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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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In light of the Montana Supreme Court’s August 16, 2022, opinion in response to the Ninth Circuit's August 6, 2021, certification order, this case is reversed and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. (“The certified facts establish that the Officer was not, as a matter of law, acting outside the scope of his employment when he sexually assaulted L.B. and the question is one for a trier of fact.”). View "L. B. V. USA, ET AL" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The United States appealed to the Ninth Circuit, contesting only the district court’s award of $10 million in extraordinary damages in an FTCA suit alleging negligence on the part of NeighborCare Health Center, a federally qualified community health center. The government argued that under Washington law, the federal government could not be held liable for the unforeseeable harm to plaintiff S.L.P., a minor child, who was born with a rare medical disability. The Ninth Circuit certified an unsettled issue of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s award of damages in a Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) action after receiving an answer to a certified question to the Washington Supreme Court. The Washington Supreme Court concluded: “[a]s a matter of Washington law, damages for negligent reproductive health care may include extraordinary costs associated with raising a child with birth defects, even if Plaintiff did not seek contraception to prevent conceiving a child later born with birth defects.” The panel held that Washington law was now clear, and it foreclosed the government’s arguments that the extraordinary damages awarded here were impermissible as a matter of law. The panel affirmed the district court’s award of damages in the amount of $10,042,294.81. View "YESENIA PACHECO, ET AL V. USA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Plaintiff works as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) agent. In 2013, she reported to ICE that she was experiencing workplace harassment, and she alleged that Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) agents responded by inventing baseless criminal wage theft charges against her. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint. With respect to Plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claim, the district court dismissed based on its holding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act’s (“FTCA”) discretionary function exception.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal—under a discretionary function immunity ruling under the FTCA. The panel held that the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claim because the discretionary function exception under the FTCA did not apply to law enforcement investigations when a federal employee’s tactics during the investigation had no legitimate policy rationale.   In the FTCA, the federal government waived its sovereign immunity with respect to certain tort claims arising out of wrongdoing committed by federal employees acting within the scope of their employment. Sovereign immunity waiver is subject to several exceptions, including the discretionary function exception, wherein the federal government has retained sovereign immunity for claims that are “based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the” federal government. The panel rejected the government’s argument that Plaintiff had not carried her burden under Twombly and Iqbal’s pleading standards, as she had failed to sufficiently allege malice or lack of probable cause on the part of DHS officials. View "KUI MYLES V. USA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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At issue were several statements in articles published by Morgan Simon on Forbes.com that connected CoreCivic to the detention of separated families at the U.S. border and characterized its lobbying efforts as pushing for punitive criminal and immigration laws. Simon’s firm is Candide Group. CoreCivic filed suit against Simon and Candide Group (collectively “Candide”) for defamation and defamation by implication. Candide made a special motion to strike CoreCivic’s complaint under California’s antiSLAPP Act, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code Section 425.16.   The Ninth Circuit held that the special motion provision of California’s anti-SLAPP statute applied in federal court, and affirmed in part the district court’s order granting Candide Group, LLC’s motion to strike the defamation complaint. The panel held that the court’s prior precedents control. In United States ex rel. v. Lockheed Missiles &Space Co., the court held that California’s anti-SLAPP statute applied in federal diversity actions because there was “no ‘direct collision’” between the statute and the relevant rules, and the twin purposes of Erie favored its application.   The panel turned to the merits of Candide’s anti-SLAPP motion. Because CoreCivic did not contest on appeal that the suit implicated Candide’s First Amendment rights, the panel needed only to determine–applying the 12(b)(6) standard–whether CoreCivic stated a claim for defamation under California law. The panel concluded that CoreCivic failed to plausibly plead a defamation or a defamation by implication claim based on statements about its connection to the separation of immigrant families at the U.S. border, and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of those claims. View "CORECIVIC, INC. V. CANDIDE GROUP, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff's son died in a single-vehicle collision. At the time, he was intoxicated and driving the wrong way on a one-way road. The accidental death and dismemberment insurance policy obtained from defendant Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) by the plaintiff via his employer paid benefits for a “Covered Accident,” defined as “[a] sudden, unforeseeable, external event that results, directly and independently of all other causes.”Applying the Padfield test, Padfield v. AIG Life Ins. Co., 290 F.3d 1121 (9th Cir. 2002), the son’s death was an “accident” because, while the facts demonstrated that the son engaged in reckless conduct, the record did not show that his death was “substantially certain” to result from that conduct. Thus, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding. View "SCOTT WOLF V. INS. CO. OF N. AMERICA" on Justia Law

