Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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In a dispute over the naming of a thoroughbred racehorse, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, which held that the decision by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) precluded the plaintiffs' legal action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging First Amendment violations. The plaintiffs, who owned the horse named Malpractice Meuser, brought the action after the CHRB refused their horse's registration due to its name, which they believed violated specific rules. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the district court was wrong to conclude the CHRB's decision precluded the plaintiffs' § 1983 action. The court reasoned that for a state administrative agency decision to have the same preclusive effect as a state court judgment, the administrative proceeding must be conducted with sufficient safeguards and satisfy fairness requirements. In this case, the CHRB lacked the authority under California law to decide constitutional claims, and thus, its decision had no preclusive effect. Furthermore, the court ruled that the plaintiffs' decision not to seek review of the CHRB's decision in state court did not endow that decision with preclusive effect. The court found that requiring the plaintiffs to go to state court before filing a suit under § 1983 would amount to an improper exhaustion prerequisite. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "JAMGOTCHIAN V. FERRARO" on Justia Law

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In the case under review, the plaintiff-appellant, Thomas Eugene Creech, currently on death row for the 1981 murder of David Dale Jensen, had sought commutation of his death sentence. The State of Idaho had granted Creech a commutation hearing before the Commission of Pardons and Parole, which ultimately denied his petition. Consequently, Creech filed a § 1983 action in federal court, alleging various due process violations during the commutation proceedings and sought a preliminary injunction. The United States District Court for the District of Idaho denied his motion, and he appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The Court held that the state had met the minimal procedural safeguards required by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the commutation proceedings. It rejected Creech's arguments that he was not given adequate notice of the issues to be considered by the Commission and the evidence to be presented at the commutation hearing. Additionally, the Court found that Creech was not entitled to the appointment of a replacement commissioner when one Commissioner recused himself. The Court also refuted Creech's claims that the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office violated his due process rights by suggesting to the Commission that Creech had committed another murder and got away with it, and by introducing misleading or fabricated evidence during the hearing. The Court found no violation or arbitrariness that would warrant judicial intervention. View "CREECH V. BENNETTS" on Justia Law

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In the case at hand, DeWitt Lamar Long, a practicing Muslim and inmate at Halawa Correctional Facility in Hawaii, brought a legal action against several prison officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleged that his First Amendment rights to freely exercise his religion were violated and that he was unconstitutionally retaliated against for engaging in protected First Amendment activity. Specifically, Long claimed that he was denied meals consistent with his Islamic faith, that his meal during Ramadan was delivered early and thus was cold and potentially unsafe by the time he could break his fast, and that he was transferred from a medium-security facility to a high-security facility in retaliation for filing grievances.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated in part the district court’s judgment. The appellate court found that the district court erred in dismissing Long's claims for injunctive relief without allowing him a chance to amend his complaint to demonstrate the need for such relief. The court also vacated the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Sergeant Lee, holding that the delivery of Long's evening meal at 3:30 p.m. during Ramadan substantially burdened his free exercise of religion. The court remanded the case to allow the district court to evaluate whether the burden was justified.However, the appellate court affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of Chief of Security Antonio regarding Long’s claim that he was transferred from a medium-security facility to a high-security facility in retaliation for filing grievances. The court agreed with the district court that the sequence of events leading to the transfer was insufficient to show retaliatory intent. The court also affirmed the district court’s judgment after a bench trial in favor of Sergeant Sugai and Chief of Security Antonio on Long’s free exercise of religion and retaliation claims. View "LONG V. SUGAI" on Justia Law

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In a case involving the Department of Child and Family Services of the County of Los Angeles and individual social workers, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a mixed ruling. The case arose from the removal of two minor children from their parents' custody following an anonymous report that the parents were using medical marijuana to treat one child's severe autism. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment.The Circuit Court reversed the district court's summary judgment for the defendants on the parents' claim of judicial deception. The court concluded that the application submitted by the defendants in support of the warrant for removal contained misrepresentations and omissions and a reasonable trier of fact could find these misrepresentations material.The Circuit Court also reversed the district court's summary judgment for defendants on the parents' intentional infliction of emotional distress claim and their Monell claim, which argued that the county had an unofficial policy of encouraging social workers to omit exculpatory information from warrant applications.However, the Circuit Court affirmed the district court’s judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim concerning the social worker's interview of one child at her school, finding that the social worker was entitled to qualified immunity. The court also found no error in the district court's handling of a jury question during trial.The court remanded the case for further proceedings on the claims of judicial deception, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the Monell claim.The case was remanded for further proceedings on these issues. View "SCANLON V. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES" on Justia Law

