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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Transgender Law Center (collectively “TLC”), acting on behalf of the family and estate of an asylum-seeker, submitted two FOIA requests. The first FOIA request was directed to the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), and the second was directed to the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. TLC filed suit in district court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court granted TLC’s request for declaratory judgment holding that the agencies had failed to timely respond to their FOIA requests, but ruled for the agencies in all other respects.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s partial summary judgment; vacated the district court’s mootness determination; and remanded. The court held that the government’s belated disclosure was not “adequate” under FOIA. The court reasoned that the Government failed to carry its burden because the agencies did not appropriately respond to positive indications of overlooked materials provided by TLC and did not hew to their duty to follow obvious leads.The court further held that the agencies’ Vaughn indices were filled with boilerplate or conclusory statements; and this high-level, summary approach resulted in an unacceptable lack of specificity and tailoring that undermined TLC’s ability to contest the agencies’ withholdings. The court also held that the Government failed to come forward with clear, precise, and easily reviewable explanations for why the information was not segregable. View "TRANSGENDER LAW CENTER V. ICE" on Justia Law

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Rosemont Copper Company sought to dig a large open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains just south of Tucson, Arizona. The United States Forest Service (“the Service”) approved Rosemont’s mining plan of operations (“MPO”) on two separate grounds. The district court held that neither ground supported the Service’s approval of Rosemont’s MPO.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment that the Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously in approving the entirety of Rosemont Copper Company’s MPO. The court agreed with the district court’s holding that Section 612 of the Multiple Use Act granted no rights beyond those granted by the Mining Law. The court also agreed with the district court’s holding that the Service had no basis for assuming that Rosemont’s mining claims were valid under the Mining Law. The court remanded to the Service for further proceedings as it deems important, informed by the Government’s concession that Section 612 grants no rights beyond those granted by the Mining Law, and by the court’s holding that Rosemont’s mining claims on the 2,447 acres were invalid under the Mining Law. The court further noted that it did not know whether the Service would have decided that Part 228A regulations were applicable to Rosemont’s proposal to occupy invalid claims with its waste rock, and, if applicable, whether the Service would have construed those regulations to allow such occupancy. View "CTR. FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY V. USFWS" on Justia Law

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A National Security Letter is an administrative subpoena issued by the FBI to a wire or electronic communication service provider requiring the provider to produce specified subscriber information that is relevant to an authorized national security investigation. 18 U.S.C. Section 2709(a). By statute, a National Security Letter may include a requirement that the recipient not disclose the fact that it has received such a request. Here, recipients of National Security Letters alleged that the nondisclosure requirement violated their First Amendment rights.   The Ninth Circuit amended its opinion affirming the district court’s orders denied a petition for rehearing; denied a petition for rehearing en banc, and ordered that no further petitions would be entertained. The court held that Section 2709(c)’s nondisclosure requirement imposes a content-based restriction subject to strict scrutiny.   The court held that Section 2709(c)’s nondisclosure requirement imposes a content-based restriction that was subject to, and withstood strict scrutiny. The court further held that assuming the nondisclosure requirement was the type of prior restraint for which the procedural safeguards set forth in Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51 (1965) were required, the National Security Letters law provided those safeguards. The court concluded that the nondisclosure requirement did not run afoul of the First Amendment. View "UNDER SEAL V. JEFFERSON SESSIONS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a non-profit group composed of small business owners who fish in the Bay Area, sued various government agencies seeking to prevent the enforcement of a commercial fishing prohibition that applies generally in national parks. Plaintiff claims that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) does not confer with National Park Service with the ability to regulate offshore waters. The district court granted summary judgment to the government entities.The Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding that the text and structure of the GGNRA Act confirm that Congress has given the Park Service administrative jurisdiction over the waters in question. Nothing in the GGNRA Act supports the Plaintiff's position, that the Park Service must first establish a property interest in the waters from the State of California. View "SAN FRANCISCO HERRING ASSOC. V. USDOI" on Justia Law

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The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), maintains an Attorney Discipline Program. Under the Program, Plaintiff filed a complaint against his former attorney. Plaintiff sought to compel the EOIR to complete its investigation of his complaint against his former attorney and to report its investigation results. Plaintiff relief on the Mandamus Act, 28 U.S.C. Section 1361, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. Section 706(1).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of an action seeking to compel the Executive Office for Immigration Review to complete its investigation of Plaintiff’s complaint. The court held that the district court erred in treating the requirements for obtaining relief under the APA as jurisdictional and dismissing the complaint on that basis. The court reasoned that because Mandamus relief and relief under the APA are in essence the same, Plaintiff had an adequate remedy under the APA. The court followed precedent and chose to analyze the APA claim only. Here, the EOIR had a clear, mandatory duty to investigate Plaintiff’s complaint within a reasonable time, but it had no duty to report its investigation results to Plaintiff. Thus, Plaintiff would only be entitled to relief if the EOIR unreasonably delayed in carrying out its duty to investigate. The court applied the six-factor balancing test announced in Telecommunications Research & Action Center v. FCC, 750 F.2d 70 (D.C. Cir. 1984), holding that the EOIR’s delay was not unreasonable under the APA. View "PRYMAS VAZ V. DAVID NEAL" on Justia Law

