Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
IN RE COMPLAINT OF JUDICIAL MISCONDUCT
Complainant, a pro se litigant, has filed a complaint of judicial misconduct against a district judge. Review of this complaint is governed by the Rules for Judicial-Conduct and Judicial-Disability Proceedings (“Judicial-Conduct Rules”), the federal statutes addressing judicial conduct and disability, and relevant prior decisions of the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the complaint. The court held that complainant provided no objectively verifiable evidence of misconduct in this matter. The court held that a review of the record reveals that the disciplinary proceedings were conducted pursuant to the local rules of the district court, and the district judge explained that the district court did not have appellate jurisdiction over the State Bar’s decisions. View "IN RE COMPLAINT OF JUDICIAL MISCONDUCT" on Justia Law
JOHN HENDRIX, ET AL V. J-M MANUFACTURING CO., INC., ET AL
Relator John Hendrix and five public-agency exemplar plaintiffs claim that J-M Manufacturing Co. (“J-M”) violated the federal and various state False Claims Acts (“FCAs”) by representing that its polyvinyl chloride (“PVC”) pipes were compliant with industry standards. In Phase One of a bifurcated trial, a jury found that J-M knowingly made false claims that were material to the public agencies’ decisions to purchase J-M pipe. After the jury was unable to reach a verdict in Phase Two, the district court granted J-M judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”) on actual damages and awarded one statutory penalty for each project involved in plaintiffs’ claims. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that sufficient evidence of falsity, materiality, and scienter supported the Phase One verdict. A reasonable jury could conclude that plaintiffs received some pipe not meeting industry standards. Further, the jury reasonably found that plaintiffs would not have purchased or installed J-M pipe had they been told the truth that J-M knew it had stopped producing pipes through processes materially similar to those used at the time of compliance testing and also knew that a significant amount of the pipe later produced did not meet industry standards. Plaintiffs’ failure to prove that any individual stick of pipe that they received was non-compliant did not mean that they failed to establish scienter. The panel held that the district court properly awarded JM judgment as a matter of law on actual damages under the federal False Claims Act. Plaintiffs did not establish actual damages by showing that they would not have bought the pipe had they known the truth. View "JOHN HENDRIX, ET AL V. J-M MANUFACTURING CO., INC., ET AL" on Justia Law
FRED BOWERMAN, ET AL V. FIELD ASSET SERVICES, INC., ET AL
Field Asset Services, Inc. (“FAS”) is in the business of pre-foreclosure property preservation for the residential mortgage industry. Plaintiff was the sole proprietor of BB Home Services, which contracted with FAS as a vendor. Plaintiff alleged that FAS willfully misclassified him and members of the putative class as independent contractors rather than employees, resulting in FAS’s failure to pay overtime compensation and to indemnify them for their business expenses. FAS first argued that the district court abused its discretion by certifying the class, despite the predominance of individualized questions over common ones. The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order denying a petition for panel rehearing, denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc, and amending the opinion filed on July 5, 2022; and (2) an amended opinion reversing the district court’s order certifying a class of 156 individuals who personally performed work for FAS, reversing the partial summary judgment in favor of the class, vacating the interim award of more than five million dollars in attorneys’ fees, and remanding for further proceedings. The panel held that here, the class failed the requirement because complex, individualized inquiries would be needed to establish that class members worked overtime or that claimed expenses were reimbursable. The panel concluded that class certification was improper. The panel noted that FAS’s joint employment argument would likely succeed was an actual employee of a vendor suing FAS, claiming that FAS was an employer. The panel further held that the interim award of attorneys' fees must be vacated because the class certification and summary judgment orders were issued in error. View "FRED BOWERMAN, ET AL V. FIELD ASSET SERVICES, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law
Pickup, et al. v. Brown, Jr., et al.
