9th Circuit Injury & Tort Law News - U.S. Ninth Circuit
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Where the Eleventh Circuit dismissed a claim under the Alien Tort Claims Act last month, the Ninth Circuit -- under different, but similar, circumstances -- reversed a dismissal. The case before the Ninth Circuit was originally filed by former child slaves forced to harvest cocoa in Ivory Coast. The defendants were Nestle USA, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland -- all American food companies that made chocolate products from Ivory Coast cocoa.

Like the victims in the "Chiquita terror" cases, the child slaves from Ivory Coast alleged that the American companies provided assistance to farmers employing slave labor in an attempt to keep costs down.

In 2008, a conflict between a police officer and an autistic 21-year-old man came to a tragic end when the officer shot and killed Mohammad Usman Chaudhry. Officer Joseph Cruz initially claimed self-defense, that Chaudhry had come at him with a knife. But the evidence all pointed to a case of excessive force.

That case, along with many other allegations, led to a $1.7 million verdict against Cruz and the City of Los Angeles, but a federal district judge nixed $1 million in damages for excessive force based on the victim's pain and suffering, as such awards are not allowed under California state law.

The family appealed.

Technology fails. Computers crash, cell phone calls drop, and automated license-plate readers (ALPR) misread plates.

With that truism established, whose fault is it when a police officer (or six) stops a woman at gunpoint, holds her at gunpoint, handcuffed for twenty minutes, then realizes that the computer had a glitch?

The trial court called it a reasonable mistake, held that there was reasonable suspicion for a stop, and held that qualified immunity applied, but the Ninth Circuit reversed yesterday, holding that if all inferences were made in favor of the plaintiff, that there was a triable issue of fact over whether there was reasonable suspicion, whether excessive force was used and whether she was arrested, rather than subject to an investigatory stop.

We can't beat Judge Silverman's summary of the case, so we'll stick with the direct quote:

"Some days we are called upon to consider such profound issues as eleventh-hour death penalty appeals, catastrophic threats to the environment, intense and existential questions of civil and human rights, and the most complicated, controversial problems in civil, criminal and administrative law. Today we consider the coating on sunflower seeds."

Yes, this is a class-action lawsuit over the coating on sunflower seeds, and whether the sodium in the coating must be disclosed on the product's nutrition label.

Can't Find a Job? Maybe Spokeo's Misinformation Is to Blame

An unemployed job hunter can proceed with his lawsuit against Spokeo claiming violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Ninth Circuit ruled.

For those of you unfamiliar Spokeo: It's a creepily comprehensive data aggregating website with the slogan, "not your grandmother's phonebook." According to Forbes, it's also notoriously inaccurate. Go ahead, check yourself out -- just don't be surprised if you see yourself listed as the only child of a distant cousin whom you haven't seen in years.

In his suit, Thomas Robins claims the website's inaccurate information about him hurt his job prospects. For the courts, his harm raised classic standing issues.

"As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable."

That's the money quote from Judge Andrew Hurwitz's opinion for the Ninth Circuit panel, which held that bloggers enjoy the same free speech protections as traditional journalists, and under Gertz v. Welch, cannot be liable for defamation absent proof of negligence regarding the truth of the allegedly defamatory material.

That's true even if, as the court explicitly noted, the blogger "apparently has a history of making similar allegations and seeking payoff in exchange for retraction."

Fiending for a live stream of oral arguments in landmark cases? As we reported last week, the Ninth Circuit is going to lead the way in transparency by becoming the first Circuit Court of Appeals to stream its en banc proceedings live, online, at the court's website.

What cases are set for arguments? DNA collection, criminal matters, immigration, and a police shooting are all on the docket.

A class-action lawsuit against the makers of the controversial (and seemingly extinct) Lazy Cakes melatonin-laced brownies made a brief appearance in the Ninth Circuit earlier this week. The court, in an unpublished opinion, affirmed the dismissal of the class action lawsuit, yet reversed in part, and remanded with instructions to allow the plaintiff, Lee Cheramie, to amend the complaint.

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The brownies, which attracted the scrutiny of regulators and health professionals due to the cartoon Lazy Larry mascot, which some argued appealed to children, and due to the high melatonin content, disappeared after the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to the company, stating that melatonin was not approved as a food additive.

You'd think having multiple criminal cases dismissed due to a tainted warrant would be enough, but after Jared Armstrong escaped the clutches of the Alaska criminal justice system, the alleged child predator then sued the cops.

His luck just ran out. More than two years after the case reached the Ninth Circuit, the court finally granted the underlying appeal, and immunity to the officers.

We thought there was something funny about the officer's testimony about his fear while being trapped in a rapidly accelerating vehicle, especially considering the glacial pace of a Mazda MPV at top speed. Judge Clifton thought so too, tossing out 0-60 times like he was writing for Car and Driver, rather than a dissent.

Judge Clifton's numbers must've worked, however, as this police shooting case, one of a series of shootings that led to the Anaheim race riots, was just granted an en banc rehearing this morning.