Justia Civil Rights 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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Plaintiff’s mother was arrested at a traffic stop and fell ill in police custody. Tragically, she died nine days later. Her minor son, J.K.J., brought constitutional claims against the City of San Diego and two officers who participated in the traffic stop. The District Court dismissed J.K.J.’s amended complaint with prejudice. The district court dismissed J.K.J.’s amended complaint with prejudice.   The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order granting a petition for rehearing, denying as moot a petition for rehearing en banc, and amending the prior opinion and dissent; and (2) an amended opinion affirming the district court’s dismissal of an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging constitutional violations by police officers in their treatment of Plaintiff’s mother.   The court first held that the district court validly exercised its discretion in choosing to review a bodycam video that Plaintiff had incorporated by reference into the amended complaint. Second, the district court did not assign the video too much weight. Lastly, to the extent the district court found that the video contradicted anything in the amended complaint, it rejected Plaintiff’s conclusory allegations regarding whether the officers’ conduct met the legal standard of a constitutional violation.   The court held that the district court did not err in dismissing the amended complaint. The court further held that the alleged violative nature of the officers’ conduct, in failing to recognize and respond to the woman’s serious medical need, was not clearly established in the specific context of this case. View "J. J. V. CITY OF SAN DIEGO" 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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The Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (“JAG”) program is a federal formula grant that supports state and local criminal justice efforts. Effective Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) imposed new immigration enforcement-related conditions (“Conditions”) on Byrne JAG funds. In order to draw upon their Byrne JAG funds, grant recipients had to certify that their laws complied with independent provisions of the Federal Code, specifically 8 U.S.C. Section 1373, a provision of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act enacted in 1996, and 8 U.S.C. Section 1644, of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.   The district court for the Northern District of California and the district court for the District of Oregon determined that the Conditions exceeded the DOJ’s statutory authority and permanently enjoined their enforcement. The district courts also held that Sections 1373 and 1644 violated the Tenth Amendment, and permanently enjoined their enforcement.   In consolidated appeals, the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part district court judgments. Addressing the facial constitutional challenges under the Tenth Amendment to Sections 1373 and 1644, the court held that these challenges were not justiciable in their present posture. The court explained that because Plaintiffs’ laws complied with the federal provisions, their facial challenges were no longer ripe. Having concluded that Plaintiffs’ facial challenges were either not ripe, or were mooted, the court narrowly vacated the district courts’ determinations that Sections 1373 and1644 were facially unconstitutional. View "CITY & COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO V. MERRICK GARLAND" 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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Plaintiff brought an action against the State of Washington, the Review Board, and its members (State Defendants). Plaintiff specifically sought review of the district court’s decision that the Review Board’s actions relating to Plaintiff’s release determination hearing fall squarely within the quasi-judicial nature of the Review Board’s functions, and that Defendants are entitled to quasi-judicial immunity.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of an action alleging false imprisonment, negligence and civil rights violations arising from actions taken by the Washington Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board in scheduling Plaintiff’s hearing.   The Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board is a parole board created by the Washington State Legislature that is tasked with reviewing the sentences of convicted sex offenders to determine whether the offenders should be released on parole. The court held that under the facts of this case and in the context of the proceedings as a whole, the Review Board’s setting of hearings pursuant to Wash. Rev. Code Section 9.95.420 was “part and parcel of the decision process,” thereby warranting quasi-judicial immunity. The court rejected Plaintiff’s contention that the scheduling of the hearing was an administrative task not entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. Because the court agreed with the district court that the Review Board was entitled to quasi-judicial immunity, Plaintiff was unable to state a plausible claim for relief against the state Defendants. View "DALLIN FORT V. STATE OF WASHINGTON" 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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Plaintiff, who has paraplegia and uses a wheelchair for mobility, tried to book a room at the downtown Marriott Marquis using the hotel’s online reservation website. According to Plaintiff the website lacked sufficient information about the hotel’s accessibility features, which prompted him to sue Marriott Hotel Services Inc. (“Marriott”) under the ADA. Plaintiff takes issue with the website’s description of “Accessible Hotel Features,” and its list of accessible features in some guestrooms.   The district court granted Marriott’s motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), finding that the website complied with the DOJ Guidance and satisfied the Reservations Rule. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, for failure to state a claim.   Addressing “Auer deference” to an agency’s construction of its own regulation, the court concluded that the Reservations Rule was ambiguous in its directive that hotels "[i]dentify and describe accessible features” in “enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently” whether the hotel’s offerings suit their needs. To resolve that ambiguity, the court deferred to the Department of Justice’s sound and reasonable interpretation of that rule (the “DOJ Guidance”), published in an appendix to the Code of Federal Regulations. The court concluded that Defendant’s website satisfied the DOJ Guidance and thus the Reservations Rule, which contains different requirements depending on the age of a building. The court concluded that this distinction did not matter here because Defendant’s website passed muster under either set of requirements. View "SAMUEL LOVE V. MARRIOTT HOTEL SERVICES, INC." 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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The Arizona Department of Corrections issued Order 914, under which the Department may prohibit inmates from receiving mail containing “sexually explicit material.” The Department invoked the order to redact several issues of Prison Legal News, a monthly journal for prison inmates that covers developments in the criminal justice system. The publisher of Prison Legal News sued the Department under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, arguing that Order 914 violates the First Amendment on its face and as applied to Prison Legal News. The district court granted summary judgment to the publisher and entered a permanent injunction requiring the Department to amend its order and allow distribution of the issues that had been censored.   The Ninth Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part, vacated the permanent injunction in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court concluded that most of the order’s relevant prohibitions are facially constitutional under the First Amendment and that most of the as-applied challenges lack merit.   The court held that the penological interests in jail security and rehabilitation were legitimate and the order was neutral in the sense relevant to the analysis set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). The court determined, however, that one aspect of the order swept more broadly than could be explained by the Department’s penological objectives: section 1.2.17’s ban on content that “may” cause sexual arousal or be suggestive of sex. That provision was not rationally related to the Department’s interests. As to one portion of the May 2017 issue, the court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for the Department. View "PRISON LEGAL NEWS V. CHARLES RYAN" on Justia Law