Plaintiffs sought to enjoin enforcement of Senate Bill 1172, which banned state-licensed mental health providers from engaging in "sexual orientation change efforts" ("SOCE") with patients under 18 years of age, because it violated the First Amendment and infringed on several other constitutional rights. Undertaking plenary review, the court held that SB 1172 was a regulation of professional conduct and, therefore, did not violate the free speech rights of SOCE practitioners or minor patients under rational basis review. The court also held that the statute was neither vague nor overbroad and did not violate parents' fundamental rights. Accordingly, the court reversed the order granting preliminary relief in Case No. 13-15023 and affirmed the denial of preliminary relief in Case No. 12-17681. View "Pickup, et al. v. Brown, Jr., et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Avery
Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 federal habeas corpus petition based upon the Supreme Court's decision in Skilling v. United States, which narrowed the scope of the honest services fraud theory. Defendant,a former attorney and trustee of private trusts, pleaded guilty to honest services fraud. The government conceded that defendant was actually innocent of honest services fraud in light of Skilling, which confined the reach of the offense to cases of bribes and kickbacks. The court vacated the district court's dismissal of defendant's honest services fraud claim where no evidence suggested that defendant either engaged in bribery or received kickbacks. View "United States v. Avery" on Justia Law
Harris v. Amgen
Plaintiffs, current and former employees of Amgen and AML, participated in two employer-sponsored pension plans, the Amgen Plan and the AML Plan. The Plans were employee stock-ownership plans that qualified as "eligible individual account plans" (EIAPs) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1107(d)(3)(A). Plaintiffs filed an ERISA class action against Amgen, AML, and others after the value of Amgen common stock fell, alleging that defendants breached their fiduciary duties under ERISA. The court concluded that defendants were not entitled to a presumption of prudence under Quan v. Computer Sciences Corp., that plaintiffs have stated claims under ERISA in Counts II through VI, and that Amgen was a properly named fiduciary under the Amgen Plan. Therefore, the court reversed the decision of the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Harris v. Amgen" on Justia Law
Knappe v. United States
Acting on the bad advice of his accountant, plaintiff, the executor of an estate, filed the estate-tax return several months late. Consequently, the IRS assessed significant penalties against the estate. Plaintiff initiated this action seeking a refund of the penalty. The court concluded that it was plaintiff's duty to ascertain the correct extended filing deadline. By relying on his accountant's advice about that nonsubstantive matter, he failed to exercise ordinary business care and prudence, and he could not show reasonable cause to excuse the penalty. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Knappe v. United States" on Justia Law
Metabolic Research, Inc. v. Ferrell
The central issue on appeal in this case arose from an order that denied a pretrial special motion to dismiss under Nevada's anti-SLAPP statute (Nev. Rev. Stat. 41.635-670), and whether that order was appealable under the collateral order doctrine as established by Supreme Court precedent. In 2009, Defendant-Appellant attorney Scott Ferrell sent demand letters to Plaintiffs-Appellees Metabolic Research, Inc. (Metabolic), at its address in Las Vegas, Nevada, and to General Nutrition Centers, Inc. (GNC), at its address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The demand letters purported to notify the recipients that they had violated California law by falsely advertising the properties and potential benefits of "Stemulite," which they marketed as a natural fitness supplement. Defendant represented that he was acting on behalf of three individuals and a class of similarly situated people, all of whom he alleged purchased Stemulite in California, in reliance on the supposed false advertising, and had not received the purported benefits. In his letters, Defendant set out his allegations, and concluded them with offers to compromise and allow Plaintiffs time to agree to an injunction. If Plaintiffs did not accept his offer, Defendant stated he would file suit. Metabolic filed suit in Nevada against Defendant and his putative class action plaintiffs charging them with extortion, racketeering and conspiracy. Defendant removed the case to the federal district court in Nevada, then moved to dismiss Metabolic's case based on Nevada's anti-SLAPP statute. In its order dismissing Ferrell’s motion, the district court found that Ferrell had not established that the demand letter to Metabolic constituted a good-faith communication in furtherance of the right to petition because it concluded that Nevada’s anti-SLAPP legislation only protected communications made directly to a governmental agency and did not protect a demand letter sent to a potential defendant in litigation. Finding that the Nevada legislature did not intend for its anti-SLAPP law to function as an immunity from suit, Defendant's motion was not immediately appealable. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court's denial of Defendant's special motion was not made in error.
Biller v. Toyota Motor Corp., et al.
Plaintiff, the former in-house counsel for Toyota Motor Corp. (TMS), presented TMS with a claim asserting, inter alia, constructive wrongful discharge related to TMS's alleged unethical discovery practices. TMS and plaintiff settled the claims and entered into a Severance Agreement. TMS subsequently sued in state superior court seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and permanent injunctive relieve to prevent plaintiff from violating the attorney-client privilege and plaintiff filed a cross complaint for a TRO and a permanent injunction prohibiting TMS from interfering with his business practices and those of his consulting business. The court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1 et seq., governed the Severance Agreement; the FAA authorized limited review of the Final Award; and the arbitrator did not manifestly disregard the law governing the Severance Agreement where the arbitrator's writing was sufficient under the terms of the Severance Agreement and the arbitrator did not manifestly disregard California law in addressing plaintiff's affirmative defenses. The court also held that the district court did not err in denying plaintiff's contempt motion. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.
WPP Luxembourg Gamma Three Sarl, et al. v. Spot Runner, Inc., et al.
WPP Luxembourg Gamma Three Sarl (WPP) appealed from the district court's dismissal of the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendant and cross-appellants cross-appealed the district court's decision to dismiss some of WPP's claims without prejudice. WPP generally alleged violations of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78(a), that amidst large operating losses unknown to investors, Spot Runner executives solicited WPP to buy shares in it at the same time that executives of the company were selling personally owned shares. The court affirmed the dismissal of the Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) fraudulent scheme against all of the defendants, the dismissal of the Rule 10b-5(b) fraudulent omissions claim against the general counsel for Spot Runner and Spot Runner, and the dismissal of the Rule 10b-5 insider trading claim against Spot Runner. The court reversed the dismissal of the Rule 10b-5(b) omission claims against the founders of Spot Runner.