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

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
by
Respondent, was ordered suspended from practice before this court based on the State Bar of California’s suspension following his federal conviction. He was permitted to file a petition for reinstatement if he were reinstated to practice law in California. Respondent was reinstated to practice law in California, but the Ninth Circuit held that he failed to meet his burden to justify reinstatement before this court because he was still disbarred from practice before the New York State Bar. The court held that an attorney cannot justify reinstatement while he or she is currently suspended or disbarred in another jurisdiction, provided that the other jurisdiction had independent, nonreciprocal reasons for imposing discipline. Here, New York independently determined that Respondent’s federal felony conviction constituted grounds for automatic disbarment under its precedent. View "In re: STEPHEN YAGMAN" on Justia Law

by
In 2020, the Ninth Circuit vacated the EPA’s conditional registrations for three dicamba-based herbicides as violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. 136n(b). The court found that the EPA substantially understated risks that it acknowledged and failed entirely to acknowledge other risks. In a subsequent petition, seeking attorneys’ fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A), the plaintiffs in the underlying action argued that their requested attorneys’ fees should be calculated based on the market rates in San Francisco, where their petition for review was calendared for oral argument. Only one of their four attorneys is located in San Francisco. The other three are located in Portland.The Ninth Circuit disagreed. Where, as here, attorneys’ fees are incurred in connection with a petition for review in a court of appeals under FIFRA, the presumptive relevant community for calculating market rates is the legal community where counsel are located and where they do the bulk of their work. View "National Family Farm Coalition v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

by
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

by
A putative nationwide class of current and former members sued MEF, a membership-based spa-services company, alleging that MEF increased fees in violation of the membership agreement. The parties settled. In exchange for the release of all claims against MEF, class members could submit claims for “vouchers” for MEF products and services. The district court approved the settlement as “fair, reasonable, and adequate” under FRCP 23(e).The Ninth Circuit vacated. If a class action settlement is considered a “coupon” under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) additional restrictions apply to the settlement approval process. The court did not defer to the district court’s determination that the MEF vouchers were not coupons but applied a three-factor test, examining whether settlement benefits require class members “to hand over more of their own money before they can take advantage of” those benefits, whether the credit was valid only for “select products or services,” and how much flexibility the credit provided. The district court also failed to adequately investigate some of the potentially problematic aspects of the relationship between attorneys’ fees and the benefits to the class, which impacted the fairness of the entire settlement, not just attorneys’ fees. The district court did not apply the appropriate enhanced scrutiny; it failed to adequately address the three warning signs of implicit collusion. View "McKinney-Drobnis v. Massage Envy Franchising, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Wade filed her claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income in 2015. An ALJ denied Wade’s claim in 2017, finding her not disabled. Following an unsuccessful administrative appeal, Wade filed suit, seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). The district court granted Wade’s IFP motion and, in 2020, entered judgment in the Commissioner’s favor. Wade proceeded IFP with her appeal. The Ninth Circuit found that the ALJ erred, reversed the order affirming the denial of benefits, and remanded for further administrative review. Wade then submitted a bill of appellate costs, seeking $169.65 from the government for copies of briefs and excerpts of record.The Ninth Circuit denied the request. A party who proceeds IFP and prevails on appeal is not entitled to recover taxable costs from the United States, 28 U.S.C. 1915(f)(1); “judgment may be rendered for costs at the conclusion of the suit or action as in other proceedings, but the United States shall not be liable for any of the costs thus incurred.” View "Wade v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

