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

9th Circuit March 2015 News

Animal welfare advocates have filed two lawsuits challenging the transfer of a pair of Asian elephants from a zoo in Seattle to Oklahoma City, claiming the move violates the state constitution and federal Endangered Species Act.

The transfer comes after years of controversy surrounding the fate of Seattle's elephants. The Seattle zoo, Woodland Park, agreed to end its elephant display last year, following several years of public pressure. Now, the future home of the elephants is subject to contention. The zoo plans on transferring them to Oklahoma City, where they would be housed in a recent addition to that city's zoo, while advocates argue the elephants should be sent to a sanctuary.

Customer service workers at car dealerships aren't exempt from the FLSA's overtime protections, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Tuesday. The court's unanimous holding revived a lawsuit seeking unpaid overtime brought by four "service advisers" at a Mercedes Benz dealership in California.

The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes minimum pay and overtime requirements, but exempts many workers, such as managers and commissioned sales employees. The Ninth Circuit's ruling that dealership customer service workers don't fall under one of the Act's exceptions stands in opposition to holdings by the Fourth and Fifth Circuits, creating a new FLSA circuit split.

Eddie Bauer, the struggling outdoor retailer, got some more bad news last Friday, when the Ninth Circuit ruled that a consumer's ADA lawsuit against the company had been wrongly dismissed. Chris Kohler, a disabled man who relies upon a wheelchair for mobility, had sued Eddie Bauer for violations of the ADA.

The district court had concluded that Kohler needed expert opinions to determine whether conditions constituted ADA barriers. That's wrong, the Ninth Circuit ruled, emphasizing that non-expert estimations are perfectly acceptable in ADA suits.

Seattle's prohibition of bus-side advertisements criticizing funding of the Israeli military doesn't violate the advertisers' free speech, the Ninth Circuit ruled last Wednesday. The ads, sponsored by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, had originally been accepted by the bus authority, but were rejected after public controversy. The ads were to read "Israeli War Crimes -- Your Tax Dollars at Work."

The Ninth Circuit's finding that the bus program was a limited public forum breaks from rulings in other courts. The Sixth, Third, Second, Seventh and D.C. Circuits have all found similar transit advertising programs to be designated public forums, with significantly strong free speech rights.

The Ninth Circuit has reinstated a proposed class action against Johnson & Johnson and McNeil Nutritionals over allegedly misleading health claims and the trans fat content of their Benecol butter substitute, once hailed as one of the first foods "designed to act like medicine."

Plaintiff Robert Reid contended that Benecol was improperly being marketed as a health food, particularly challenging the product label's statements that it contained "no trans fats" and touting the cholesterol-reducing powers of plant stanol esters. The unanimous decision overturned a district court's ruling that such claims were pre-empted.

Benecol, whose name is meant to evoke "good cholesterol," claims to contain no trans fats and reduce cholesterol through the inclusion of plant stanol esters. Much to Reid's chagrin, a serving of Benecol included up to half a gram of trans fats.

Calif. Law Unconstitutionally Applied to Protesters, 9th Cir. Rules

A California state law prohibiting "disturb[ing] or break[ing] up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character" isn't facially unconstitutional, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit has ruled.

On the other hand, the law was unconstitutionally applied to CPR for Skid Row, a homeless rights organization centered in the Skid Row neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles, home to thousands of homeless people.

9th Cir. Won't Enjoin Sunnyvale, Calif.'s Gun-Control Ordinance

By now, we know that states and local governments can't unduly burden an individual's right to own a gun. That hasn't stopped governments from coming up with other ways to enact meaningful gun regulations, though.

In addition to making bullets more expensive, cities and states have enacted laws limiting the sizes of magazines. In Sunnyvale, California, the city prohibits anyone from owning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The Ninth Circuit today agreed with the district court that a preliminary injunction staying enforcement of the ordinance wasn't warranted.

The Ninth Circuit has ruled that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) erred in not considering imputed political opinion as a ground for asylum in an Armenian man's case.

Petitioner Hayk Khudaverdyan sought asylum in the United States. He claimed that he was unable to return to Armenia because he was persecuted by the military police for whistleblowing to the press.

Khudaverdyan, a manager at a hotel restaurant, was beaten by a local police chief's bodyguards after the chief was dissatisfied with the food and service. A week later, Khudaverdyan was approached by a reporter who wanted to interview him about the beating. At a second meeting with the reporter, Khudaverdyan refused to speak about the incident because he was afraid of retaliation. Immediately after this meeting, Khudaverdyan was kidnapped, interrogated, beaten, and accused of espionage by the military police. Khudaverdyan was also threatened with life imprisonment.