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

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The National Labor Relations Board (the Board) petitioned for enforcement of a final order issued against Aakash, Inc. d/b/a Park Central Care and Rehabilitation Center (Aakash). The Board ruled that Aakash had violated Sections 8(a)(5) and (1) of the National Labor Relations Act (the Act), 29 U.S.C. Section 158(a)(5) and (1), by refusing to recognize and bargain with Service Employees International Union, Local 2015 (the Union). Aakash cross-petitioned, admitting that it refused to bargain but asserted that the court should nonetheless vacate the Board’s order.   The Ninth Circuit granted the Board’s petition for enforcement. The panel rejected Aakash’s contentions. The panel held that the President may remove the Board’s General Counsel at any time and for any reason. The panel held that several canons of construction supported their conclusion. Even if history mattered here, past administrations have maintained that the General Counsel was removable at will. Finally, neither of the established two exceptions to the President’s plenary removal power applied here. The panel disagreed with Aakash’s claims that the RNs were supervisors because they held the authority to assign, discipline, and responsibly direct employees, and they exercised that authority using independent judgment. First, Aakash failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that the RNs assigned work using independent judgment within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. Section 152(11). Nor did the RNs discipline employees. The power to issue verbal reprimands or report to higher-ups did not suffice. Finally, Aakash did not prove that the RNs responsibly directed other employees using independent judgment. The panel, therefore, concluded the RNs were not statutory supervisors under the National Labor Relations Act. View "NLRB V. AAKASH, INC." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs submitted health plan coverage requests, which United Behavioral Health (“UBH”) denied. Plaintiffs brought claims under ERISA for breach of fiduciary duty and improper denial of benefits. The parties stipulated to a sample class, from which they submitted a sample of health insurance plans. Plaintiffs alleged that the plans provided coverage for treatment consistent with generally accepted standards of case (“GASC”) or were governed by state laws specifying certain criteria for making coverage or medical necessity determinations. Plaintiffs alleged that UBH’s Level of Care Guidelines and Coverage Determination Guidelines for making these determinations were more restrictive than GASC and were also more restrictive than state-mandated criteria. The district court certified three classes, conducted a bench trial, and entered judgment in Plaintiffs’ favor. The district court issued declaratory and injunctive relief, directed the implementation of court-determined claims processing guidelines, ordered “reprocessing” of all class members’ claims in accordance with the new guidelines, and appointed a special master to oversee compliance for ten years.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The panel held that Plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring their breach of fiduciary duty and improper denial of benefits claims. And the district court did not err in certifying three classes to pursue the fiduciary duty claim. However, because Plaintiffs expressly declined to make any showing, or seek a determination of, their entitlement to benefits, permitting Plaintiffs to proceed with their denial of benefits claim under the guise of a “reprocessing” remedy on a class-wide basis violated the Rules Enabling Act. View "DAVID WIT, ET AL V. UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH" on Justia Law

Posted in: Class Action, ERISA
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Petitioner, a native and citizen of Guatemala, petitioned for review of the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) streamlined affirmance of the immigration judge’s (“IJ”) denial of her claims for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). Petitioner was verbally and physically harassed and received death threats because her community in Guatemala perceived her to be a lesbian, including because she wore men’s clothing to work. Petitioner challenged the IJ’s findings that: (1) this treatment did not amount to persecution, (2) the relevant social group for asylum purposes is based on “manner of dress,” and (3) no persecution was committed by the Guatemalan government or by forces that the government was unwilling or unable to control.   The Ninth Circuit granted Petitioner’s petition for review. The panel held that (1) substantial evidence did not support the agency’s determination that the treatment Petitioner suffered did not amount to persecution, (2) the agency erred in characterizing Petitioner’s proposed social group and concluding that it was not cognizable, and (3) the agency erred by failing to consider highly probative evidence regarding the Guatemalan government’s willingness or ability to control the persecution.   The panel explained that in concluding that this treatment amounted simply to threats, the immigration judge failed to recognize that threats may be compelling evidence of past persecution, particularly when the threats are specific and menacing and accompanied by violent confrontations, near-confrontations and vandalism. Further, the panel wrote that the record suggested that the agency failed to consider all of the evidence. View "REBECA CRISTOBAL ANTONIO V. MERRICK GARLAND" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Defendant appealed from his jury convictions for attempted coercion and enticement of a child. Defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions because the government failed to show that he attempted to persuade or entice a minor to engage in sexual activity. According to Defendant, the messages reveal that the only issues discussed were the costs of the shows and the specific acts requested.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel wrote that Defendant’s argument conflicts with the trial record, which would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that he attempted to persuade certain minors to perform his abhorrent desires, despite some apparent hesitancy on their part, and that the children’s participation in the live stream was contingent on how much Defendant was willing to pay. The panel noted that, more importantly, Defendant’s argument ignores Section 2422(b)’s focus. The panel wrote that the statute applies whether the minors are real or fictional, and an attempt through an intermediary or an undercover officer still leads to criminal liability. Whether Defendant’s intended victims were “willing” to engage in these acts is ultimately irrelevant— the focus always remains on the defendant’s subjective intent because the statute is designed to protect children from the act of solicitation itself. The panel concluded that, with that focus, the evidence of Defendant’s guilt was overwhelming. View "USA V. FRANKLIN ELLER, JR." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner made an offer in compromise (OIC) to settle his outstanding tax liability. Under the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act (TIPRA), Petitioner submitted a payment of twenty percent of the value of his OIC, acknowledging that this TIPRA payment would not be refunded if the OIC was not accepted. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue did not accept the OIC because the Commissioner concluded that ongoing audits of Petitioner's businesses made the overall amount of his tax liability uncertain. Petitioner then sought a refund of his TIPRA payment.   In a previous appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the Internal Revenue Service did not abuse its discretion by returning the OIC, but vacated the Tax Court’s determination that the IRS had not abused its discretion in refusing to return the TIPRA payment. The Ninth Circuit remanded for the Tax Court to consider its refund jurisdiction in the first instance. On remand, the Tax Court held that it did not have jurisdiction.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court’s decision because there is no specific statutory grant conferring jurisdiction to refund TIPRA payments. The panel explained that, as the Tax Court correctly noted, it is a court of limited jurisdiction, specifically granted by statute, with no authority to expand upon that statutory grant. View "MICHAEL BROWN V. CIR" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff is a paraplegic man, disability advocate, and serial litigant. Plaintiff cannot walk, so he uses a wheelchair to get around and drives a van that deploys a ramp from the passenger side. For Langer to park and exit his vehicle, a parking lot must have an accessible parking space with an adjacent access aisle. When Plaintiff comes across a place that he believes is not compliant with the ADA, he takes photos to document the condition of the premises and often sues. Plaintiff is a “serial” ADA litigant, a fact featured prominently at trial, and he has filed close to 2,000 ADA lawsuits in the thirty-two years since Congress enacted the ADA. Plaintiff sued the Defendants over the lack of accessible parking, bringing claims under Title III of the ADA and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. Defendants filed a trespass counterclaim against Plaintiff. The district court held a one-day bench trial and, at its conclusion, entered judgment for the Defendants.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. First, the panel held that Plaintiff had Article III standing to bring his claim for injunctive relief under Title III of the ADA. The panel held that to establish standing, a plaintiff suing a place of public accommodation must show actual knowledge of an access barrier or ADA violation and must show a sufficient likelihood of injury in the future. The panel also held that so-called “serial litigants” can have tester standing to sue for Title III violations because a plaintiff’s motive for going to a place of public accommodation is irrelevant to standing. View "CHRIS LANGER V. MILAN KISER, ET AL" on Justia Law

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This case involved a Washington licensing scheme that disciplines healthcare providers for practicing conversion therapy on minors. The 9th Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc.Judge O'Scannlain, joined by Judges Ikuta, Nelson and Vandyke, issued a statement respecting from the court's decision to deny rehearing en banc because the decision correctly applied existing precedent. However, Judge Scannlain noted that the court should have used this case as an opportunity to resolve a circuit split and to "clarify that regulation of the medical profession is not a First-Amendment-free zone."Dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc, Judge Bumatay wrote that because the speech underpinning conversion therapy is overwhelmingly—if not exclusively— religious, the court should have granted Plaintiff's petition for en banc review to evaluate his Free Speech claim under a more exacting standard. View "BRIAN TINGLEY V. ROBERT FERGUSON, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The board of directors of Finjan Holdings, Inc., struck a deal with Fortress Investment Group LLC for Fortress to purchase all Finjan shares. Finjan’s shareholders approved the deal. Shareholder Plaintiff then sued Finjan, its CEO, and members of its board of directors, alleging that revenue predictions and share-value estimations sent by Finjan management to shareholders before the sale had been false and in violation of Section 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claim.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that to state a claim under Section 14(e), Plaintiff was required to plausibly allege that (1) Finjan management did not actually believe the revenue protections/share-value estimations they issued to the Finjan shareholders (“subjective falsity”), (2) the revenue protections/share value estimations did not reflect the company’s likely future performance (“objective falsity”), (3) shareholders foreseeably relied on the revenue-projections/share-value estimations in accepting the tender offer, and (4) shareholders suffered an economic loss as a result of the deal with Fortress. The district court ruled that the subjective falsity element of Grier’s claim required allegations of a conscious, fraudulent state-of-mind, also called “scienter.”   The panel, however, held that, for Plaintiff’s claim under Section 14(e), scienter was not required, and his allegations need to provide only enough factual material to create a “reasonable inference,” not a “strong inference,” of subjective falsity. The panel held that, nonetheless, Plaintiff’s allegations did not create even a “reasonable inference” of subjective falsity. View "IN RE: ROBERT GRIER, ET AL V. FINJAN HOLDINGS, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (the “Service”) approved the original Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan in 1982 and revised it in 1993. Since 1993, the Service has issued several Plan Supplements that provide habitat-based recovery criteria for identified recovery zones. The district court entered summary judgment against the Center for Biological Diversity (the “Center”) because it found that the Plan was not a “rule” subject to a petition for amendment under 5 U.S.C Section 553(e). It also found that it lacked jurisdiction to review the denial of the petition under the citizen-suit provision of the ESA, 16 U.S.C. Section 1540(g)(1)(C), because the Center did not allege that the Service failed to perform any nondiscretionary duty.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed, on different grounds, the district court’s summary judgment against the Center. The panel affirmed on the ground that Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) review was not available because, even assuming the Plan was a “rule,” the denial of the Center’s petition was not “final agency action.” Because the Center did not claim that the Service’s denial of its petition was otherwise reviewable by statute, the sole issue is whether the denial of the petition is “final agency action.” Because the term “rule” under the APA is defined broadly, the panel assumed that a recovery plan fit under this broad umbrella. The panel concluded that a decision not to modify a plan was not a final agency action. Because the Center’s suit did not challenge a final agency action, the district court was not authorized to review the denial of the petition under Section 704 of the APA. View "CENTER FOR BIO. DIVERSITY V. DEB HAALAND, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The question presented in this case is whether Appellants, a cannabis entrepreneur and two cannabis businesses, have standing to bring claims arising pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), based on alleged harms to their cannabis business and related property. The district court granted Appellees’ motion to dismiss with prejudice, holding that Appellants lacked standing to bring their RICO claims. The court also dismissed Appellants’ Lanham Act claims on standing grounds as well as their state law claims, declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. Appellants appealed the district court’s order only as to their RICO claims.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that while Appellants had Article III standing, they lacked statutory standing under RICO. As to Article III standing, the panel held that Appellants satisfied the injury requirement, which requires a showing of an invasion of a legally protected interest because cannabis-related property interests are recognized under California law. Appellees argued that Appellants’ alleged injuries were not redressable because they related to a cannabis business, which was illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. The panel held that the fact that Appellants sought damages for economic harms related to cannabis was not relevant to whether a court could, theoretically, fashion a remedy to redress their injuries. Further, the panel held that Appellants lacked statutory standing to bring their claims under RICO Section 1964(c).  The panel concluded that the statutory purpose of RICO and the congressional intent animating its passage conflicted with the California laws recognizing a business and property interest in cannabis. View "FRANCINE SHULMAN, ET AL V. TODD KAPLAN, ET AL" on Justia Law