Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition challenging his California state conviction for three counts of first degree murder. Petitioner claimed that the state's reliance on his confession prejudicially violated his constitutional rights. The panel applied the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) standard of review and held that petitioner was not entitled to relief because the state habeas court could have reasonably concluded that petitioner's confession was not obtained in violation of his constitutional rights. In this case, the California Supreme Court had a reasonable basis for finding that petitioner's waiver was knowing and intelligent, and that his confession was not coerced and involuntary. Finally, the panel held that petitioner was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the issue of the voluntariness of his confession because he failed to timely develop in state court the factual basis for his claim that he was threatened at gunpoint. View "Cook v. Kernan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the school district in an action brought by a parent, alleging that the school district violated his First Amendment rights by imposing a "Communication Plan," limiting his communications with school district employees regarding his daughters' education. The panel held that the Communication Plan did not violate plaintiff's First Amendment rights even if it restricted his speech; plaintiff failed to explain how the Communication Plan imposed unreasonable restrictions on his ability to share his concerns about his daughters' educational needs or any other topic; the Communication Plan addressed the manner in which plaintiff communicated with the school district – not the content of his speech or any viewpoints he wished to convey; and thus the panel agreed with the district court that the Communication Plan was a reasonable effort to manage a parent's relentless and unproductive communications with school district staff. View "L. F. v. Lake Washington School District #414" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's interlocutory orders in an action brought by plaintiffs, an environment organization and individual plaintiffs, alleging climate-change related injuries caused by the federal government continuing to "permit, authorize, and subsidize" fossil fuel. In this case, a substantial evidentiary record documents that the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse. The panel first rejected the government's contention that plaintiffs' claim must proceed, if at all, under the Administrative Procedure Act. Although plaintiffs had concrete and particularized injuries and the district court properly found the Article III causation requirement satisfied, the panel reluctantly concluded that plaintiffs' injuries were not redressable by an Article III court. The panel held that it was beyond the power of an Article III court to order, design, supervise, or implement plaintiffs' requested remedial plan. Rather, the panel stated that plaintiffs' impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of Article III standing. View "Juliana v. United States" on Justia Law

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Applying Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1 (1986), the Ninth Circuit held that the press has a qualified right of timely access to newly filed civil nonconfidential complaints that attaches when the complaint is filed. However, the panel held that this right does not entitle the press to immediate access to those complaints. Furthermore, some reasonable restrictions resembling time, place, and manner regulations that result in incidental delays in access are constitutionally permitted where they are content-neutral, narrowly tailored and necessary to preserve the court's important interest in the fair and orderly administration of justice. In this case, CNS filed suit seeking immediate access to newly filed civil complaints from Ventura County Superior Court. The panel affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the no-access-before-process policy, but reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the scanning policy. The panel vacated the district court's injunction and award of fees, remanding for further consideration. View "Courthouse News Service v. Planet" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an inmate at the Montana State Prison (MPS), filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against prison staff members, alleging that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when he was sexually assaulted during the course of a pat-down search. The district court dismissed all defendants except Sergeant Larry Pasha, the prison guard who conducted the pat down, and a jury subsequently returned a verdict in Pasha's favor. Plaintiff appealed. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to continue plaintiff's trial sua sponte. The panel recognized that there was no model jury instruction for Eighth Amendment sexual assault, and took this opportunity to address this circuit's law governing this type of claim. The panel held that a prisoner presents a viable Eighth Amendment claim where he or she proves that a prison staff member, acting under color of law and without legitimate penological justification, touched the prisoner in a sexual manner or otherwise engaged in sexual conduct for the staff member’s own sexual gratification, or for the purpose of humiliating, degrading, or demeaning the prisoner. In this case the model instructions plainly misstated the law applicable to plaintiff's cause. The panel reversed and remanded for a new trial because it was impossible to determine whether the jury would have reached the same result had it been properly instructed. View "Bearchild v. Cobban" on Justia Law