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Defendants were reporters with CIR (“Reporters”) and they published stories alleging misuse of funds by two charitable organizations, Planet Aid, Inc., and Development Aid from People to People Malawi (“DAPP Malawi”). In response, Planet Aid and the director of DAPP Malawi, Lisbeth Thomsen, filed a defamation suit.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting the Reporters with the Center for Investigative Reporting (“CIR”)’s anti-SLAPP motion to strike a complaint alleging defamation under California law.The court held that the district court correctly found that Planet Aid and Thomsen were limited-purpose public figures and that the Reporters did not act with “actual malice” within the meaning of New York Times Company v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964). The panel agreed with the district court’s determination in applying the Makaeff test that: (i) there was an existing public controversy with respect to Planet Aid and Lisbeth Thomsen’s use of charitable funds; (ii) the Reporters’ alleged defamation was relevant to this preexisting controversy, and (iii) the voluntariness requirement—which examines whether the plaintiff voluntarily injected itself into the controversy for the purpose of influencing the controversy’s ultimate resolution—was satisfied. The court further agreed with the district court, for the reasons stated by the district court in its order, that a reasonable factfinder could not find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Reporters acted with actual malice. The court, therefore, affirmed the district court’s grant of the Reporters’ motion to strike complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. View "PLANET AID, INC. V. REVEAL" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Government and Hyten (together, Appellants) seek review of the district court’s decision denying Appellants’ motion to dismiss Spletstoser’s First Amended Complaint (FAC). Specifically, the district court concluded that the Feres doctrine does not bar Spletstoser’s claims because the “alleged sexual assault [could] not conceivably serve any military purpose.”The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court wrote that the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) created a broad waiver of the federal government’s sovereign immunity. The court applied the factors developed in Johnson v. United States, 704 F.2d 1431 (9th Cir. 1983), and held that the Feres doctrine did not bar the claims raised by Plaintiff at this stage of the proceedings. The court initially emphasized that this case involved an allegation of sexual assault, and that this case was before the court on a motion to dismiss where the court must assume the truth of the allegations as pled. After considering the Johnson factors and other cases analyzing the Feres doctrine, the court agreed with the district court that Plaintiff’s action was not barred by the Feres doctrine at this stage, and therefore the motion to dismiss was properly denied. View "KATHRYN SPLETSTOSER V. JOHN HYTEN" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Plaintiff brought suit alleging medical malpractice by government physicians at Naval Hospital Bremerton in the state of Washington. Plaintiff first submitted a timely administrative claim to the Navy under the FTCA, which was denied. She filed her complaint in the Western District of Washington within six months thereafter, as required by the FTCA. The Government sought dismissal on grounds that Plaintiff’s claim had been extinguished by a Washington statute of repose.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings to determine the constitutionality of the statute of repose under Washington’s state constitution. The panel held that the only question at issue was whether the FTCA’s statute of limitations supplanted the eight-year statute of repose embodied in the latter clause of Section 4.16.350.The U.S. Supreme Court addressed a similar question in a parallel context in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, 573 U.S. 1, 3-4 (2014). CTS explained the consequences of the distinction between a statute of limitation and a statute of repose. Here, Plaintiff concedes that the eight-year limit in Section 4.16.350 is a statute of repose, and that it represents substantive law of the state of Washington. The court held that because there was no contradictory statute of repose in the FTCA, and the FTCA generally applied the substantive law “of the place where the omission occurred,” it followed that Section 4.16.350 applied to Plaintiff’s claims and precluded them., The court rejected Plaintiff’s contention that state statutes of repose do not apply to claims under the FTCA. View "BETTE BENNETT V. USA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Plaintiff was raped by a fellow student two weeks after starting at the University of Washington. Plaintiff later learned that two other students had reported the same individual for unwanted sexual advances and contact. Plaintiff filed Title IX and common-law negligence claims against the University in the district court, which granted summary judgment to the University after finding that the University did not owe Plaintiff a duty of care. Plaintiff appealed.The Ninth Circuit certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court:1. Does Washington law recognize a special relationship between a university and its students giving rise to a duty to use reasonable care to protect students from foreseeable injury at the hands of other students?2. If the answer to question 1 is yes, what is the measure and scope of that duty? View "MADELEINE BARLOW V. STATE OF WASHINGTON" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, acting as the representative for her deceased husband, filed a suit in federal court seeking damages under a wrongful death theory from entities who manufactured, sold, and distributed asbestos-containing products to which her husband could have been exposed. Her husband worked as an outside machinist onboard a ship at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. His duties included removing and installing piping insulation, gaskets, and other parts that may have contained asbestos in various compartments throughout the ships. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma on February 20, 2015, and he died on July 3, 2015.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a wrongful death claim under admiralty jurisdiction and remanded for reconsideration of Plaintiff’s claims in light of the court’s holding that the statute of limitations began to accrue on the date of her husband’s death. The court held that a wrongful death claim in admiralty can only accrue on or after the death of the seaman, and not before. The court applied federal law and distinguished wrongful death claims from survival statutes permitting personal injury claims of an injured individual after death. Thus, the accrual of the three-year statute of limitations for maritime torts, 46 U.S.C. Sec. 30106, began to run on the date of death of her husband and not on the date of discovery of the injury or illness that ultimately resulted in his death. View "SHERRI DEEM V. THE WILLIAM POWELL COMPANY" on Justia Law