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

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the City of Simi Valley's regulations prohibiting mobile billboards on public property unless they qualify as authorized emergency or construction-related vehicles. The district court dismissed plaintiff's claims on the pleadings.The Ninth Circuit held that the City's mobile billboard regulations favor certain speakers where allowing certain speakers to park mobile billboards on public property but not others reflects a content preference. On its face, the Authorized Vehicle Exemption is content neutral, but to execute its purpose, the City enacted an ordinance that prefers speakers likely to spread messages consistent with its purpose. The panel stated that this is a prudent preference, a reasonable rationale, and a content-based choice that triggers strict scrutiny. Therefore, the panel vacated the district court's order granting the City's motion to dismiss regarding plaintiff's First Amendment claims. Because the district court concluded the ordinances were content neutral, it evaluated the sufficiency of plaintiff's complaint against the wrong standard. The panel remanded plaintiff's claims for the district court to reconsider it under the strict scrutiny standard. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not err by declining plaintiff's request to remand his state law claims to state court. View "Boyer v. City of Simi Valley" on Justia Law

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Nanouk uses her 160-acre Alaska Native allotment for traditional subsistence activities. In the 1980s, Nanouk built a small cabin, which she and her family reached by using a trail that runs from the main road through the U.S. Air Force North River Radio Relay Station, which closed in 1978. In 1981, the General Accounting Office criticized the Air Force’s failure to maintain shuttered sites, including North River, which contained hazardous chemicals. The Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers began remediation, removing 500 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs and PCB-contaminated soil. Surveys taken in 1987 and 1989 revealed that 6,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil remained. The Air Force and the Corps released a new plan in 2001; clean-up resumed. The trail that Nanouk used ran through a “hot spot” where PCB-contaminated soil was picked up by her vehicles. Nanouk did not learn about the PCBs on her property until 2003 when she reported a strong chemical odor. The Air Force then undertook extensive environmental remediation at the Station and Nanouk’s allotment. Nanouk sued, alleging trespass and nuisance. She and several family members have experienced serious health problems.The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of her suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act's discretionary exception barred claims predicated on two of the acts she challenged as negligent--the government’s alleged failure to supervise contractors during the Station’s operation, and its abandonment of the property between the 1978 closure and 1990. The government did not establish that the exception barred the claims relating to the failure to identify and remediate the hot spot in a timely manner after 1990. View "Nanouk v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Riverside County in an action brought by Calvary Chapel, alleging a facial challenge to a county zoning ordinance under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).The panel held that Calvary Chapel has failed to establish a prima facie violation of RLUIPA's equal terms provision on a facial challenge. The panel stated that, consistent with Riverside County's representations both in its briefs and at oral argument, Calvary Chapel was not prohibited from pursuing its religious practices under the zoning ordinance. In this case, Riverside County's zoning ordinance permits religious assemblies as special occasion facilities, and thus the ordinance does not treat religious assemblies on less than equal terms with secular assemblies. Finally, the panel declined to consider Calvary Chapel's new nondiscrimination claim on appeal in the first instance. View "Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a putative class action against the city and city council, alleging that the city's short-term vacation rental ordinance violates the dormant Commerce Clause. The ordinance prohibits property rentals of 30 days or less with an exception for rentals where a primary resident remains in the dwelling.The panel held that the complaint failed to allege a per se violation of the dormant Commerce Clause, because the ordinance did not directly regulate interstate commerce; the ordinance did not discriminate against interstate commerce; and the complaint did not plausibly allege that the ordinance unduly burdens interstate commerce through its incidental effects. Therefore, plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that the ordinance directly or indirectly discriminated against or burdened interstate commerce. View "Rosenblatt v. City of Santa Monica" on Justia Law

