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9th Circuit May 2014 News

9th Carves Hole in California's Damages Cap for Sec. 1983 Cases

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.

The Ninth Circuit can add another notch to its "Supreme Court reversal belt."

On Monday, the Court reversed a Ninth Circuit judgment dismissing a copyright heir's claim on the basis of laches. Finding the court's judgment in error, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded.

In Weirdest Battle Yet, Oregon Adds To Gay Marriage's Win Streak

In a textbook example of the absurdity that can occur when state officials, for better or worse, decide not to defend state laws, a federal court just made gay marriage legal over the opposition of no one at all, and with no appeal likely.

Shortly before U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane handed down the thirteenth straight victory for gay marriage since Windsor, the Ninth Circuit denied a stay of further proceedings requested by a third-party organization hoping to defend the voter-approved referendum.

AZ's 6 New Judges Include 1st Female Native American Fed. Judge

It's been a long time coming for Arizona's short-handed federal bench.

The local federal courts have been in a declared "state of emergency" since 2011, reports AZ Central, but the long-awaited reinforcements are on the way. Included in the slate of six are Rosemary Márquez, a defense attorney whose nomination has been pending for 1,057 days, and Diane Humetewa, a former U.S. attorney who will become the first Native American woman ever named to the federal bench, and third Native American overall.

It's been a rough battle to fill the seats, and an interesting turn of events for Humetewa, who was nominated to the bench by the same president who forced her resignation from the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2009.

For a country founded on the principle of the separation of church and state, we sure like to put giant religious imagery on hilltops whenever we get the chance -- and then we're surprised when someone complains.

The Mount Soledad saga continues, with still no word from the Supreme Court as to whether cert will be granted. And now, Big Mountain Jesus will be coming up before the Ninth Circuit too. Will Mount Soledad dictate the fate of Big Mountain Jesus?

License-Plate Reader's Mistake Leads to Excessive Force Claims

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.

On Monday, the Supreme Court released its order list, and while it only granted certiorari in two cases, it denied cert. in a slew of them. One of the cases that it denied had already been before the Supreme Court, was remanded, and the parties field for cert. -- again.

This time around, the Supreme Court said no, and let stand a Ninth Circuit opinion that found Los Angeles County in violation of pollution levels allowed under permit. Read on for details.

27-Year-Old Presidential Candidate Can Be Kept Off the Ballot

Peta Lindsay was the Peace and Freedom Party's chosen candidate for President of the United States in 2012. One small problem: she was 27 years old. California, predictably, refused to put her name on the ballot due to her obvious ineligibility.

She sued, claiming First Amendment and Equal Protection violations, as well as a violation of the Twentieth Amendment. (Yeah, we had to look it up too.) In any case, this went exactly as you would expect.

I've only recently added the Ninth Circuit to my roster of circuits that I cover, and it's already become one of my favorites. Is it the interesting issues that arise in the Ninth Circuit with its vast geographic scope? Nope. Is it the drama in the circuit as it fights to keep the title "most reversed circuit"? Nah.

It's the website. Really.

Which 9th Circuit Judges Failed to Recuse, Despite a Conflict?

A few weeks ago, we got a crash course in recusals and unrecusals, when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sold stocks and "unrecused" from two cases being before the high court.

While it's common sense that Federal judges would be required to self-recuse if their financial holdings lead to a conflict of interest, the unrecusal tax break, for when judges sell stock to remove a conflict, was a fun surprise. And as you might expect, courts have adopted conflict screening systems to ensure that these mandated recusals actually happen.

Even with a system in place, however, a few conflicts were overlooked.