Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
by
For standing purposes, a loss of even a small amount of money is ordinarily an injury. The temporary loss of use of one's money constitutes an injury in fact for purposes of Article III. Plaintiff filed a putative class action on behalf of LLR customers in Alaska who were improperly charged sales tax. The complaint alleged claims for conversion and misappropriation and for violation of the Alaska Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act. In this case, plaintiff was refunded $531.25 for sales tax charges, but contends that she is owed at least $3.76 in interest on that sum to account for her lost use of the money. The district court granted LLR's motion to dismiss. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court erred by concluding that $3.76 is "too little to support Article III standing." The panel held that plaintiff suffered a cognizable and concrete injury: the loss of a significant amount of money (over $500) for a substantial amount of time (months with respect to some purchases, over a year with respect to others). Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Van v. LLR, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of first degree murder. Petitioner moved for a new trial based on his discovery that a juror had made a false representation during voir dire. The panel applied review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), holding that it was not unreasonable for the state court to conclude that McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984), which permits a new trial where a juror's lies during voir dire hide a fact that would have permitted the juror to be stricken for cause, accommodates a prejudice analysis. Because the Supreme Court has not given explicit direction as to whether McDonough requires a criminal defendant to show prejudice to obtain a new trial, and because the state court's interpretation is consistent with many other courts' interpretations, the panel cannot hold that the state court's interpretation was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent. View "Scott v. Arnold" on Justia Law

by
IMDb filed suit challenging Assembly Bill 1687, which prohibits a specified category of websites from publishing the ages and dates of birth of entertainment industry professionals. The district court concluded that the statute violated IMDb's First Amendment speech rights and other constitutional and statutory provisions, and enjoined California's enforcement of the statute. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that, on its face, AB 1687 prohibits the publication of specific content, by specific speakers. Therefore, the panel held that it is a content-based restriction on speech that is subject to strict scrutiny. In this case, California and the Screen Actors Guild failed to demonstrate that AB 1687 is the least restrictive means and narrowly tailored to accomplish the goal of reducing incidents of age discrimination. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the parties’ discovery requests. View "IMDb.com, Inc. v. Becerra" on Justia Law

by
An order denying a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 70(a) motion to enforce a conditional writ of habeas corpus pertains to the district court's adjudication of the habeas petition, and 28 U.S.C. 2253(c)(1)(A) therefore requires a habeas petitioner to obtain a certificate of appealability (COA) in order to appeal the district court's order. The Ninth Circuit denied petitioner a COA and dismissed for lack of jurisdiction his appeal from the district court's order denying his motion under Rule 70(a) to enforce the district court's conditional writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner was convicted, after a jury trial, of aggravated kidnapping, assault with a weapon, and assault on a peace officer, and sentenced to 100 years in prison with 20 years suspended. In this case, petitioner failed to make the requisite showing that reasonable jurists would debate whether the district court abused its discretion in finding that the State complied with the conditional writ and thus in denying petitioner's Rule 70(a) motion. Consequently, petitioner failed to make a substantial showing under section 2253(c)(2) to permit the issuance of a COA. View "Rose v. Guyer" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's conviction and capital sentence for murdering his parents. Petitioner alleged that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because his lawyer failed to present additional evidence of third-party culpability. Petitioner also alleged that a contract for indigent defense services between Los Angeles County and the Pomona Contract Lawyers Association (PCLA) violated his constitutional rights because it interfered with his ability to obtain second trial counsel. The panel held that trial counsel rendered deficient performance by failing to present testimony that gang members appeared to claim credit for the murders, but that counsel did not perform deficiently by failing to find and call a gang expert to counter the testimony of the prosecution's gang expert. In this case, fairminded jurists could disagree as to whether the testimony of five witnesses regarding the gang members' boasting was reasonably likely to have changed the outcome of petitioner's trial. Therefore, there were reasonable grounds for the California Supreme Court to conclude that the omitted testimony would not have altered the outcome. The panel also held that the California Supreme Court's summary denial on the merits of the PCLA contract claims (claims 1, 2, 3, and 11) was not unreasonable, because there is no evidence in the record that trial counsel was appointed to represent petitioner under the contract, was a member of the PCLA at the time the initial contract was signed, or was a signatory to the original contract. View "Staten v. Davis" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff raised a First Amendment challenge to part of California's Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009, which prohibit plaintiff, Esteban Narez, from enrolling in plaintiff Bob Smith's horseshoeing class unless he first passes an examination prescribed by the U.S. Department of Education. However, if Smith were running a flight school or teaching golf, dancing, or contract bridge, Narez could enroll without restriction. The district court held that the Act does not burden plaintiffs' free speech and dismissed the complaint based on failure to state a claim. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that plaintiffs have stated a claim that the Act burdens their rights under the First Amendment. The panel held that the statutory scheme here not only implicates speech, but also engages in content discrimination; because content discrimination is apparent, the district court should have applied some form of heightened scrutiny; and thus the panel remanded for the district court to determine whether this case involves commercial or non-commercial speech, whether California must satisfy strict or intermediate scrutiny, and whether it could carry its burden under either standard. View "Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, Inc. v. Kirchmeyer" on Justia Law

