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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BRB's decision affirming an IJ's award of benefits to claimant under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). In this case, claimant sought disability and medical benefits under the LHWCA after injuring both knees while working for Sundial.The panel held that the ALJ did not err in applying section 910(a) of the LHWCA to calculate claimant's average weekly wage at the time of injury. The panel explained that the section 910(a) formula presumptively applies to calculating a five-day workers' average weekly wage, and the statutory presumption is not rebutted as a matter of law simply because section 910(a) would slightly underestimate earning capacity because the claimant worked in excess of 260 days. Rather, the statute plainly contemplates some inaccuracy in calculating the average weekly wage, and it does not provide that section 910(a) is inapplicable if more than 260 days were worked. Nor does the fact that claimant worked 264 days by itself make use of the section 910(a) formula unreasonable or unfair. In this case, claimant is incorrect that the section 910(a) formula entirely fails to account for his increased earnings, as the starting point for the section 910(a) calculation is the total amount of compensation earned in the previous year. Furthermore, the legislative history of the Act suggests that Congress did not envision application of section 910(c) under these circumstances. View "Martin v. Sundial Marine Tug and Barge Works, Inc." on Justia Law

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A loaded gun issued by the Bureau of Land Management to a ranger was stolen from the ranger’s parked personal car while the ranger was traveling with his family. Four days later, Steinle was shot and killed while walking on Pier 41 in San Francisco when Lopez found the pistol and fired it. It is not known who stole the pistol, how many people possessed it after it was stolen, or how the pistol came to be near the bench where Lopez found it. Steinle’s family filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging that the ranger’s negligence in failing to store or secure his firearm properly and in leaving it loaded, in an unattended vehicle in an urban location where the firearm could be stolen readily. The district court entered summary judgment on the ground that the ranger’s conduct was not the proximate cause of Steinle’s death.The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Applying California law, the court concluded that the connection between the ranger’s storage of the pistol in his vehicle and Steinle’s death was so remote that, as a matter of law, the ranger’s acts were not the proximate or legal cause of the fatal incident. View "Steinle v. United States" on Justia Law

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Herring launched the conservative One American News Network (OAN) in 2013. While employed by OAN, Rouz also wrote articles as a freelancer for Sputnik, a Russian state-financed news organization. Herring alleges that Rouz’s work for Sputnik “had no relation to his work for OAN.” In 2019, The Daily Beast published an article entitled “Trump’s New Favorite Channel Employs KremlinPaid Journalist,” asserting that “Kremlin propaganda sometimes sneaks into” Rouz’s OAN segments. On the day the article was published, Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, ran a segment entitled “Staffer on Trump-Favored Network Is on Propaganda Kremlin Payroll.” The segment ran three and a half minutes.Herring sued Maddow and others for defamation. Herring did not sue The Daily Beast or its reporter but focused on Maddow’s comment that OAN “really literally is paid Russian propaganda.” Maddow moved to strike the complaint, citing California’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law. The district court granted the motion. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Maddow’s “statement is an opinion that cannot serve as the basis for a defamation claim” and Herring failed to show “a probability of succeeding on its defamation claims.” The challenged statement was an obvious exaggeration, cushioned within an undisputed news story; it could not reasonably be understood to imply an assertion of objective fact. View "Herring Networks, Inc. v, Maddow" on Justia Law

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Yañez was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while on the border fence, which is in the United States. After being shot, Yañez fell and landed across the international border. Yañez’s family filed civil claims against the government and individual federal agents.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the rejection of claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and a “Bivens” claim. The court rejected an argument that the shooting and Border Patrol’s Rocking Policy, authorizing deadly force in response to rock-throwing, violated an international jus cogens norm against extrajudicial killing and was actionable under the ATS; the ATS does not waive sovereign immunity, even for jus cogens violations. Claims under the FTCA were time-barred. Plaintiff initially did not pursue an FTCA claim because she believed that, under Ninth Circuit precedent, judgment on an FTCA claim would have foreclosed her Bivens claims. Plaintiff amended the complaint to assert FTCA claims after the Supreme Court abrogated that precedent in 2016. The FTCA’s judgment bar did not foreclose a contemporaneously filed Bivens claim when the government had prevailed on the FTCA claim, so the Supreme Court’s decision was irrelevant to this situation. That mistake of law was not outside of plaintiff's control and did not qualify as an extraordinary circumstance supporting equitable tolling. Special factor counseled against extending a Bivens remedy; doing so would challenge a high-level executive policy and implicated national security. View "Quintero-Perez v. United States" on Justia Law

