Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The City of Phoenix’s Police Department concluded that a Sergeant with the Department violated a Department policy by posting content to his personal Facebook profile that denigrated Muslims and Islam. When the Department took steps to discipline the Sergeant, he sued, alleging that the Department was retaliating against him for exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s action. In analyzing the content, form and context of the Sergeant’s posts, the court concluded that the posts qualified as speech on matters of public concern. While it was true that each of the Sergeant’s posts expressed hostility toward, and sought to denigrate or mock, major religious faith and its adherents, the Supreme Court has made clear that the inappropriate or controversial character of a statement is irrelevant to the question of whether it deals with a matter of public concern.The court, therefore, reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ First Amendment retaliation claim and his related claim under the Arizona Constitution. The court held that the district court properly rejected Plaintiffs’ facial overbreadth challenge to certain provisions of the Department’s social media policy, except as to the clauses prohibiting social media activity that (1) would cause embarrassment to or discredit the Department, or (2) divulge any information gained while in the performance of official duties, as set forth in section 3.27.9B.(7) of the policy. The court affirmed the district court’s rejection of Plaintiffs’ facial vagueness challenge to the same provisions discussed above and their municipal liability claim. View "JUAN HERNANDEZ V. CITY OF PHOENIX" on Justia Law

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The California Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal and later summarily rejected “on the merits” Petitioner’s state habeas petition. Petitioner argued primarily that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).Petitioner argued that the Ninth Circuit should review his Strickland claims de novo, because the California Supreme Court’s four-sentence denial of his claims “on the merits,” without issuing an order to show cause, signifies that the court concluded only that his petition did not state a prima facie case for relief such that there is no “adjudication on the merits” to which this court owes deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).The Ninth Circuit disagreed, citing Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170 (2011), in which the Supreme Court afforded AEDPA deference to the California Supreme Court’s summary denial of a habeas petition raising a Strickland claim. The court, therefore, applied the deferential AEDPA standard, asking whether the denial of Petitioner’s claims “involved an unreasonable application of” Strickland.The court held, however, under AEDPA's highly deferential standard of review, that the California Supreme Court could reasonably have concluded that Petitioner’s claim fails under the second prong of Strickland. The court wrote that comparing the mitigation evidence that was offered with what would have been offered but for Petitioner’s trial attorney’s alleged errors, the state court could reasonably have decided that there was not a substantial likelihood that the jury would have returned a different sentence if the attorney had not performed deficiently. View "RICHARD MONTIEL V. KEVIN CHAPPELL" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged his conviction and sentence through the PCR proceeding because pleading defendants in noncapital cases in Arizona are prohibited from taking a direct appeal. The district court found that the Arizona Court of Appeals had incorrectly determined that Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), did not apply to Arizona’s of-right PCR proceedings. The district court also determined, on de novo review, that Arizona’s PCR procedure was deficient under Anders.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of conditional habeas relief to Petitioner. The panel first explained that it was clearly established that Anders and its progeny apply to Arizona’s of-right PCR proceedings. Because the Arizona Court of Appeals’ decision can be construed as finding Anders applicable and nothing clearly suggests otherwise, and a federal habeas court must give the state court of appeals the benefit of the doubt and presume that it followed the law, the panel found that the Arizona Court of Appeals correctly found Anders applies to of-right PCR proceedings. The court, therefore, reversed the district court’s contrary determination. The court held that the district court also erred in reviewing de novo whether Arizona’s of-right PCR procedure is constitutionally adequate under Anders, and should have applied the required deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). View "LINO CHAVEZ V. MARK BRNOVICH" on Justia Law

