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

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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Plaintiff challenged the district court's attorneys' fee award, arguing that the entire award was arbitrary because the district court did not adequately explain its decision to cut the number of hours expended by class counsel by 25%. The underlying class action was brought by plaintiff on behalf of a nationwide class of consumers, alleging that defendants marketed James Bond DVD and Blu-ray sets as containing all the Bonds films, when in fact they failed to include two movies. The parties settled and the settlement agreement included defendants' agreement to pay attorneys' fees and cost. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the attorneys' fee award, holding that the district court's order, when read in its entirety, explained the lodestar calculation it conducted and its application of the percentage-of-recovery analysis as a cross-check for reasonableness. Therefore, the panel found that the district court adequately explained its reasoning and did not abuse its discretion. View "Johnson v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc." on Justia Law

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A plaintiff who obtains a preliminary injunction under the All Writs Act does not qualify as a prevailing party for fee-shifting purposes by virtue of that injunction, where the order granting injunctive relief makes no mention of the merits of the plaintiff's claims. In this case, plaintiffs filed suit against the State of Hawaii and other defendants, alleging that defendants became state actors by conducting elections and that the State's involvement in the self-governance process violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because of the race-based restrictions on eligibility. Although the district court denied the injunction and this court denied a motion for an injunction pending appeal, the Supreme Court subsequently granted plaintiffs' application for an injunction under the All Writs Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988, holding that there was no indication that the Supreme Court's injunction order addressed the merits. Furthermore, plaintiffs sought and received a voluntary dismissal without prejudice in the district court, which was the opposite of an adjudication on the merits. Therefore, plaintiffs were not prevailing parties entitled to attorney fees. View "Makekau v. Hawaii" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's award of attorney's fees after the settlement of a civil rights action. The panel held that the district court abused its discretion by failing to apply the correct legal standard for awarding legal fees and thus remanded for the application of the correct legal standard. In this case, the district court's wholesale rejection of the relevant attorney declarations, and the district court's singular reliance on the hourly rates previously awarded to counsel in unrelated cases departed from the correct legal standard and constituted legal error. The panel also remanded for the district court to make a specific finding regarding when the settlement agreement became final. View "Roberts v. City and County of Honolulu" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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The en banc court reviewed five consolidated appeals from the district court's orders and judgment certifying a nationwide settlement class, approving a settlement, and awarding attorney's fees in a multidistrict litigation brought against automakers regarding alleged misrepresentations about their vehicles' fuel economy. After class counsel and the settling parties negotiated a settlement that the district court approved, objectors challenged the certification order and fee awards. The en banc court affirmed and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that common issues predominated where the inclusion of used car purchasers in the class did not defeat predominance and variations in state law did not defeat predominance. The en banc court rejected challenges to the adequacy of the class and held that the notice to class members provided sufficient information; the claim forms were not overly burdensome; and there was no evidence of collusion between class counsel and the automakers. Finally, the en banc court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying fees. View "Ahearn v. Hyundai Motor America" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's award of attorneys' fees to plaintiff and remanded for further proceedings. The district court exercised its common law authority to award the fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), but the district court did not have the benefit of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger, 137 S. Ct. 1178 (2017), when it issued the award. The panel held that it could not determine whether the district court's failure to apply the appropriate legal framework was harmless. On remand, the panel instructed that Goodyear's causation standard requires the district court to identify those expenses that plaintiffs would not have incurred but for the specific conduct that abused the judicial process, or to determine that the government's misconduct so permeated all or a portion of the suit that "all fees in the litigation, or a phase of it, meet the applicable test: They would not have been incurred except for the misconduct." View "Xue Lu v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Board's decision upholding the ALJ's decision striking, as untimely, a petition for payment of a claimant's attorneys' fees under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. The panel held that the ALJ properly used the excusable neglect standard in evaluating the circumstances for the untimely fee petition, and applied the four-factor test in Pioneer Investment Services Co. v. Brunswick Associates Ltd. Partnership, 507 U.S. 378 (1993), to find that there was no excusable neglect in this case. View "Iopa v. Saltchuk-Young Brothers, Ltd." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of non-class counsel's motions for attorneys' fees arising from a class action settlement over claims regarding Volkswagen's use of defeat devices in certain vehicles. The panel held that law firms and lawyers that appealed in their own names had standing to challenge the fee order, because they suffered an injury (deprivation of attorneys' fees) that was caused by the conduct complained of (the fee order) and would be redressed by judicial relief. The panel also held that, because the underlying class action did not feature a traditional common fund from which attorneys' fees were procured, appellants could only have collected fees if they provided a substantial benefit to the class. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that appellants did not and denying the fee motions on this basis. Finally, the panel rejected additional arguments by the Nagel Appellants and held that Appellant Feinman's challenge was moot. View "In re Volkswagen "Clean Diesel" Marketing, Sales Practices, and Productions Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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The en banc court reversed the district court, vacated the award of attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), and remanded with instructions to recalculate the attorney fees for the civil rights law firm that represented plaintiff. The en banc court clarified that when a district court awards complete relief on one claim, rendering it unnecessary to reach alternative claims, the alternative claims cannot be deemed unsuccessful for the purpose of calculating a fee award. The en banc court rejected the post hoc "mutual exclusivity" approach to determining whether "unsuccessful" claims are related to succesful claims and reaffirmed that Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983), sets forth the correct standard of "relatedness" for claims under the EAJA. The en banc court reaffirmed that in evaluating whether the government's position is substantially justified, the court looks at whether the government's and the underlying agency's positions were justified as a whole and not at each stage. View "Ibrahim v. DHS" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of debtors' motion under 11 U.S.C. 362(k) for attorneys' fees incurred on appeal in successfully challenging the bankruptcy court's award of attorneys' fees to debtors for a willful violation of an automatic stay. The panel held that section 362(k) also authorizes attorneys' fees and costs to the debtor incurred on appeal in successfully challenging an initial award made pursuant to section 362(k). The panel also held that the district court abused its discretion by denying the motion on the alternative ground that debtors failed to comply with a local rule. In this case, the memorandum of points and authorities filed with the district court sufficiently clarified the attorneys' fees and costs. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Easley v. Collection Service of Nevada" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' request for attorneys' fees after a settlement regarding California’s Assembly Bill X3 5. The panel held that the district court erroneously concluded that plaintiffs were not entitled to seek fees pursuant to California Civil Procedure Code 1021.5, and that the district court abused its discretion in denying Independent Living's motion to set aside fees from the retroactive monetary relief obtained in 2010. Therefore, the panel remanded for the district court to determine whether plaintiffs met the requirements to obtain attorneys' fees under section 1021.5 and Section III (C)(1)(a) and (b) of the Settlement Agreement, and whether it was possible and appropriate to recoup attorney's fees from Medicaid providers. View "Independent Living Center of Southern California v. Kent" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics