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

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Doe, a Chinese national graduate student, alleged that UCLA violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681(a), when it discriminated against him on the basis of sex in the course of a Title IX disciplinary proceeding instituted after a former student accused him of misconduct. Doe was just months away from completing his Ph.D. in chemistry/biochemistry when he was suspended for two years after a finding that he violated the University’s dating violence policy by placing Jane Roe “in fear of bodily injury.” Doe lost his housing, his job as a teaching assistant, and his student visa. The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of Doe’s suit. Doe stated a Title IX claim because the facts he alleged, if true, raised a plausible inference that the university discriminated against him on the basis of sex. Doe’s allegations of external pressures impacting how the university handled sexual misconduct complaints, an internal pattern and practice of bias in the University of California and at UCLA in particular, and specific instances of bias in Doe’s particular disciplinary case, when combined, raised a plausible inference of discrimination on the basis of sex sufficient to withstand dismissal. At "some point an accumulation of procedural irregularities all disfavoring a male respondent begins to look like a biased proceeding." View "Doe v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Ponce pleaded guilty to the distribution of methamphetamine in 2015. He was sentenced to the mandatory minimum term of 60 months’ imprisonment plus 48 months of supervised release. While in custody, Ponce pursued his rehabilitation with diligence and graduated from the Bureau of Prison’s nine-month intensive Residential Drug Abuse Program. Ponce began his term of supervised release in August 2018. In October 2020, Ponce sought early termination of supervised release, citing his regular involvement with his church, commitment to his family responsibilities, and stable employment. Ponce had married and early termination would improve his family’s housing options.The Ninth Circuit vacated the denial of Ponce’s motion. The correct legal standard for deciding a motion to terminate supervised release appears in 18 U.S.C. 3583(e), whose expansive phrases “conduct of the defendant” and “interest of justice” make clear that a district court enjoys discretion to consider a wide range of circumstances when determining whether to grant early termination. The text of section 3583(e) does not support a legal standard that categorically requires a petitioner to demonstrate undue hardship. Because it was unclear whether the district court applied an improper “blanket rule” that early termination requires exceptional circumstances, the court remanded for the district court to reconsider Ponce’s motion and clarify the standard applied. View "United States v. Ponce" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 1995, Buck robbed approached a mail carrier, ordered her at gunpoint to put mail in a bag, and fled. Days later, Buck, with accomplices, shot a mail carrier in the head. Buck was convicted on two counts of assaulting a mail carrier with intent to steal mail, 18 U.S.C. 2114(a); attempted murder of a mail carrier, section 1114; and using a firearm during and in relation to a “crime of violence,” section 924(c)(1). He was sentenced to concurrent 210-month terms on the assault and attempted murder convictions, a consecutive 60-month term for the first 924(c) conviction, and a consecutive 240-month term for the second 924(c) conviction. Section 924(c)(1) then imposed a five-year consecutive term of imprisonment for the first offense, and a 20-year term for the second. In 2016, Buck argued, under 28 U.S.C. 2255, that his 2114(a) convictions did not qualify as crimes of violence under section 924(c)(3) and that his sentence for Count 4 should be limited to 60 months, rather than 240 months. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Applying the modified categorical approach, the court reasoned Buck was convicted of assault with intent to steal mail with the aggravating element of placing the mail carrier’s life in jeopardy by the use of a dangerous weapon, which satisfies 924(c)(3)(A)’s elements clause. Neither the jury instructions nor section 2114(a) contain any suggestion that mere recklessness would suffice; section 2114(a) requires intentional wrongdoing. View "United States v. Buck" on Justia Law