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Decker employed Pehringer at its Montana open-pit surface mine, 1977-1999. There were periods when Pehringer did not work, including a roughly three-year-long strike. For most of his mining career, Pehringer was regularly exposed to coal dust while working primarily as a heavy equipment operator. After being laid off in 1999, Pehringer was awarded Social Security total disability benefits. He never worked again. In 2014 a month before his sixty-fifth birthday, Pehringer sought black lung benefits, citing his severe COPD, 30 U.S.C. 923(b). A physician determined that “Pehringer is 100% impaired from his COPD” and that coal “dust exposure and smoking are significant contributors to his COPD impairment.”The Benefits Review Board affirmed a Department of Labor (DOL) ALJ’s award of benefits. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, first rejecting a constitutional challenge to 5 U.S.C. 7521(a), which permits removal of an ALJ only for good cause determined by the Merits Systems Protection Board. DOL ALJ decisions are subject to vacatur by people without tenure protection; properly appointed, they can adjudicate cases without infringing the President’s executive power. The ALJ did not err in adjudicating Pehringer’s claim nor in rejecting untimely evidentiary submissions. Decker did not rebut the presumption of entitlement to benefits after a claimant established legal pneumoconiosis and causation, having worked for at least 15 years in substantially similar conditions to underground coal mines. View "Decker Coal Co. v. Pehringer" on Justia Law

