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

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The case involves Dr. Firdos Sheikh, who brought Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims against former special agents with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Dr. Sheikh alleged that the agents fabricated evidence in a search warrant affidavit and submitted misleading reports to prosecutors, leading to her arrest and criminal prosecution.Previously, the district court dismissed Dr. Sheikh's claims. The court applied the two-step framework from Ziglar v. Abbasi to determine whether implied causes of action existed. The court held that Dr. Sheikh's claims presented a new context as they differed from cases where the Supreme Court implied a damages action. The court also found that several special factors indicated that the Judiciary was arguably less equipped than Congress to weigh the costs and benefits of allowing a damages action to proceed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal. The court agreed that Dr. Sheikh's claims presented a new context under Bivens and that special factors counseled hesitation in extending an implied cause of action. The court noted that the claims risked intrusion into the Executive Branch's prosecutorial decision-making process, were leveled against agents of HSI who investigate immigration and cross-border criminal activity, and alternative remedial structures existed. View "Sheikh v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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The case involves Keith Atherton, who pleaded guilty to one count of using or attempting to use a minor to produce a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct. His plea agreement contained an appeal waiver with certain exceptions. Atherton was sentenced to the statutory maximum of 30 years. He appealed, arguing that the district court violated his due process rights during sentencing by relying on false or unreliable information.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the sentence. The court held that a due process challenge to sentencing, like Atherton’s, falls within the appeal waiver limitation set forth in United States v. Wells, for “a challenge that the sentence violates the Constitution.” The court rejected the government’s contention that the Wells exception is limited to constitutional claims targeting the substantive terms of the sentence.Reviewing for plain error, the court held that Atherton’s due process rights were not violated. The court concluded that Atherton did not demonstrate that it is clear or obvious that the challenged information was patently false or unreliable or that the court relied upon the information in imposing sentence. View "United States v. Atherton" on Justia Law

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Domingo Musquiz, a former rail industry employee, petitioned for review of a decision by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). The RRB had adopted a hearing officer's finding that Musquiz was at fault for an overpayment of his reduced-age annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA) and denied his request for a waiver or reduction of repayment of the overpayment and penalty. Musquiz had failed to report his re-employment and additional income to the RRB, leading to the overpayment.The RRB's decision was based on the fact that Musquiz had received a booklet of regulations, including reporting requirements, when he applied for his annuity. The RRB concluded that Musquiz should have known about his reporting duties and was at fault when he did not report his change in employment and additional outside income.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the RRB that Musquiz was at fault for the overpayment that occurred from August 2012 to June 2, 2013. However, the court concluded that Musquiz was without fault for the RRB’s overpayment of his annuity from June 3, 2013, onward. The court reasoned that by then, the RRB had informed Musquiz that they had taken his outside earnings into account and adjusted his annuity payments.The court granted Musquiz's petition, vacated the RRB's decision, and remanded the case to the RRB for further proceedings. The court instructed the RRB to develop a factual record and determine whether recovery of the overpayment from June 3, 2013, onward would be contrary to the purpose of the RRA, against equity, or against good conscience. View "Musquiz V. United States Railroad Retirement Board" on Justia Law

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The case involves Sergio Manrique Gutierrez, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, who was convicted of carjacking under California law. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) upheld an Immigration Judge's (IJ) decision that Gutierrez was removable for having been convicted of an aggravated felony crime of violence and for having been convicted of two crimes of moral turpitude.The BIA held that Gutierrez's conviction for carjacking under California law is a categorical crime of violence. The BIA did not address the second ground for removal, concluding that Gutierrez waived his challenge to the moral turpitude removal charge. Gutierrez separately petitioned for review of the BIA’s denial of his motion to reopen his appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that California carjacking under Cal. Penal Code § 215(a) is not a categorical crime of violence. The court also concluded that the BIA erroneously determined that Gutierrez waived his challenge to the moral turpitude removal charge. The court remanded the case to the BIA to decide, in the first instance, whether Gutierrez is removable for having been convicted of two crimes of moral turpitude. The court dismissed Gutierrez’s petition for review of the IJ’s sua sponte reopening of his case to consider a change in the law. The court denied Gutierrez’s petition as to his remaining claims concerning the IJ’s adverse credibility finding, the discretionary denial of his application for waiver of admissibility, the denial of protection under the Convention Against Torture, and the BIA’s denial of his motion to reopen his case to consider new evidence that he was incompetent and to consider his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. View "GUTIERREZ v. GARLAND" on Justia Law

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This case involves a trademark infringement dispute between BillFloat Inc., a Delaware corporation using the "SmartBiz" trademark, and Collins Cash Inc., a New York corporation using the "Smart Business Funding" mark. BillFloat alleged that Collins Cash, its former business partner, infringed on its trademark.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The district court admitted Collins Cash's likelihood-of-confusion survey as expert evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. After a jury trial, the court ruled in favor of Collins Cash, finding no likelihood of confusion between the marks. The district court also partially denied Collins Cash's motion for attorneys' fees.The case was then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The appellate court affirmed the district court's judgment. It held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Collins Cash's likelihood-of-confusion survey as expert evidence. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to instruct the jury that it should not draw any inferences from BillFloat's lack of a similar survey. On cross-appeal, the appellate court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Collins Cash's motion for attorneys' fees for the trademark infringement claim, either under the parties' partnership agreement or under the Lanham Act. The court concluded that the trademark claim did not relate to the partnership agreement, and the case was not "exceptional" under the Lanham Act. View "BILLFLOAT INC. V. COLLINS CASH INC." on Justia Law