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Madjlessi owned PLV, a Sonoma County real-estate development, with a $30 million IndyMac construction loan. Madjlessi defaulted. IndyMac was in FDIC conservatorship. The FDIC auctioned the loan; its rules prohibited Madjlessi from bidding on his own note. Lonich (Madjlessi’s lawyer) and Madjlessi had a straw buyer (House) bid on the loan. Madjlessi owed House $200,000 for contracting work. Lonich created Houseco as an LLC, owned, on paper, by House but controlled by Lonich. Madjlessi and Lonich conspired with Sonoma Valley Bank (SVB) officers to obtain a fraudulent loan for Houseco to bid at the auction. After Houseco prevailed at the auction, it foreclosed on the Madjlessi note and acquired clear title to PLV. Although convicted on federal criminal charges, Lonich continued to receive monthly payments from PLV revenue, After House pleaded guilty and Lonich and others were convicted of federal crimes, the district court entered a preliminary order forfeiting PLV under Fed.R.Crim.P. 32.2(b). Houseco filed third-party petitions opposing the forfeiture, arguing that neither Lonich nor House owned PLV.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Houseco’s petitions. A third party in a criminal forfeiture proceeding may not relitigate the antecedent forfeitability question but is restricted to the relief that 21 U.S.C. 853(n)(6) confers. Section 853(n)(6) does not violate Houseco’s procedural due process rights; if Houseco had a valid interest in the property, 853(n)(6) allowed it to vindicate that interest, but because Houseco was created to perpetuate a fraud, section 853(n)(6) provides no relief. View "United States v. House" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In schemes involving Sonoma County, California real estate, attorney Lonich conspired with Sonoma Valley Bank (SVB) officers Melland and Cutting to obtain fraudulent loans. The Ninth Circuit affirmed their convictions but vacated their sentences.The Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Clause was not violated with respect to charges first brought in a superseding indictment. Even assuming the clock started with the original indictment, the delay caused no relevant prejudice. With respect to money laundering (18 U.S.C. 1957) and misapplication of bank funds (18 U.S.C. 656) charges, the district court’s general “knowingly” jury instruction was permissible. Sufficient evidence supported Melland’s conviction for bribery by a bank employee (18 U.S.C. 215(a)(2)). The district court appropriately instructed the jury that, to find Melland “acted corruptly,” the jury must determine he “intend[ed] to be influenced or rewarded in connection with any business or transaction of” a financial institution. Sufficient evidence also supported Lonich’s conviction for attempted obstruction of justice (18 U.S.C. 1512(c)(2)) by encouraging a straw buyer to mislead the grand jury about his role in the scheme.The district court applied several enhancements that dramatically increased the recommended Guidelines sentencing ranges, premised on a finding that defendants caused SVB to fail, making them responsible for associated losses. The court applied a “clear and convincing evidence” standard and noted the district court made no independent findings about the cause of the bank’s collapse. Restitution orders ($20 million) were premised on the same theory. View "United States v. Lonich" on Justia Law

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Togonon, a citizen of the Philippines, was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. He was later convicted of arson (California Penal Code 451(b)). DHS initiated removal proceedings under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) based on his conviction for "an aggravated felony," “an offense described in” 18 U.S.C. 844(i). The BIA upheld a removal order.The Ninth Circuit vacated. The California statute is not a categorical match to its federal counterpart, under which a defendant acts “maliciously” if he either intentionally damages or destroys property covered by section 844(i) or acts with “willful disregard” of the likelihood that damage or injury would result from his acts; acting with “willful disregard” requires that a defendant be subjectively aware of the risk that his actions will damage or destroy property. California courts have interpreted the term “maliciously” in section 451(b) more broadly. A defendant may be convicted under the California statute for engaging in an intentional act that results in the burning of an inhabited structure or property even if he was not subjectively aware of the risk that his actions would result in that harm. View "Togonon v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Bird and other blind vendors filed a formal complaint with Oregon Commission for the Blind (OCB) seeking arbitration, prospective relief, and attorney’s fees as a consequence of OCB’s alleged mishandling of vending contracts and representation of blind vendors’ interests. The arbitration panel denied relief. The district court held that sovereign immunity did not apply to an arbitration panel’s decision under the Randolph-Sheppard Act (RSA), which creates a cooperative federal-state program that gives preference to blind applicants for vending licenses at federal facilities, 20 U.S.C. 107, and that the Eleventh Amendment did not protect OCB from liability for damages. The Ninth Circuit reversed. Neither the RSA nor the parties’ operating agreements unequivocally waived a state’s sovereign immunity from liability for monetary damages, attorney’s fees, or costs. Citing the Supreme Court’s 2011 "Sossamon" decision, the court rejected a “constructive waiver” argument, reasoning that a waiver of sovereign immunity must be explicit. An agreement to arbitrate all disputes simply did not unequivocally waive sovereign immunity from liability for monetary damages. The operating agreements incorporated the text of the RSA and contained no express waiver of immunity from money damages. Because no provision of the RSA or the operating agreements provided for attorney’s fees, Bird was not entitled to attorney’s fees. View "Bird v. Oregon Commission for the Blind" on Justia Law