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L.B. lived within the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. L.B. and her mother went to a bar and had alcoholic drinks. After they returned home, L.B.’s mother went for a drive. L.B. called the police and reported that her mother was driving while intoxicated. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Officer Bullcoming determined that L.B.’s mother was safe and then went to L.B.’s residence, where her children were asleep in the other room. L.B. admitted to consuming alcoholic drinks. Bullcoming threatened to arrest L.B. for child endangerment because she was intoxicated while in the presence of her children. L.B. pleaded with Bullcoming not to arrest her because she would lose her job as a school bus driver. Bullcoming took L.B. outside for a breathalyzer test. L.B. believed that her choices were to go to jail or have sex with Bullcoming. L.B. and Bullcoming had unprotected sexual intercourse. L.B. became pregnant as a result of the encounter and gave birth.L.B. brought a Federal Tort Claims Act suit, seeking to hold the government liable for Bullcoming’s misconduct. The government asserted that Bullcoming was not acting within the scope of his employment when he sexually assaulted L.B so his actions fell outside the scope of the FTCA’s limited waiver of sovereign immunity. The Ninth Circuit certified the question to the Montana Supreme Court: whether, under Montana law, OBullcoming’s sexual assault of L.B. was within the scope of his employment as a law enforcement officer. View "L. B. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) case brought by plaintiffs, alleging negligence by an emergency room physician. The physician treated Tyrone Sisto at the San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation hospital and failed to diagnose Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Plaintiffs claimed that the physician was an "employee of the United States" under the FTCA and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA), 25 U.S.C. 5301 et seq., and that he negligently failed to diagnose the disease that led to Sisto's death.The panel agreed with the district court that the FTCA and section 5321(d) do not waive the United States' sovereign immunity with respect to claims based on the negligence of employees of independent contractors providing health care pursuant to a self-determination contract under the ISDEAA. Therefore, the panel concluded that the physician was an employee of T-EM rather than the hospital, and that the FTCA and section 5321(d) do not authorize a suit against the United States based on his alleged negligence. In this case, the physician had only a contract with T-EM and he was not an individual who provided health care services pursuant to a personal services contract with a tribal organization and was therefore not an employee of the Public Health Service under section 5321(d); because hospital privileges were not issued to the physician on the condition that he provide services covered by the FTCA, neither 25 U.S.C. 1680c(e)(1) nor 25 C.F.R. 900.199 confers FTCA coverage; and the hospital did not control the physician's actions in administering care to a degree or in a manner that rendered him an employee of the government when he treated Sisto. View "Sisto v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenge the district court's dismissal of three actions seeking damages under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) against Google, Twitter, and Facebook on the basis that defendants' social media platforms allowed ISIS to post videos and other content to communicate the terrorist group's message, to radicalize new recruits, and to generally further its mission. Plaintiffs also claim that Google placed paid advertisements in proximity to ISIS-created content and shared the resulting ad revenue with ISIS. The Gonzalez Plaintiffs' appeal concerns claims for both direct and secondary liability against Google. The Taamneh and Clayborn Plaintiffs' appeals concern claims for secondary liability against Google, Twitter, and Facebook.In Gonzalez, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the presumption against the extraterritorial application of federal statutes did not prevent section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) from applying to plaintiffs' claims because the relevant conduct took place in the United States. Furthermore, the Justice Against Sponsors of International Terrorism Act of 2016 (JASTA) did not impliedly repeal section 230. The panel joined the First and Second Circuits in holding that section 230(e)(1) is limited to criminal prosecutions. Therefore, plaintiffs' claims were not categorically excluded from the reach of section 230 immunity. The panel affirmed the district court's ruling that section 230 immunity bars plaintiffs' non-revenue sharing claims. The panel also affirmed the district court's dismissal of the direct liability revenue-sharing claims for failure to adequately allege proximate cause. Separately, the panel concluded that the TAC's direct liability revenue-sharing claims did not plausibly allege that Google's actions qualified as acts of international terrorism within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 2331(1), and that the secondary liability revenue-sharing claims failed to plausibly allege either conspiracy or aiding-and-abetting liability under the ATA.In Taamneh, the panel reversed the district court's judgment that the FAC failed to adequately state a claim for secondary liability under the ATA, concluding that the district court erred by ruling that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for aiding-and-abetting liability under the ATA. The district court did not reach section 230 immunity in Taamneh. In Clayburn, the panel affirmed the district court's judgment and concluded that the district court correctly held that plaintiffs failed to plausibly plead their claim for aiding-and-abetting liability. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the judgments in Gonzalez and Clayborn, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings in Taamneh. View "Gonzalez v. Google, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit certified the following questions to the Montana Supreme Court: 1. Under Montana law, for a claim that accrued prior to the effective date of Mont. Code Ann. 27-1-308 (2021), may a plaintiff in a survival action recover the reasonable value of medical care and related services when the costs of such care or services are written-off under the provider's charitable care program? 2. For a claim that accrued prior to the effective date of Mont. Code Ann. 27-1-308 (2021), does a charitable care write-off qualify as a collateral source within the meaning of section 27-1-307? If so, does a charitable care write-off qualify for the "gifts or gratuitous contributions" exception under section 27-1-307(1)(c)? View "Gibson v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of plaintiff in an action alleging that Monsanto's pesticide, Roundup, caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This appeal arises out of the first bellwether trial for the federal cases consolidated in a multidistrict litigation. After the jury awarded plaintiff $5,267,634.10 in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages, the district court reduced the jury's punitive damages award to $20 million.The panel held that plaintiff's state failure-to-warn claims are not preempted by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA); the district court ultimately applied the correct standard from Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and did not abuse its discretion in admitting plaintiff's expert testimony; the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the International Agency for Research on Cancer's classification glyphosate as probably carcinogenic and three regulatory rejections of that classification but excluding evidence from other regulatory bodies; the district court's jury instruction on causation, though erroneous, was harmless; Monsanto was properly denied judgment as a matter of law because evidence shows the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate was knowable at the time of plaintiff's exposure; and evidence supports a punitive damages award, punitive damages were properly reduced, and the reduced award—while close to the outer limits—is constitutional. View "Hardeman v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury