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

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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New Harvest challenged a Salinas ordinance prohibiting religious and other assemblies from operating on the ground floor of buildings facing Main Street within the downtown area. The ordinance prohibited it from hosting worship services on the ground floor of its newly-purchased building. New Harvest claimed the ordinance substantially burdened its religious exercise and treated New Harvest on less than equal terms with nonreligious assemblies, in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc. The district court granted the city summary judgment. New Harvest sold the building; the Ninth Circuit treated claims for declaratory and injunctive relief as moot.Addressing claims for damages, the court reversed in part. The ordinance facially violated RLUIPA's equal terms provision. Other nonreligious assemblies, such as theatres, are permitted to operate on the first floor of the Restricted Area and are similarly situated to religious assemblies with respect to the provision’s stated purpose and criterion. New Harvest failed to demonstrate a substantial burden on its religious exercise; it could have conducted services on the second floor or by reconfiguring the first floor and was not precluded from using other available sites within Salinas. When it purchased the building, New Harvest was on notice that the ordinance prohibited services on the first floor. View "New Harvest Christian Fellowship v. City of Salinas" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the Bureau of Indian Affair's (BIA) motion for summary judgment and ejectment order in an action brought by a group of recreational vehicle owners seeking to retain their rights to remain on a lakeside RV park located on American Indian land held in trust by the Bureau.The panel concluded that the Moses Allotment Number 8 (MA-8) land remains held in trust by the United States, and the BIA, as holder of legal title to the land, had and has standing to bring its claim for trespass and ejectment. In this case, of the three transactions and trust extensions in MA-8's history that Mill Bay and Wapato Heritage challenge, none were legally deficient. The panel rejected Mill Bay's argument that the IAs and the BIA are precluded under res judicata from ejecting Mill Bay, and rejected Mill Bay's interpretation of Paragraph 8 of the Master Lease: Paragraph 8 does not apply when the Lease expires by the passage of time, as happened here. Finally, the panel concluded that United States v. City of Tacoma, 332 F.3d 574 (9th Cir. 2003), which holds that the United States is not subject to equitable estoppel when it acts in its sovereign capacity as trustee for Indian land, is not distinguishable and that Mill Bay is barred from asserting its defense of equitable estoppel against the BIA. View "Grondal v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Department of the Interior and Intervenor WWP in an action challenging the BLM's denial of plaintiffs' request to transfer a "preference" to receive a permit to graze on certain federal land allotments.The panel applied step one of the Chevron framework and concluded that the IBLA correctly applied the clear and unambiguous language of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 (TGA) and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), which established that a grazing preference could not be exercised after the corresponding grazing permit was not renewed for bad behavior. Because the IBLA correctly interpreted and applied the statutory authorities, and therefore did not act contrary to law, it follows that the decision is not arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. Therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment. View "Corrigan v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Sacketts purchased a soggy residential lot near Idaho’s Priest Lake in 2004, planning to build a home. Shortly after the Sacketts began placing sand and gravel fill on the lot, they received an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrative compliance order, indicating that the property contained wetlands subject to protection under the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251(a), and that the Sacketts had to remove the fill and restore the property to its natural state.The Sacketts sued EPA in 2008, challenging the agency’s jurisdiction over their property. During this appeal, EPA withdrew its compliance order. The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in EPA’s favor. EPA’s withdrawal of the order did not moot the case. EPA’s stated intention not to enforce the order or issue a similar order in the future did not bind the agency. EPA could potentially change positions under new leadership. The court upheld the district court’s refusal to strike from the record a 2008 Memo by an EPA wetlands ecologist, containing observations and photographs from his visit to the property. The court applied the “significant nexus” analysis for determining when wetlands are regulated under the CWA. The record plainly supported EPA’s conclusion that the wetlands on the property were adjacent to a jurisdictional tributary and that, together with a similarly situated wetlands complex, they had a significant nexus to Priest Lake, a traditional navigable water, such that the property was regulable under the CWA. View "Sackett v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Mundens own ranching property in Bannock County, Idaho. They purchased 768 acres in 2012 and 660 acres in 2014 and purchased title insurance for the first purchase through Stewart and for the second purchase through Chicago Title. The property contains a gravel road. A 2019 ordinance amended a 2006 ordinance that closed specified snowmobile trails, including that gravel road, to motor vehicles except snowmobiles and snow-trail-grooming equipment during winter months. The 2019 ordinance deleted the December-to-April closure, giving the County Public Works Director the discretion to determine when to close specified snowmobile trails, and increased the maximum fine for violations. The Mundens sought an injunction. The county asserted that the road had been listed as a public road on county maps since 1963 and that the Mundens purchased their property expressly subject to easements and rights of way apparent or of record.The Mundens filed a federal complaint, seeking declaratory relief, indemnification, and damages. The district court granted the insurance companies summary judgment. The Ninth Circuit reversed as to Chicago Title, finding that the county road map is a “public record” within the meaning of its policy so that coverage applied. Stewart has no duty to indemnify or defend; its policy disclaims coverage for damages “aris[ing] by reason of . . . [r]ight, title and interest of the public in and to those portions of the above-described premises falling within the bounds of roads or highways.” View "Munden v. Stewart Title Guaranty Co." on Justia Law

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In 1958, the Northern Pacific Railroad physically abandoned the 20-mile segment outside of Noxon, Montana. Part of that segment runs through the Finnigan property, which is entirely within the boundaries of the Kanisku National Forest. Several landowners along the right of way sought a judicial decree of abandonment and ultimately gained title to their respective segments of the abandoned railway. The Finnigan property’s then-owner did not seek a judicial decree of abandonment. In 2018, the Finnigan Estate brought suit to quiet its title to the right of way across its property. The district court rejected the action on summary judgment.The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Northern Pacific stopped using the segment in 1958, but the railway was not formally declared abandoned before the 1988 enactment of the Rails-to-Trails Act, 6 U.S.C. 1248(c), so the United States retained its reversionary interest in the land. The Act provides that title “shall remain” with the U.S. for railroad rights-of-way abandoned after October 4, 1988, except to the extent that the right of way was converted to a public highway. To transfer rights-of-way to neighboring landowners, abandonment requires both physical abandonment and a judicial decree of abandonment. The judicial-decree requirement was not met when another parcel in the segment obtained a judicial decree of abandonment that did not cover the Finnigan property. View "Estate of Finnigan v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of jurisdiction, of Navajo Nation's breach of trust claim alleging that Federal Appellees failed to consider the Nation's as-yet-undetermined water rights in managing the Colorado River. Several states intervened to protect their interests in the Colorado's waters.The panel concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint because, in contrast to the district court's determination, the amendment was not futile. The panel explained that, although the Supreme Court retained original jurisdiction over water rights claims to the Colorado River in Arizona I, the Nation's complaint does not seek a judicial quantification of rights to the River, so the panel need not decide whether the Supreme Court's retained jurisdiction is exclusive. Furthermore, contrary to the Intervenors' arguments on appeal, the Nation's claim is not barred by res judicata, despite the federal government's representation of the Nation in Arizona I. Finally, the panel concluded that the district court erred in denying the Nation's motion to amend and in dismissing the Nation's complaint. In this case, the complaint properly stated a breach of trust claim premised on the Nation's treaties with the United States and the Nation's federally reserved Winters rights, especially when considered along with the Federal Appellees' pervasive control over the Colorado River. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to permit the Nation to amend its complaint. View "Navajo Nation v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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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