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After nine years of litigation and in their third set of appeals, the parties asked the Ninth Circuit to decide whether California’s sales ban is preempted by the Poultry Products Inspection Act (“PPIA”) or violates the dormant Commerce Clause. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ preemption and Dormant Commerce Clause claims and its summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs on a declaratory judgment claim in an action brought by various foie gras sellers challenging California’s ban on the in-state sale of products that are “the result of force-feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size.” Cal. Health & Safety Code Sec. 25982.   The court held that the sales ban was neither preempted nor unconstitutional and that certain out-of-state sales were permitted by California law. that the sales ban was neither preempted nor unconstitutional and that certain out-of-state sales were permitted by California law and the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Plaintiffs leave to amend to add a new express ingredient preemption claim alleging that the sales ban operates as an “ingredient requirement” by prohibiting foie gras as an ingredient in other poultry products.  Further, rejecting Plaintiffs’ Dormant Commerce Clause claim, the court held that California’s sales ban prohibits only instate sales of foie gras, so it was not impermissibly extraterritorial. View "ASSOCIATION DES ELEVEURS V. ROB BONTA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging that Defendants, prison officials, were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, when despite his numerous complaints over a period of years and a visibly deteriorating condition, they ignored his enlarged prostate. After the district court screened Plaintiff’s complaint, he was left with two claims of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. The remaining officials claimed that they were entitled to qualified immunity and moved for summary judgment. The district court disagreed and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the order denying qualified immunity to prison officials. The Ninth Circuit determined that only examination of the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis was necessary—whether the right was clearly established at the time of the violation—because doing so would not hamper the development of precedent and both parties expressly acknowledged that this case turned on the second prong. The court reasoned it was clearly established at the time of Plaintiff’s treatment that prison officials violated the constitution when they choose a medically unacceptable course of treatment for the circumstances and a reasonable jury could find that the prison officials did just that. View "LEWIS STEWART V. ROMEO ARANAS" on Justia Law

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The California Department of Transportation (“Caltrans”) coordinates and works with other government services before clearing homeless encampments. When Caltrans planned to clear high-risk encampments along the freeway, Plaintiff campers sought an injunction. The district court required Caltrans to give Plaintiffs six months to relocate and find housing before clearing the encampments.   The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s order finding "there is no serious question" that the ADA requires such a lengthy delay. The court also held that the district court abused its discretion when evaluating the harm the injunction caused to Caltrans and the attendant public safety concerns, and thus erred in balancing the equities.   Caltrans argued that clearing the encampments involves no ADA obligation because its properties are not open to the public. The ADA requires “only ‘reasonable modifications' that would not fundamentally alter the nature of the service provided.” Here, the court found that a six-month delay is a fundamental alteration of Caltrans’s programs, which provide for expedient clearing of level 1 encampments and include, when possible, 72 hours’ notice and coordination with local partners.   The court also held that the district court erred by incorrectly mitigating the hardships caused by the injunction. When evaluating the balance of equities, the district court noted that Plaintiffs’ potential injury was “exacerbated by the public health concerns of disbanding homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic.” View "WHERE DO WE GO BERKELEY V. CALTRANS" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”) published the Kenai Rule, codifying its ban on baiting Kenai Refuge brown bears and its closing of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (“Skilak WRA”) to certain animals.The court held that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (“ANILCA”) preserved the federal government’s plenary power over public lands in Alaska. The court rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments that the Service exceeded its statutory authority in enacting the Kenai Rule. The court held that while the Alaska Statehood Act transferred the administration of wildlife from Congress to the State, the transfer did not include lands withdrawn or set apart as refuges or reservations for the protection of wildlife, like the Kenai Refuge. Next, the court held that Plaintiff’s assertion that the Service could preempt the State’s hunting regulations on federal lands in Alaska was unsupported by the law.Further, the court rejected Safari Club’s contention that the Skilak WRA aspect of the Kenai Rule violated the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (“Improvement Act”). The court held that The Improvement Act did not require the Service to allow all State-sanctioned hunting throughout the Kenai Refuge. Moreover, the court rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments that the Service violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) by acting arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the Kenai Rule. Finally, the court rejected Plaintiffs’ two-part National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) argument. The panel concluded that there was no basis for reversal. View "SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL V. DEBRA HAALAND" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to medical providers at Orange County Jail in 1983 claims alleging that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to the medical needs of Plaintiff, a detainee who died from a ruptured aortic dissection.The court stated to defeat qualified immunity, Plaintiff must show that a reasonable official would have understood that their actions presented an unconstitutional substantial risk of harm to Plaintiff. Defendant, the on-call physician at the time, could not have reasonably believed that he could provide constitutionally adequate care without even examining a patient with Plaintiff’s symptoms. Therefore, the district court was correct in denying summary judgment on qualified immunity to this Defendant.The court further held that the first nurse to see Plaintiff had access to facts from which an inference could be drawn that Plaintiff was at serious risk. The court held that the district court was correct in denying summary judgment on qualified immunity to Defendant.The court also held that the second nurse to see Plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on qualified immunity. Reasoning that a jury could not reasonably conclude that this Defendant was deliberately indifferent. Finally, the court held that the third nurse to see Plaintiff was not entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable person in Defendant’s position would have inferred that Plaintiff was at serious risk if not hospitalized. View "PATRICK RUSSELL V. JOCELYN LUMITAP" on Justia Law