U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit News and Information Blog

U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


Right before it left for summer break, the Supreme Court granted cert to a case that will leave many teachers worried about their future. On the last day of its 2015 term, the Court agreed to review a constitutional challenge to state rules requiring some government workers to pay fees to unions they have not joined. The suit came from a group of non-union California school teachers who claimed the fees infringed upon their First Amendment rights.

According to the non-union teachers, they should not be forced to financially support a union they do not agree with. Labor advocates, the California Attorney General, and Supreme Court precedent, however, argue that the teachers benefit from organized labor and should therefore be required to pay their fair share for the benefit. It's likely that precedent won't stand much longer.

The Supreme Court has upheld Arizona's use of independent commissions in drawing legislative districts. In order to prevent gerrymandering, the state elected, through public referendum, to establish an independent commission to draw congressional districts. The state legislature challenged this practice, arguing that it violated the constitution's Elections Clause, which declares that the time, place and manner of Congressional elections should be determined "in each State by the Legislature therefor," though Congress can alter those regulations.

The opinion, written by Justice Ginsburg and joined by Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, held that states weren't limited to having their legislatures in charge of legislative districting, so long as the choice is enacted through proper means. "Legislature," read this way, isn't limited to elective representatives -- it means any law-making authority, including the people themselves.

The Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reheard oral arguments last Tuesday in the case of Peruta v. San Diego County, a controversial challenge to California's concealed carry laws. In California, concealed carry -- the possession of a concealed firearm in public -- is generally prohibited, with permits issued only when one can show just cause for needing to take their gun out for a walk through the town square. Personal safety alone is not enough.

Two Ninth Circuit judges struck down that rule in February, 2014, holding that the "right to bear arms includes the right to carry an operable firearm outside the home for the lawful purpose of self-defense." The en banc rehearing could repudiate that decision.

Just in time for the release of the third season of "Orange is the New Black," the Ninth Circuit has decided an important case involving the governance of women's prisons. If you're a fan of the show, you'll remember that last season, one female prisoner was impregnated by a guard.

Such a plot point wouldn't be possible were the show set in Washington state, where state law prevents male correctional officers from working in many positions in women's prisons. That restriction isn't prohibited sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Ninth Circuit ruled last Friday.

Shell is more excited than ever to begin searching for oil off the coast of Alaska. Last Thursday, the Ninth Circuit removed a major hurdle for Shell's exploration plans by approving the company's Arctic spill response plans.

When the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) approved Shell's response plans, a number of environmental organizations sued the Secretary of the Interior and the Department of the Interior under the Administrative Procedures Act. The district court found for Shell, determining that the BSEE's approval wasn't arbitrary or capricious. The Ninth Circuit agreed.

Big Lagoon Rancheria, an Indian tribe near Humboldt County, CA, won a major victory in a recent Ninth Circuit decision. Following the decision, the tribe may finally be able to go forward with its plans to build a new Indian casino and hotel.

The lawsuit involved a few acres of land near Humboldt County. In 1994, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) gave this land in trust to Big Lagoon Rancheria, a small but federally recognized tribe.

The parents of a disabled student in Hawaii are entitled to reimbursement from the state for his private school expenses, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Friday. Since the Hawaii Department of Education failed to propose an adequate public school placement for the student, it was responsible for paying for his private education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Further, the parents were entitled to two years to seek reimbursement, since the private placement had stemmed from joint, if litigious, decision between the family and the school system and was not taken on unilaterally.

Brett Pensinger, a teen-aged killer who was sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of a five-month-old more than 30 years ago, won't be executed after the Ninth Circuit overturned his death sentence on Tuesday. In 1981, the 19-year-old Pensinger kidnapped a San Bernadino infant and her brother. The brother was dropped off unharmed, but the infant was found murdered and mutilated.

Pensinger was subsequently convicted of murder, with a kidnapping and torture enhancement, and sentenced to death. However, the jury was given improper instructions, leading to the overturning of his sentence many years later.

Idaho's ban on abortions that occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy has been struck down as unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit. That law placed an arbitrary time limit on abortions before viability, the Court found, and violated women's constitutional right to obtain an abortion before fetal viability.

The case arose after Idaho prosecuted a single mother of three for inducing her own abortion. The Ninth had recently struck down a similar law in Arizona, but several other states have enacted laws limiting abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy.

The Ninth Circuit has declined to rehear an ERISA case from 2014 which held that a lawsuit by employees of the biotech company Amgen can go forward. Those employees accuse Amgen of violating its fiduciary duties by including the company's own stock in retirement holdings when plan administrators should have known that stock was overvalued.

The decision is one of the first ERISA-related rulings since the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the presumption of prudence for Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) fiduciaries. The refusal to rehear it en banc has lead to a strongly worded disagreement between Judges Fletcher and Kozinski.