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 petitioners' habeas corpus petitions challenging their California state-court murder convictions. In this case, the key prosecution witness was an informant who said that both men had confessed to the crime. At trial, the witness invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify, so the trial court read to the jury a transcript of the witness's preliminary-hearing testimony. The California Court of Appeal affirmed petitioners' convictions, holding that they had an adequate opportunity to cross-examine the witness when he testified at the preliminary hearing, so the introduction of his testimony at trial did not violate their Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against them.The panel granted a certificate of appealability on the issue of whether the admission of the witness's preliminary hearing testimony violated petitioners' Sixth Amendment right to confrontation, and concluded that the state court's decision was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Applying a deferential standard of review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDA), the panel concluded that it was not unreasonable for the California Court of Appeal to determine that the questions petitioners wanted to ask the witness would not have given the jury a significant different impression of the witness's credibility. Furthermore, even assuming that the timing of the prosecution's disclosures implicated the Confrontation Clause, the California Court of Appeal could reasonably conclude that questioning based on those disclosures would not have materially enhanced the effectiveness of the cross-examination. View "Gibbs v. Covello" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, who was thirteen years old at the time, confessed to a murder he did not commit, he was convicted in juvenile court and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment. The California Court of Appeal reversed the conviction, concluding that plaintiff's confession should have been suppressed by the juvenile court because detectives failed to respect his unambiguous request for an attorney. All parties now agree that plaintiff did not commit the murder.Plaintiff subsequently filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the three LAPD Detectives who conducted the interrogation in which plaintiff confessed to killing the victim, alleging violations of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity on the Fifth Amendment claims that the officers continued to question plaintiff after he invoked his right to silence and that they engaged in unconstitutional coercive questioning tactics. However, the panel reversed the denial of qualified immunity on defendant's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim because it was not clearly established that the abusive interrogation techniques used by the officers rose to the level of "abuse of power that shocks the conscience." The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Tobias v. Arteaga" on Justia Law

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After defendants were charged with attempting to enter the United States illegally, the government prosecuted them on the normal criminal docket. Defendants moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the government should have prosecuted them through the Central Violations Bureau (CVB) process, but the district court denied the motion.The Ninth Circuit held that the government did not violate defendants' right to equal protection by prosecuting illegal border crossings on the normal criminal docket. The panel explained that the policy does not discriminate against a protected class or infringe a fundamental right. Instead, it distinguishes between defendants based on their criminal conduct—in this case, illegally entering the United States. And since criminal defendants are not a protected class, at most the rational basis test applies. Applying the rational basis test, the panel concluded that the government's decision to prosecute first-time illegal entry separately from other petty offenses passes constitutional muster. In this case, defendants have not carried their burden to negate "every conceivable basis" which might support the government’s decision to prosecute them on the normal criminal docket. Therefore, the government's policy is supported by a rational basis and does not violate equal protection. View "United States v. Ayala-Bello" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a stay and abeyance pending exhaustion of unexhausted claims under Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269 (2005). In this case, petitioner filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition challenging the constitutionality of his conviction and capital sentence. The district court concluded that petitioner lacked good cause under Rhines for his failure to exhaust because his state postconviction counsel's ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) was not sufficiently egregious. However, the panel subsequently held in Blake v. Baker, 745 F.3d 977 (9th Cir. 2014), that IAC by a petitioner's state-court counsel satisfies the good cause standard under Rhines. Therefore, the district court erred in applying the standard the panel later rejected in Blake and the panel remanded for the district court to apply the proper standard. View "Bolin v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his California state conviction and death sentence for two first-degree murders. The panel granted a certificate of appealability (COA) on the claims related to ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC). In this opinion, the panel addressed the certified claims as well as the previously uncertified claim (Claim 48), namely whether trial counsel failed to present evidence of mental impairments at the penalty phase.The panel applied the deferential standards imposed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and concluded that the California court's inferred conclusions were not an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law or based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. The panel held that presenting the jailhouse informant's testimony would not have created a reasonable probability that petitioner would not have been convicted as an aider and abettor in two murders. Therefore, lead counsel at the guilt phase was not ineffective for failing to investigate and present evidence from the informant. Furthermore, counsel did not render deficient performance by failing to raise petitioner's mental impairments as mitigating evidence at the penalty phase; the panel did not review petitioner's argument that the state court made an unreasonable determination of the facts under 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(2) because this claim rests on an issue of state law; and the panel upheld the district court's denial of habeas relief on petitioner's proportionality claim. View "Sanchez v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA) does not require landlords to accommodate the disability of an individual who neither entered into a lease nor paid rent in exchange for the right to occupy the premises.