah’s parents, Keith and Rhetta Wheeler (collectively, “the Wheelers”) appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Garrison Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“Garrison”).   The Ninth Circuit explained that because this case involves an issue of first impression under Alaska law, it respectfully asks the Alaska Supreme Court to exercise its discretion to decide the following certified question: Does a total pollution exclusion in a homeowners’ insurance policy exclude coverage of claims arising from carbon monoxide exposure? View "THE ESTATE OF JOSIAH WHEELER, ET AL V. GARRISON PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY" on Justia Law

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In early 2020, following the outbreak of COVID-19, Los Angeles County passed the “Resolution of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Los Angeles Further Amending and Restating the Executive Order for an Eviction Moratorium During Existence of a Local Health Emergency Regarding Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)” (the “Moratorium”). The Moratorium imposed temporary restrictions on certain residential and commercial tenant evictions. It provided tenants with new affirmative defenses to eviction based on nonpayment of rent, prohibited landlords from charging late fees and interest, and imposed civil and criminal penalties to landlords who violate the Moratorium. Id. Section V (July 14, 2021). Plaintiff, a commercial landlord, sued the County, arguing that the Moratorium impaired his lease, in violation of the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The district court found that Plaintiff had not alleged an injury in fact and dismissed his complaint for lack of standing.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that Plaintiff had standing to bring his Contracts Clause claim. Plaintiff’s injury for Article III purposes did not depend on whether Plaintiff’s tenant provided notice or was otherwise excused from doing so. Those questions went to the merits of the claim rather than Plaintiff’s standing to bring suit. Plaintiff alleged that the moratorium impaired his contract with his tenant because it altered the remedies the parties had agreed to at the time they entered into the lease. The panel held that these allegations were sufficient to plead an injury in fact and to state a claim under the Contracts Clause, and remanded to the district court. View "HOWARD ITEN V. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES" on Justia Law

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The City and County of San Francisco (the City) owns and operates San Francisco International Airport (SFO or the Airport). Airlines for America (A4A) represents airlines that contract with the City to use SFO. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City enacted the Healthy Airport Ordinance (HAO), requiring the airlines that use SFO to provide employees with certain health insurance benefits. A4A filed this action in the Northern District of California, alleging that the City, in enacting the HAO, acted as a government regulator and not a market participant, and therefore the HAO is preempted by multiple federal statutes. The district court agreed to the parties’ suggestion to bifurcate the case to first address the City’s market participation defense. The district court held that the City was a market participant and granted its motion for summary judgment. A4A appealed.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The court concluded that two civil penalty provisions of the HAO carry the force of law and thus render the City a regulator rather than a market participant. The court wrote that because these civil penalty provisions result in the City acting as a regulator, it need not determine whether the City otherwise would be a regulator under the Cardinal Towing two-part test set forth in LAX, 873 F.3d at 1080 View "AIRLINES FOR AMERICA V. CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Ernest Bock, LLC (“Bock”) initially obtained an $11.8 million judgment for breach of contract against Defendants in New Jersey state court. Bock then filed this federal suit in the District of Nevada, alleging that Defendants, assisted by other named Defendants, engaged in an elaborate series of allegedly improper asset transfers to insulate those assets from the New Jersey judgment. While the federal suit was pending, a New Jersey appellate court vacated the underlying judgment and remanded for further proceedings, including discovery, to determine whether Defendants were liable to Bock. The district court then stayed this case pursuant to Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States (Colorado River), 424 U.S. 800 (1976).   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s order staying. The panel first concluded that Bock had standing to bring the suit because Bock raised a question of fact as to whether it was injured by the defendants’ asset transfers. Noting that a Colorado River stay is proper only in exceptional circumstances, the panel held that a Colorado River stay cannot issue when, as here, there was substantial doubt as to whether the state proceedings would resolve the federal action. Because Colorado River did not support a stay, neither could the district court’s docket management authority. View "ERNEST BOCK, LLC V. PAUL STEELMAN, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Epic Games, Inc. sued Apple, Inc. pursuant to the Sherman Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Epic contends that Apple acted unlawfully by restricting app distribution on iOS devices to Apple’s App Store, requiring in-app purchases on iOS devices to use Apple’s in-app payment processor, and limiting the ability of app developers to communicate the availability of alternative payment options to iOS device users. Apple counter-sued for breach of contract and indemnification for its attorney fees arising from this litigation.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment, after a bench trial, against Epic Games on its Sherman Act claims for restraint of trade, tying, and monopoly maintenance against Apple, Inc.; in favor of Epic on its UCL claim; against Epic on Apple’s claim for breach of contract; and against Apple on its claim for attorney fees. The panel affirmed except for the district court’s ruling respecting attorney fees, where it reversed and remanded for further proceedings.   The panel affirmed the district court’s denial of antitrust liability and its corresponding rejection of Epic’s illegality defense to Apple’s breach of contract counter-claim. The panel held that the district court erred as a matter of law in defining the relevant antitrust market, but those errors were harmless. The panel held that independent of the district court’s errors, Epic failed to establish, as a factual matter, its proposed market definition and the existence of any substantially less restrictive alternative means for Apple to accomplish the procompetitive justifications supporting iOS’s walled garden ecosystem. View "EPIC GAMES, INC. V. APPLE, INC." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff provided tax- and estate-planning services. Plaintiff filed a claim in Baltimore County Orphans’ Court against Defendant’s Estate for fees allegedly due under contracts. After the Estate disallowed the claim, Plaintiff sued in federal court. After the Estate disallowed the claim, Plaintiff sued in federal court. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that the suit was barred by the “probate exception” to federal court jurisdiction.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment dismissing for lack of personal jurisdiction Plaintiff’s suit alleging breach of contract. The panel held that none of the Goncalves categories applied to Plaintiff’s suit against the Estate. First, neither party contends that Plaintiff was seeking to annul or probate Bond’s will. Second, this suit does not require the federal courts to administer Defendant’s Estate. Valuing an estate to calculate contract damages is not administering an estate. Third, this suit does not require the federal courts to assume in rem jurisdiction over property in the custody of the probate court. If Plaintiff were to prevail at trial, he would be awarded an in personam judgment for money damages. The panel held that Plaintiff made out a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction. The panel held that the district court erred in holding that Plaintiff’s suit was barred by the probate exception to federal jurisdiction. View "ROGER SILK V. BARON BOND, ET AL" on Justia Law