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A group of current and former inmates, or their representatives, filed a class action lawsuit against Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon, and Patrick Allen, the Director of the Oregon Health Authority, claiming that the state's COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, which prioritized corrections officers over inmates, violated their Eighth Amendment rights. The defendants moved to dismiss the claim, asserting immunity under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. The district court denied the motion, and the defendants appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, finding that the defendants were immune from liability for the vaccine prioritization claim under the PREP Act. The court held that the statutory requirements for PREP Act immunity were met because the "administration" of a covered countermeasure includes prioritization of that countermeasure when its supply is limited. The court further concluded that the PREP Act's provisions extend immunity to persons who make policy-level decisions regarding the administration or use of covered countermeasures. The court also held that the PREP Act provides immunity from suit and liability for constitutional claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, even if those claims are federal constitutional claims. View "MANEY V. BROWN" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Desiree Martinez, sued Channon High, a City of Clovis police officer, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Officer High violated her due process rights by disclosing her confidential domestic violence report to her abuser, Kyle Pennington, who was also a Clovis police officer. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to Officer High.The appellate court held that while Officer High did violate Ms. Martinez's due process rights under the state-created danger doctrine by disclosing her confidential domestic violence report to Mr. Pennington, the right was not clearly established at the time of the violation. The court explained that state actors are generally not liable for failing to prevent the acts of private parties, but an exception applies where the state affirmatively places the plaintiff in danger by acting with deliberate indifference to a known or obvious danger. In this case, Officer High's disclosure of Ms. Martinez's confidential report to Pennington, whom she knew was an alleged abuser, placed Ms. Martinez in actual, foreseeable danger. However, it was not clearly established in 2013 that Officer High’s actions violated Ms. Martinez’s substantive due process rights. The court clarified that going forward, an officer would be liable under the state-created danger doctrine when the officer discloses a victim’s confidential report to a violent perpetrator in a manner that increases the risk of retaliation against the victim. View "MARTINEZ V. HIGH" on Justia Law

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In this case decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the court considered whether the claims filed by Adriana Holt, her children, and her mother Beatriz Lukens against Orange County and several deputy sheriffs were barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. The plaintiffs alleged unlawful search and arrest and brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California state law. The case involved multiple filings and dismissals in different courts, raising the question of whether the tolling provision of the supplemental jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1367, applied to their claims.The court held that the plaintiffs' claims were not tolled and were therefore properly dismissed as untimely. The court reasoned that § 1367 tolls the applicable statute of limitations for a federal-law claim that is contained in the same federal court complaint as a supplemental state-law claim and that is “voluntarily dismissed at the same time as or after the dismissal of the [supplemental] claim.” However, this tolling provision does not apply when the supplemental claim is voluntarily dismissed, as occurred in Holt's first suit, or when a supplemental claim is dismissed for improper joinder, as occurred in the separate class action.Finally, the court also held that the plaintiffs' state-law claims were not tolled by a Covid-19 pandemic emergency tolling order and rule because the limitations periods for those claims had already lapsed before either the order or rule went into effect. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims as time-barred. View "HOLT V. COUNTY OF ORANGE" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs, a coalition on homelessness and seven current or formerly homeless residents of San Francisco, who sought to prevent the City and County of San Francisco from enforcing any ordinance that punishes sleeping, lodging, or camping on public property. The plaintiffs argued that such enforcement violated the Eighth Amendment. On appeal, the defendants argued, for the first time, that the enforcement actions did not leave unhoused individuals with nowhere else to go, but instead required them to relocate from specific encampment sites and only at certain times. The Ninth Circuit deemed this argument waived as it was not brought up in the lower court and even if it was considered, the argument would not change the outcome as the defendants' enforcement of the laws were no narrower in scope than the laws at issue in prior cases, Martin v. City of Boise and Johnson v. City of Grants Pass. The court held that the defendants have yet to show that the preliminary injunction was improper based on the arguments and evidentiary record before the district court. View "Coalition on Homelessness v. City of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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In this case, Alexander Hebrard, an inmate in Oregon, brought a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he was disciplined in prison without due process of law. Hebrard claimed that he was found guilty of prison rule violations without sufficient evidence and was denied the opportunity to present a defense. As a result of his alleged wrongful conviction, Hebrard was fined, had money confiscated from his prison account, was placed in segregated housing, lost visitation rights, and had earned-time credits revoked. In his lawsuit, Hebrard sought damages for all these sanctions, except for the revocation of his earned-time credits. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Hebrard's complaint as barred by Heck v. Humphrey. Under Heck, a claim for damages that would necessarily imply the invalidity of the length of an inmate's sentence must be dismissed unless the inmate first challenges his sentence in a habeas corpus proceeding and obtains relief. The Ninth Circuit determined that even though Hebrard did not seek relief for the revocation of his earned-time credits, his claim nonetheless implicated the validity of his disciplinary conviction, which in turn affected the length of his sentence. The court concluded that Hebrard needed to obtain habeas relief before filing this § 1983 action. Because he did not do so, his claim was barred by Heck. View "Hebrard V. Nofziger" on Justia Law

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In a case involving a putative class of plaintiffs who alleged that the Superior Court of Los Angeles County and Judge Eric C. Taylor set cash bail that they could not afford and unlawfully detained them pretrial, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action. The court held that actions against state courts and state court judges in their judicial capacity are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Superior Court of California was found to have sovereign immunity as an arm of the state. The court concluded that the exception in the Ex parte Young case did not apply because the Superior Court cannot be sued in an individual capacity. The court also held that Judge Taylor had Eleventh Amendment immunity because state court judges cannot be sued in federal court in their judicial capacity under the Eleventh Amendment. The court overruled any interpretation of a previous case (Wolfe v. Strankman) that suggested the Ex parte Young exception allowed injunctions against judges acting in their judicial capacity, finding such interpretation to be clearly irreconcilable with a more recent Supreme Court decision (Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson). The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to resolve claims brought against state courts or state court judges acting in a judicial capacity due to Eleventh Amendment immunity. View "MUNOZ V. SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY" on Justia Law