by
The dating app Tinder offered reduced pricing for those under 29. Kim, in her thirties, paid more for her monthly subscription than those in their twenties. Kim filed suit, citing California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and its unfair competition statute. The parties reached a settlement, before class certification, that applied to a putative class, including all California-based Tinder users who were at least 29 years old when they subscribed. Tinder agreed to eliminate age-based pricing in California for new subscribers. Class members with Tinder accounts would automatically receive 50 “Super Likes” for which Tinder would ordinarily have charged $50. Class members who submitted a valid claim form would also receive their choice of $25 in cash, 25 Super Likes, or a one-month free subscription.Class members, whose attorneys represent the lead plaintiff in a competing age discrimination class action against Tinder in California state court, objected to the proposed settlement. The district court certified the class, granted final approval of the proposed settlement, and awarded Kim a $5,000 incentive payment and awarded $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees. The Ninth Circuit reversed. While the district court correctly recited the fairness factors under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(e)(2), it materially underrated the strength of the plaintiff’s claims, substantially overstated the settlement’s worth, and failed to take the required hard look at indicia of collusion, including a request for attorneys’ fees that dwarfed the anticipated monetary payout to the class. View "Allison v. Tinder, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of appellate jurisdiction, AdTrader's appeal from the district court's attorneys' fee award in a class action brought by AdTrader on behalf of itself and advertisers who used Google advertising services but did not receive refunds for invalid traffic.The panel concluded that this is neither a traditional common fund case nor one that meets the requirements of the collateral order doctrine. In this case, the litigants and the district court may have agreed that attorneys' fees should be determined in light of common fund principles, but they also agreed that "any award of attorneys' fees here would not come from a sum that Google has been ordered to pay the class." The panel explained that this alone shows that this case neither fits the situation under which the "common fund" doctrine developed nor meets the requirement of unreviewability that is essential to the limited collateral order exception to finality. The panel also considered plaintiffs' other arguments for an immediate appeal and found them to be without merit. View "AdTrader, Inc. v. Google LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying plaintiff's request for attorney's fees after his successful Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) action seeking to obtain redacted information from the FBI regarding a 2016 search warrant. The search warrant investigated then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email practices. Although plaintiff was a prevailing party eligible for attorney's fees under FOIA, the district court denied fees after balancing the four factors that inform the entitlement inquiry.The panel applied a deferential standard of review, concluding that the district court reasonably concluded that the FBI reasonably based its nondisclosure on the SDNY sealing order, and the district court also acted within its discretion in balancing the four entitlement factors. The panel explained that, whether obligated or acting out of comity for another branch of government, the FBI was reasonable to think the SDNY sealing order limited its ability to disclose information to plaintiff. Because the FBI's reliance on the SDNY sealing order was reasonable, the panel concluded that the district court's conclusion was reasonable too. The panel also concluded that the district court acted within its discretion in denying fees even though the first three factors favored fees and only the fourth disfavored fees. View "Schoenberg v. Federal Bureau of Investigation" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit granted a petitioner for review of the BRB's decision upholding the ALJ's award of attorney's fees and costs under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), in an action brought by petitioner for death benefits.The panel held that aspects of the decisions under review constitute legal error and are not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, the panel held that the ALJ improperly rejected the fee applicant's evidence of prevailing market rates, erroneously established a paralegal's hourly rate by reference to other ALJ decisions rather than evidence of prevailing market rates in the relevant community, and improperly denied fees for hours reasonably expended. Furthermore, the ALJ and the BRB erred in concluding that the LHWCA does not authorize an award of interest on costs. Therefore, the panel remanded to the BRB for further proceedings and ordered the BRB to reassign this matter to a different ALJ on remand. View "Seachris v. Brady-Hamilton Stevedore Co." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees in this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) action against the DOJ. The panel concluded that plaintiff obtained relief through a judicial order that changed the legal relationship between the parties, and thus he is eligible for a fee award under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(E)(ii)(I). In this case, plaintiff initially submitted a FOIA request for records related to the alleged electronic surveillance of President Trump and his advisors during the 2016 election. The DOJ responded with a Glomar response. After plaintiff filed suit, President Trump declassified a memorandum that divulged the existence of responsive records and the DOJ then agreed to turn over any newly revealed, non-exempt documents by a specific date.The panel explained that Congress passed the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which provided that a plaintiff may establish eligibility for FOIA attorneys' fees in one of two ways: (1) where the relief sought resulted from a judicial order or consent decree and (2) where a voluntary change in position afforded the plaintiff relief. The panel remanded to the district court to determine whether plaintiff is entitled to fees given the unique circumstances underlying the government's change of position. View "Poulsen v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law