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

9th Circuit May 2015 News

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.

The Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed an earlier injunction preventing Google and YouTube from hosting the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" film. That short, offensive and highly controversial film lead to violence and rioting in Egypt and elsewhere. It was briefly blamed for the attack on a U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Cindy Garcia, one of the actresses whose performance was manipulated in the film, had originally convinced the Ninth Circuit that she had a copyright interest in her scene, resulting in the take down order. That widely criticized decision was reversed today, with the court ruling that the prior decision got not just copyright law, but the First Amendment wrong.

Jury instructions that impermissibly merged first-degree murder's mens rea elements violated due process, the Ninth Circuit ruled last Friday. As a result, they invalidated the 1990 murder conviction and death sentence of Billy Ray Riley based on faulty jury instructions.

The guilt-phase instructions advised the jury that if it found premeditation, it has found deliberation. Those are two separate elements, however, and the state needed to prove each one, according to the Ninth.

In a class action lawsuit that's sure to get heart rates up, a Florida man has alleged that Fitbit's technology is a fraud. James Brickman claims that the company duped him and others out of their cash by making false claims that it could track their sleep.

Fitbit sells wearable tech devices that track a consumer's steps, calories burned, distance covered and other data. Those features have made it a widely popular accessory amongst fitness nerds. The company also advertises a sleep tracking feature, promising "quantified sleep" and "quality data." According to the class action, however, the product's sleep tracking function does not and cannot do what it claims.

Her Royal Highness isn't entitled to any restitution from an Australian criminal who bilked the U.S. and Canada out of millions in a fraudulent biodiesel scheme. Nathan "Nati" Stoliar has been described by The Australian as a "Forrest Gump-style character" of Down Under's "corporate sleaze set." Last year, he pled guilty to defrauding the U.S. government, forfeited $4 million and agreed to pay $1 million in restitution. Stoliar, whose name should have given him away, could face up to 69 years in prison and an additional $2 million in fines.

And the Queen wants her share. Since Canada was also a victim of Stoliar's, the Canadian Department of Justice, in Her name, sought restitution in federal court for a little over $1 million (Canadian). Unfortunately, Stoliar's scams were too separate to entitle Canada to restitution for his U.S. crimes, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Tuesday.

Environmental and community advocates won't be able to force stricter pesticide emissions restrictions in California, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Friday. A coalition of groups, lead by El Comite para el Bienestar de Earlimart, had challenged the state's Clean Air Act pesticide regulations, arguing that they did not reduce emissions enough and would lead to excessive levels of exposure for Latino youth.

The regulations in question were first proposed in 1994 to ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act. Under California's State Implementation Plan (SIP), certain pesticide emissions were to be reduced by up to 20 percent of their 1990 levels by 2005. It wasn't until 2012, however, that the EPA determined that the California SIP included enforceable regulations.

In 2004, in response to inmate violence, California State Prison at Corcoran instituted harsh restrictions on prisoners -- especially black prisoners. When an inmate sued, the jury was instructed that, while the restrictions should be judged by strict scrutiny, jurors should also give deference to prison officials' decisions. That's some sort of scrutiny, but it's not a strict one, the Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday.

In doing so, the court was forced to navigate somewhat conflicting Supreme Court precedents. On the one hand, strict scrutiny applies to racial classifications in prison. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has also ruled that courts must give deference to correctional officials when it comes ensuring the safety of prisoners. That deference, the Ninth found, doesn't reach far enough to touch equal protection claims.

Prenda Law Comes to 9th Cir., Predictably Dodges Questions

Tired of Prenda Law news? Yeah, we didn't think so. We're not either.

The disgraced, oft-sanctioned "law firm" that appeared to exist for the sole purpose of suing people for illegally downloading pornographic films, then extracting settlements from them, had its day before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week -- and things didn't go well.

Prenda Law is appealing a hilarious, Star Trek-themed order written by District Judge Otis Wright requiring Prenda Law's principals to pay sanctions and attorneys fees for their vexatious and evasive conduct.

A California high school student won't be going to prison for 30 months for shooting a laser pointer at a small aircraft, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Thursday. Adam Gardenhire, the kid who shined his friend's laser pointer at a Cessna airplane as it approached L.A.'s Burbank Airport in 2012, wasn't reckless, the court said, since he lacked knowledge of the risks he was creating.

Gardenhire will now face no more than ten months for his crime of endangering an aircraft. That should give him plenty of extra time to use lasers as they're intended -- to trick cats.