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Hyde, a 26-year-old with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and ADHD, took six prescription medications. After his arrest on suspicion of DUI, Hyde submitted to a blood draw. He tested negative for alcohol but positive for amphetamines, consistent with his prescriptions. After several hours without his medications, Hyde charged the door, fell, and injured his head. Hyde emerged from his cell calmly, then sprinted away. He reached a dead end, Officers deployed their Tasers multiple times, then tackled Hyde. After Hyde was in a restraint chair, Pralgo again used his Taser. Callahan-English used her arms to force Hyde’s head into a restraint hold. Minutes later Hyde rolled his head back, gasping for air, as officers passed by. He stopped breathing. Officers tried to revive him. Days later, Hyde died. Hyde’s causes of death included blunt force injuries, kidney damage caused by muscle breakdown, enlarged heart, and coronary artery atherosclerosis.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part the denial of a motion to dismiss a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. Officers Pralgo and Callahan-English used excessive force and violated clearly established law when they used a Taser and put Hyde in a head restraint after Hyde, handcuffed and shackled, posed no threat. Other officers reasonably used force when Hyde resisted. The complaint did not adequately allege that the officers knew of Hyde’s mental health condition or that he was in distress after the altercation; qualified immunity barred the claim that they violated Hyde’s right to adequate medical care. With respect to the failure-to-train and municipal liability claims, the court stated that an inadequate training policy itself cannot be inferred from a single incident. View "Hyde v. City of Wilcox" on Justia Law

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Environmental groups filed suit, alleging that the federal government unlawfully issued oil and gas leases on federal land. The district court stayed vacatur of the lease sales pending appeal. Two weeks later, Chesapeake, an independent producer of oil and natural gas, moved to intervene as a defendant, noting that it had already spent more than $19.7 million to acquire, explore, and develop its leases.The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of the motion. Chesapeake was entitled to intervention as of right under FRCP 24(a). Chesapeake has a significantly protectable interest that could be impaired by the disposition of this action, its intervention motion was timely, and its interests will not be adequately represented by existing parties. The court noted the stage of the proceedings at which Chesapeake sought to intervene; potential prejudice to other parties; and the reason for and length of the delay. The likelihood that additional parties and arguments might make the resolution of the case more difficult was a poor reason to deny intervention. Although Chesapeake moved to intervene more than two years after the start of the litigation, its motion came just three months after it discovered that its leases were involved in the litigation, and just two weeks after the district court stayed vacatur of the lease sales. Chesapeake made sufficiently colorable arguments that another intervenor would not make all of Chesapeake’s proposed arguments. View "Western Watersheds Project v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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Jackson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking in exchange for the government’s promise to recommend a sentencing range of 120–180 months’ imprisonment. Despite assuring the court during the plea colloquy that there was no “side agreement,” Jackson later argued that he relied on the government’s oral promise that it would not offer his codefendant (Young) a lesser sentence. Young was offered a 90-month sentence. Jackson also claimed ineffective assistance based on his attorney’s failure to ensure that the government’s oral promise was made a part of the record. The district court denied Jackson’s 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, first holding that Jackson’s notice of appeal was valid because his requests for a certificate of appealability, received before the FRAP 4(a)(1)(B) deadline, made clear his intention to appeal; his 2255 motion was not an improper “second or successive” motion because the underlying factual circumstances did not occur until after an earlier 2255 motion was resolved. The record was not sufficient to overcome the presumption that Jackson’s written plea agreement and his sworn plea colloquy statements described the complete agreement. Jackson’s claim was also barred by a collateral attack waiver. The district court abused its discretion by failing to consider Jackson’s pro se letter as a request to amend his section 2255 motion to add a claim of ineffective assistance. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law