by
The county appealed the district court's post-verdict grant of judgment as a matter of law on Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims regarding the alleged seizure of a minor, L, by a social worker. Plaintiffs, L and her mother, appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment on their Fourteenth Amendment claims regarding the county's false letter allegedly impairing their right to familial association. The Ninth Circuit held that this circuit's precedent requires that, to establish a Fourteenth Amendment claim based on a minor being separated from his or her parents, plaintiffs must establish that an actual loss of custody occurred; the mere threat of separation or being subject to an investigation, without more, is insufficient. In this case, plaintiffs' allegations failed to establish a Fourteenth Amendment violation. Furthermore, mother's allegation that her Fourteenth Amendment familial association right was violated as a result of L's 5-minute seizure at her school also failed to establish a claim given that she never actually lost control over L. The panel also held that substantial evidence supported the jury's verdict in favor of the county on L's Fourth Amendment claim arising from the school seizure. The panel reversed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs' respective Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims regarding the seizure; reversed the district court's conditional grant of a new trial to mother on her seizure claim; affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the county employees on plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claims involving the false letter; and affirmed the district court's conditional grant of a new trial on L's Fourth Amendment claim. View "Dees v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

by
This appeal challenges the district court's denial of appellants' motion for a temporary restraining order and order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not issue in appellants' challenge to the application of California and San Diego's stay-at-home orders to in-person religious services during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Ninth Circuit issued an order denying appellants' emergency motion seeking injunction relief permitting them to hold in-person religious services during the pendency of this appeal. The panel held that appellants have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on appeal. The panel explained that, where state action does not infringe upon or restrict practices because of their religious motivation and does not in a selective manner impose burdens only on conduct motivated by religious belief, it does not violate the First Amendment. In this case, the panel stated that we are dealing with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there presently is no known cure. The panel held that the remaining factors do not counsel in favor of injunctive relief. View "South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his Nevada convictions for three murders and an attempted murder, as well as his death sentence for one of the murders. The district court issued a certificate of appealability (COA) for petitioner's argument that the procedural default of his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim should be excused in light of Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012). The panel affirmed the denial of habeas relief and held that, although counsel's performance was deficient at the second penalty-phase hearing, petitioner failed to show that he was prejudiced by counsel's performance. In this case, petitioner failed to show that he was prejudiced by the lack of an evidentiary hearing, and his claim remains procedurally defaulted. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the Martinez claim without holding an evidentiary hearing. The panel certified petitioner's claim alleging violation of the rule set out in Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931), but ultimately concluded that this claim does not entitle petitioner to habeas relief because the Stromberg error was harmless. The panel declined to certify the remaining claims because they do not raise substantial questions of law and the panel was not persuaded that reasonable jurists would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong. View "Smith v. Baker" on Justia Law

by
Skyline filed suit against the DMHC in 2016, claiming, among other things, that its right to the free exercise of religion requires the DMHC to approve a health insurance plan that comports with Skyline's religious beliefs about abortion. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the action based on lack of jurisdiction. The panel held that Skyline's claim under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment is justiciable. In this case, Skyline has established each of the three elements of standing with respect to its federal free exercise claim and, relatedly, that this claim is constitutionally ripe; Skyline's free exercise claim is prudentially ripe; and the panel vacated the district court's ruling that none of Skyline's other claims are justiciable and remanded for reassessment in light of our decision regarding the justiciability of the free exercise claim. The panel declined to exercise its discretion in reaching the merits in the first instance. View "Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care" on Justia Law