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City, in an action brought by plaintiff against the City for wrongful eviction based on several theories of state law implied tenancy. The panel held that the FHAA applies to rentals only when the landlord or his designee has received consideration in exchange for granting the right to occupy the premises. As to occupants requesting accommodation, the panel held that the FHAA's disability discrimination provisions apply only to cases involving a "sale" or "rental" for which the landlord accepted consideration in exchange for granting the right to occupy the premises. Applying a federal standard rather than California landlord-tenant law, the panel concluded that because plaintiff never provided consideration in exchange for the right to occupy Spot 57, the FHAA was inapplicable to his claim for relief. Furthermore, the City was not obligated to provide, offer, or discuss an accommodation. View "Salisbury v. City of Santa Monica" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for review of the Commission's decision concluding that petitioner failed to prove a prima facie case of discrimination under Section 105(c) of the Mine Safety and Health Act. Petitioner, a dredge operator, claimed that his former employer, CalPortland, discriminated against him for engaging in protected activities related to safety issues.The panel concluded that Section 105(c)'s unambiguous text requires a miner asserting a discrimination claim under Section 105(c) to prove but-for causation. Therefore, the panel rejected the Pasula-Robinette framework and concluded that the Commission applied this wrong causation standard. The panel explained that the Supreme Court has instructed multiple times that the word "because" in a statutory cause of action requires a but-for causation analysis unless the text or context indicates otherwise. Section 105(c) contains no such indication. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Thomas v. CalPortland Co." on Justia Law

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Parents and Minors filed suit against the County and two social workers, alleging claims based on medical examinations of Minors during their time in protective custody. Parents seek to hold the social workers liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for unconstitutional judicial deception in seeking a state juvenile court order to authorize unconstitutional medical examinations of the Minors without notice to or consent of the Parents, and the County liable for the unconstitutional medical examinations.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, concluding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar subject matter jurisdiction. The panel reversed the district court's dismissal of the claims against the social workers, concluding that Parents sufficiently pleaded section 1983 liability against them. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Parents objected to medical examinations of the Minors; Parents did not learn of the medical examinations until after the Minors were released from protective custody; the social workers knowingly and falsely represented to the juvenile court that they had made reasonable efforts to notify Parents about the medical examinations; and Parents' statements alleged a violation of constitutional prohibition on judicial deception and met the heightened pleading standard of Rule 9(b). However, the panel affirmed the dismissal with prejudice on the claims against the County where none of the allegations regarding the County's alleged unconstitutional policy, practice, custom, or failure to train its employees provided factual support for Monell liability. The panel explained that Parents failed to provide anything more than the 2015 Policy itself and the facts of a single incidence of an unconstitutional medical examination and judicial deception. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Benavidez v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an Idaho prisoner, filed suit alleging that the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) and its medical provider, Corizon, were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs and acted with negligence. Primarily at issue is whether the district court erred by excluding plaintiff's expert witnesses under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(c)(1), which was case dispositive, because he did not properly disclose his experts under Rule 26(a)(2).The panel concluded that the district court did not err because plaintiff repeatedly failed to meet his disclosure obligations, the district court reasonably concluded plaintiff's failures were not substantially justified or harmless, and he never moved for a lesser sanction. Therefore, plaintiff failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact for trial. The panel also concluded that the district court correctly found that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Furthermore, the panel declined to construe plaintiff's Health Services Request as a properly filed grievance. View "Merchant v. Corizon Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of organizational standing of an action brought by two public interest groups against Sanderson Farms, alleging false advertising related to the use of antibiotics. The panel concluded that the groups failed to establish standing through a diversion of resources to combat Sanderson's advertising. In this case, the district court did not err by weighing the evidence and concluding that the various activities proffered by the groups were continuations of non-Sanderson-specific initiatives undertaken in furtherance of their missions to address antibiotic use generally. The panel also concluded that the California Unfair Competition Law claim fails because it is tethered to Sanderson's advertisements. View "Friends of the Earth v. Organic Consumer Ass'n" on Justia Law