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Planned Parenthood filed suit against HHS, alleging that the agency's 2018 Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) for funding programs to combat teen pregnancy were contrary to the law as required in their appropriation, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), which is the relevant part of the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the action, holding that Planned Parenthood had standing under the competitor standing doctrine and that the case is not moot because it satisfies the capable of repetition, yet evading review exception to mootness. The panel explained that Planned Parenthood could reasonably expect to be subject to the same injury again, and the injury was inherently shorter than the normal life of litigation. The panel exercised its discretion to reach two issues in the first instance. First, the panel held that the 2018 Tier 1 FOA was contrary to law, because the 2018 Tier 1 FOA's direction that grant applicants address and replicate each of the elements of the TAC or the SMARTool, contradicts the TPPP's direction that Tier 1 grants go only to applicants whose programs are proven effective. Second, the panel held that the 2018 Tier 2 FOA was not contrary to the TPPP on its face. The panel remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho v. United States Department of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that CFS and two of its employees fired him from his position as a social services practitioner in retaliation for his whistleblowing activities, in violation of California Labor Code section 1102.5 and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The County's Civil Service Commission upheld the termination and denied plaintiff's appeal, and the district court dismissed the action. The Ninth Circuit held that the Commission's order did not preclude plaintiff's section 1102.5 claim for retaliation in light of Taswell v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 232 Cal. Rptr. 3d 628, 643 (Ct. App. 2018). In Taswell, the California Court of Appeal applied a legislative-intent exception and held that administrative findings by a state agency do not preclude claims for retaliation brought under section 1102.5. However, the panel's conclusion regarding legislative intent did not extend to plaintiff's claim under section 1983, which was precluded by the Commission's order. In this case, plaintiff had a full opportunity to litigate the propriety of his termination before the administrative agency, as evidenced by the comprehensive evidentiary record and the availability of judicial review. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Bahra v. County of San Bernardino" on Justia Law

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In appeal No. 13-99003, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the Central District and denied petitioner's motion to expand the certificate of appealability (COA) as to all claims except claim 6, regarding ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase. The panel held that the conclusion that an irreconcilable conflict did not exist based on the disagreement between petitioner and counsel was reasonable; even if petitioner were successfully able to demonstrate a complete breakdown in communication or prove that an irreconcilable conflict existed under the Moore factors, his irreconcilable-conflict claim would still fail, because the Supreme Court has never held that an irreconcilable conflict with one's attorney constitutes a per se denial of the right to effective counsel; and thus the state court's decision did not unreasonably apply clearly established Federal law as pronounced by the Supreme Court. The panel also held that the state court reasonably determined that counsel did not perform deficiently by refusing to let petitioner testify, and even if counsel was deficient in doing so, petitioner was not prejudiced. In appeal No. 13-99007, the panel affirmed the judgment of the Southern District and denied petitioner's motion to expand the COA. The panel held that petitioner was not deprived of constitutionally adequate representation during the penalty phase and petitioner was not deprived of his right to the competent assistance of a psychiatric expert. View "Carter v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a claim for monetary relief under 42 U.S.C. 1983 brought by public sector employees against their union after the Supreme Court's decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018). Janus held that the compulsory collection of agency fees by unions violates the First Amendment. The panel joined the Seventh Circuit and held that private parties may invoke an affirmative defense of good faith to retrospective monetary liability under 42 U.S.C. 1983, where they acted in direct reliance on then-binding Supreme Court precedent and presumptively-valid state law. The panel also held that the good faith affirmative defense applies as a matter of law, and the district court was right to dismiss plaintiffs' claim for monetary relief. View "Danielson v. Inslee" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity to a police officer in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law claims that the officer used excessive force. The officer placed defendant in a chokehold during an encounter following a concert, and the chokehold rendered plaintiff unconscious. The panel held that its decision in Barnard v. Theobald, 721 F.3d 1069 (9th Cir. 2013), squarely addressed the constitutionality of the use of a chokehold on a non-resisting person. Barnard held that any reasonable person should have known that squeezing the breath from a compliant, prone, and handcuffed individual despite his pleas for air involves a degree of force that is greater than reasonable. In this case, plaintiff was not resisting arrest when the officer placed him in a chokehold, and there was little chance he could initiate resistance with five other officers fully restraining him and pinning him to the ground. Therefore, it was clearly established that the use of a chokehold on a non-resisting, restrained person violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on the use of excessive force. Furthermore, the same version of the facts precluded summary judgment on the state law claims. View "Tuuamalemalo v. Greene" on Justia Law