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Two members of the Poway Unified School District (“PUSD” or the “District”) Board of Trustees, (together, “the Trustees”), created public Facebook and Twitter pages to promote their campaigns for office. Plaintiffs, two parents of children in the School District, frequently left comments critical of the Trustees and the Board on the Trustees’ pages, The Trustees eventually blocked Plaintiffs entirely from their social media pages. Plaintiffs sued, asserting that the Trustees violated their First Amendment rights by ejecting them from the social media pages. The district court agreed with Plaintiffs that their First Amendment rights had been violated. Both parties appealed.   The Ninth Circuit rejected the Trustees’ assertion that the dispute was moot because after Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, the Trustees began using a word filter on Facebook to prevent any new comments from being posted. The court held that: (1) using a word filter on Facebook would not affect Plaintiffs’ claims involving being blocked from Twitter; (2) the word filter limit did not change Facebook’s non-verbal “reaction” feature; and (3) the Trustees failed to carry their burden of showing they would not, in the future, remove the word filters from their Facebook pages and again open those pages up for verbal comments from the public.   The court further held that the district court correctly concluded that at the time the Trustees blocked Plaintiffs, it was not clearly established that Plaintiffs had a First Amendment right to post comments on a public official’s Facebook or Twitter page. The district court, therefore, did not err by granting qualified immunity to the Trustees as to Plaintiffs’ damages claim. View "CHRISTOPHER GARNIER V. MICHELLE O'CONNOR-RATCLIFF" on Justia Law

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Defendant determined that Plaintiff’s renovation of property violated local ordinances. Although he conceded the ordinance violation, Yoshikawa alleged that the enforcement action against him was motivated by racial animus, in violation of Section 1981. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order denying the building inspector Defendant’s motion to dismiss, on the basis of qualified immunity.   The court held that, in addressing a qualified immunity claim in an action against an officer for an alleged violation of a constitutional right, the court first asks whether, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, the facts alleged show that the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right. If not, the complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Second, the court asks whether the constitutional or statutory right was clearly established, such that the officer had fair notice that his conduct was unlawful.   The court held that Plaintiff stated a Section 1981 damages claim against Defendant a state actor. Under Comcast Corp. v. Nat’l Ass’n Afr. Am.-Owned Media, 140 S. Ct. 1009 (2020), an allegation of discrimination on the basis of race is a but-for element of a claim brought under Section 1981. The court further held that Defendant’s alleged actions violated clearly established law because he was accused of intentional racial discrimination. The court found irrelevant to qualified immunity, at the motion to dismiss stage, the issue of the applicability of the McDonnell Douglas test, an evidentiary standard, for analyzing Section 1981 claims in non-employment cases. View "HITOSHI YOSHIKAWA V. TROY SEGUIRANT" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc in a case in which the court’s opinion, which vacated convictions on two counts of encouraging or inducing an alien to reside in the United States for private financial gain in violation of 8 U.S.C. Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv), held that subsection (iv) is overbroad and unconstitutional because its narrow legitimate sweep pales in comparison to the amount of First Amendment protected expression it encompasses.   Judge Gould concurred in the order denying rehearing en banc. He wrote that Judge Bumatay’s dissent seeks to rewrite subsection (iv) by conducting a so-called textual analysis that fails to analyze the text of subsection (iv) itself; analyzes additional words not in that section, such as “aiding,” “abetting,” and “solicitation,” to support the conclusion it advocates; misreads the opinion, the record, Section 1324 itself, and precedent; conjures up parades of horribles belied by its own citations; introduces arguments the Government’s Petition for Rehearing did not make; and asks this court improperly to disregard Supreme Court precedent regarding the applicability of the facial overbreadth doctrine.   Dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc, Judge Collins concluded that (1) under the canon of constitutional avoidance, the court can and should interpret the statute as being limited to soliciting and facilitating the unlawful entry of, or the unlawful taking up of residence by, specific aliens; and (2) so construed, the statute is not facially unconstitutional. View "USA V. HELAMAN HANSEN" on Justia Law