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The City filed suit alleging that the Commission's approval of an electrical grid project violated the City's due process rights. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the City's claims based on lack of standing. In light of City of South Lake Tahoe v. California Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and its progeny, the panel held that the City cannot challenge the Commission's decision on due process grounds in federal court. Furthermore, the City's claims were barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. In this case, the City never asked for leave to add a commissioner as a party and has waived its right to amend. View "City of San Juan Capistrano v. California Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of HomeAway.com and Airbnb Inc.'s (the Platforms) lawsuits challenging the City of Santa Monica’s Ordinance 2535, which imposes various obligations on companies that host online platforms for short-term vacation rentals. The panel held that the district court properly dismissed the Platforms' complaints for failure to state a claim and dismissed as moot the appeals from the denial of preliminary injunctive relief.The panel rejected the Platforms' claim that the ordinance was preempted by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because it required them to monitor and remove third-party content, and held that neither express preemption nor obstacle preemption applied to the ordinance. The panel also rejected the Platforms' contention that the ordinance impermissibly infringed upon their First Amendment rights, and held that the ordinance regulated nonexpressive conduct, specifically booking transactions, not free speech. The panel held that, even assuming the ordinance would lead the Platforms to voluntarily remove some advertisements for lawful rentals, there would not be a severe limitation on the public's access to lawful advertisements, especially considering the existence of alternative channels like Craigslist. The panel reasoned that such an incidental burden was far from a substantial restriction on the freedom of speech. View "HomeAway.com v. City of Santa Monica" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs have failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact on whether racial considerations predominated the City of Los Angeles's redistricting process. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's protective order and its order granting summary judgment for the City in an action alleging that race was the predominant motivator in drawing the boundaries of council districts in the Council District 10 redistricting ordinance.Viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the panel held that the record failed to show that successive boundary amendments were driven predominantly by racial considerations. Rather, the Commission sought to rebalance the populations in each Council District, while preserving communities and unifying as many Neighborhood Councils as possible in a single Council District. The panel also held that the legislative privilege protected local officials from being deposed. View "Lee v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion filed December 12, 2017, and substituted the following opinion.In National Mining Association v. Zinke, 877 F.3d 845 (9th Cir. 2017), the panel upheld the decision of the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw, for twenty years, more than one million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims. The panel held that that withdrawal did not extinguish "valid existing rights."The panel affirmed, with one exception, the district court's judgment in an action filed by the Tribe and three environmental groups challenging the Forest Service's determination that Energy Fuels had a valid existing right to operate a uranium mine on land within the withdrawal area. The panel held that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, and not the Mining Act, formed the legal basis of plaintiffs' claim that Canyon Mine should not be exempt from the withdrawal because the valid existing right determination was in error. The panel vacated as to this claim and remanded for reconsideration on the merits. View "Havasupai Tribe v. Provencio" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and intervenor Newhall Land and Farming in an action challenging the Corps’ issuance of a permit, pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, to Newhall Land, authorizing the discharge of materials into the Santa Clara River as part of the Newhall Ranch project in Los Angeles County near Santa Clarita, California. The Court rejected challenges under the Clean Water Act to the Corp’s permit issuance. The Court concluded that the Corps complied with its obligations under the Clean Water Act because the Corps properly considered practicability as required under the Section 404(b) Guidelines. Furthermore, the Court concluded concluded that the Corps complied with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because its determination that Southern California steelhead would not be affected by the Project, and its corresponding decision not to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service, were not arbitrary and capricious. For similar reasons, the panel concluded that the Corps reasonably assessed the Project’s potential impacts to the steelhead and provided sufficient discussion to satisfy its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) obligations. View "Friends of the Santa Clara River v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a tattoo artist and long-time resident of Long Beach, filed suit against the City, alleging that the City's zoning ordinances violated the First Amendment by unreasonably restricting his ability to open and operate a tattoo shop in Long Beach. The district court entered judgment for the City. The court concluded that the district court inaccurately narrowed plaintiff's claims in its order by framing plaintiff's challenge as only to the conditional use permit (CUP) requirement, when plaintiff also challenged the location restrictions on tattoo shops; ignoring plaintiff's claim that the CUP process vests unbridled discretion in the City; and stating that plaintiff's claim only concerned his desire to open a shop at 316 Elm Street in the East Village Arts District, when this was just one of three locations that plaintiff initially identified in his letter to the City. The court held that plaintiff has standing to bring a facial first amendment challenge to the City's zoning ordinances where he was not required to first apply for, and then be denied, a CUP to bring this claim under a permitting system that allegedly gives City officials unfettered discretion over protected activity; plaintiff has standing to bring an as-applied First Amendment challenge to the City's zoning ordinances where it appeared likely that the City would take action against plaintiff if he opened a tattoo shop without a CUP; plaintiff raised a cognizable claim that the City's zoning ordinances constituted an unlawful prior restraint on speech; and plaintiff raised a cognizable claim that the City's ordinances constituted unlawful time, place, or manner restrictions on speech. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Real v. City of Long Beach" on Justia Law