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The case involves Katie Garding, who was convicted by a Montana jury of vehicular homicide while under the influence, failure to stop immediately at the scene of an accident involving an injured person, and driving without a valid driver’s license. Garding filed a habeas petition, arguing that her counsel was ineffective for not hiring an accident reconstruction expert and that the prosecution violated her rights by not disclosing certain evidence.The Montana Supreme Court rejected Garding's arguments. It held that her counsel's decision not to hire an accident reconstruction expert was within the wide range of professionally competent assistance. The court also found that the state had not suppressed evidence concerning x-rays of the victim and that Garding did not show that the non-disclosure of photos from a different car crash was material.Garding then sought federal habeas relief. The United States District Court for the District of Montana partially granted and partially denied her petition. It held that there was ineffective assistance of counsel but denied the Brady claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order denying Garding’s Brady claims and reversed its grant of Garding’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. The court held that the Montana Supreme Court reasonably determined that Garding’s trial counsel was not constitutionally deficient and that her Brady claims lacked merit. View "Garding v. Montana Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves Vladimir Hernandez, who pleaded guilty to felony meth distribution charges. As part of his plea, Hernandez agreed to provide the government with all the information he knew about the crime in exchange for a potential lower sentence under the safety-valve sentencing provision. However, after entering his plea, Hernandez learned that other inmates might retaliate against him for his cooperation with the government. He then sought to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that he would not have agreed to the plea deal if he had known about the potential danger in prison.The district court denied Hernandez's motion to withdraw his plea. The court accepted that Hernandez did not know about the potential danger at the time of his plea and that his request to withdraw was made in good faith. However, the court concluded that Hernandez could avoid the consequences of the safety-valve proffer by not proffering, and thus his concerns were not "fair and just" reasons for withdrawal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order and remanded the case. The appellate court held that a defendant must first offer in good faith a "new" basis for seeking to withdraw his plea, meaning that he subjectively did not know this "new" reason for withdrawal at the time of his plea. He then must show that objectively he could not have known or anticipated this "new" material reason. The appellate court found that the district court did not err in concluding that Hernandez offered in good faith a subjectively new basis for withdrawing his plea. However, the district court did not decide whether objectively Hernandez could have known about or anticipated this new and material reason for withdrawing the plea. The appellate court remanded the case for the district court to decide that issue. View "United States v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Tomas Perez, an underground haul truck driver, sued his former employer, Barrick Goldstrike Mines, Inc., alleging that the company wrongfully interfered with his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when it terminated his employment. Perez claimed that he had suffered a serious health condition that prevented him from performing his job, and that Barrick terminated his employment because he sought protected leave. Barrick, however, argued that Perez had faked his injury and violated company policy.The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. The jury found in favor of Barrick, concluding that Perez failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he suffered a serious health condition preventing him from performing his job or that Barrick terminated his employment because he sought protected leave. Perez appealed the decision, arguing that the district court erred by not instructing the jury that only contrary medical evidence could defeat his doctor’s certification of a serious health condition.The case was then reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The court held that the FMLA does not require an employer to present contrary medical evidence before contesting a doctor’s certification of a serious health condition. Therefore, the district court did not err by failing to instruct the jury that only contrary medical evidence could defeat Perez’s doctor’s certification. The jury was allowed to properly consider the non-medical evidence that Barrick offered at trial in support of its argument that Perez did not have a serious health condition within the meaning of the Act. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Barrick. View "Perez v. Barrick Goldstrike Mines, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves Gillian and Samuel Davidson, who filed a class action lawsuit against Sprout Foods, Inc., alleging that the labels on Sprout's baby food pouches violated California's Sherman Law, which incorporates all federal food labeling standards. The Davidsons claimed that Sprout's labels, which stated the amount of nutrients the pouches contained, were misleading and harmful to consumers.The district court dismissed the Davidsons' claims. It ruled that the Sherman Law claim was preempted by federal law, which only allows the federal government to enforce food labeling standards. The court also dismissed the Davidsons' fraud-based claims, stating that they failed to specifically allege why Sprout's products were harmful.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court held that federal law did not preempt private enforcement of the Sherman Law's labeling requirements. The court reasoned that the federal food labeling statute permits states to enact labeling standards identical to the federal standards, which California has done through the Sherman Law. Therefore, the district court should not have dismissed the Sherman Law claims. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the Davidsons' fraud-based claims, agreeing with the lower court that the Davidsons failed to meet the heightened pleading requirements for fraud. The court also reversed the dismissal of an unjust enrichment claim, which survived due to the reversal on the Sherman Law claim. View "Davidson v. Sprout Foods, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves Gilberto Azael Leon Perez, a Mexican national and legal permanent resident of the United States, who was convicted of attempted lewdness with a child under the age of 14, in violation of Nevada law. Following his conviction, the Department of Homeland Security charged Perez as removable based on his conviction, which they argued constituted an "aggravated felony" under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). An immigration judge agreed, finding that the conviction was for an attempted aggravated felony that rendered Perez removable from the United States. Perez appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which dismissed the appeal, thus affirming the immigration judge's removal order.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was tasked with reviewing the case. The court had to decide whether their precedent, which sets out the generic definition of sexual abuse of a minor, was clearly irreconcilable with a Supreme Court decision, Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions. The court held that it was not. The court also held that the BIA did not err in concluding that Perez’s conviction categorically constituted an attempted “sexual abuse of a minor” aggravated felony that renders him removable. Therefore, the court denied Perez's petition for review. View "PEREZ V. GARLAND" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law