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The district court revoked Defendant’s supervised release for violating 18 U.S.C. Section 1001(a) by submitting a monthly supervision report with false statements to his probation officer. Section 1001(a) bars lying “in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States.” Defendant argued that because the report was eventually forwarded to a judge, he’s entitled to the exemption in 18 U.S.C. Section 1001(b) for statements “submitted to a judge or magistrate” in a judicial proceeding.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment revoking supervised release based on the Defendant committing a new crime, and the sentence imposed upon revocation. The court wrote that the judicial proceeding exception only protects statements made “by [the] party . . . to the judge or magistrate”—not statements made to others in the judicial branch. The court emphasized that taking an expansive view of “submission” would threaten to swallow the rule, and would undermine the will of Congress, which broadly proscribed false statements made in “any matter” of the “judicial branch.”   Relying on United States v. Haymond, 139 S. Ct. 2369 (2019), Defendant argued that the district court violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights when it decided by the preponderance of the evidence that he violated Section 1001. The court wrote that because a sentence for a supervised release violation is generally part of the penalty for the original offense, it is not a new and additional punishment requiring jury findings beyond a reasonable doubt. View "USA V. JONATHAN OLIVER" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and felon in possession of a firearm, but reserved the right to appeal the denial of the motions. An officer stopped the vehicle after learning that the vehicle— whose registered owner had an outstanding arrest warrant—was in the parking lot of a gas station.   In his motion to suppress, Defendant argued that the officer unconstitutionally prolonged the vehicle stop when he asked Defendantto provide his license, registration, and proof of insurance because the suspicion that motivated the stop had evaporated once the officer determined that Ross was not in the vehicle. The government countered that the stop was supported by independent reasonable suspicion because the officer began to suspect that Defendant was intoxicated shortly after initiating contact.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motions to suppress. The panel wrote that the circumstances of the officer’s encounter with Defendant’s implicate the same vehicle safety purpose discussed in Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015), under which a routine document check would remain part of the officer’s mission even when the suspicion that justified a stop was based on an outstanding warrant rather than a traffic violation.   The court wrote that Defendant failed to make a substantial preliminary showing that any statement or omission in the affidavit was intentionally or recklessly false or misleading, where an expert report provided by Defendant at most establishes that the canine’s alert was unreliable on a single unrelated occasion. View "USA V. SHANE NAULT" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s dismissal of her claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging that a sheriff’s deputy used excessive force in arresting her. The district court held that Plaintiff’s claim was barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), because Plaintiff was convicted of willfully resisting, delaying, or obstructing the deputy during the same interaction in violation of Cal. Penal Code section 148(a)(1).   The en banc Ninth Circuit court reversed the district court’s summary judgment for Defendants. The court held that because the record did not show that Plaintiff’s section 1983 action necessarily rested on the same event as her criminal conviction, success in the former would not necessarily imply the invalidity of the latter.   Heck would bar Plaintiff from bringing an excessive force claim under section 1983 if that claim were based on force used during the conduct that was the basis for her section 148(a)(1) conviction. Crucially, the criminal jury was told that it could find Plaintiff guilty based on any one of four acts she committed during the course of her interaction with the Deputy. Because the jury returned a general verdict, it is not known which act it thought constituted an offense. Although any of the four acts could be the basis for the guilty verdict, Plaintiff’s section 1983 action was based on an allegation that the Deputy used excessive force during only the last one. The court held that if Plaintiff were to prevail in her civil action, it would not necessarily mean that her conviction was invalid; and the action was therefore not barred by Heck. View "GABBI LEMOS V. COUNTY OF SONOMA" on Justia Law

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Defendants in three consolidated cases were convicted of conspiring to distribute cocaine on board a vessel, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute on board a vessel, and aiding and abetting. They challenged the district court’s denial of their pre-trial motions to dismiss the indictment. Defendants also argue that the prosecutor committed misconduct in his closing argument. The Defendants made individual claims as well.   Defendants argued that even if outrageous government conduct does not require dismissal of the indictment, the district court should have used its supervisory powers to provide the same remedy, asserting that the government should tread lightly in international waters, and the court should not condone mistreatment of foreigners with no connection to the United States. The Ninth Circuit wrote that pursuant to United States v. Matta-Ballesteros, 71 F.3d 754 (9th Cir. 1995), that is not a sufficient reason to hold that the district court abused its discretion by not dismissing the indictment. The court, therefore, affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendants’ motions to dismiss the indictment.   Further, the court held that a court has the power to dismiss an indictment for egregious violations of Rule 5, and that the proper inquiry is whether transportation to the United States as a whole was unnecessarily delayed, rather than whether there was some other district in the United States in which the defendant could have been brought before a magistrate judge more quickly. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in its determination that 23 days was not an unreasonable delay. View "USA V. SEGUNDO DOMINGUEZ-CAICEDO" on Justia Law