Friday, July 29, 2011

Starr v. Baca, 632 F.3d 1202 (9th Cir. 2011)

In a 2-1 decision a 9th Circuit panel reversed a District Court ruling disallowing the plaintiff to proceed against the Sheriff of Los Angeles County in his individual capacity. The Complaint alleged that sheriff's deputies refused to assist him when he was attacked in jail.  The panel majority, conceding the Supreme Court prevented a theory of respondeat superior liability of government supervisors unless personally involved in an injury to an inmate, and distinguishing the most recent decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009),  resorts to the doctrine of "deliberate indifference" under the 8th and 14th Amendments applicable to individuals employed by public entities.

The underlying dispute concerns the pleadings alleged in plaintiff's Complaint.  Because the Complaint lists nothing more than a series of Constitutional violations, none including the Sheriff himself, as ably discussed in the dissent, the panel nevertheless reverses and remands on "deliberate indifference" grounds.

The district court allowed numerous amendments to the pleadings, noting the absence of facts and reviewing Supreme Court limitations on pleadings. The dissent quotes from the judge's dialogue with counsel and his explanation for his ruling.

Unquestionably there is some confusion in the sufficiency of pleadings in federal court.  Under its pleading rules, the stricter requirements of state pleadings are abandoned in exchange for a simple statement of facts. Of course this leads to an easy method of filing a case and hoping discovery will yield facts, and results in endless arguments. This practice allows innumerable cases, particularly civil rights, to extort damages from defendants who fear excessive court costs-as the majority concedes.

The case will be undoubtedly be reviewed by the Supreme Court.  Seven judges dissented from rehearing en banc; 2011 WL 4582500 (C.A.9).  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

U.S. v. Gonzalez, 131 S.Ct. 3055 (2011)

For several years the Supreme Court had approved of vehicular searches incidental to the arrest of the driver.  Law enforcement officers had relied on this opinion, and in U.S. v. Gonzales they searched the defendant's glove compartment as an incident of his arrest.  Prior to the search, the Supreme Court had significantly changed the rule, and prohibited warrantless searches of vehicles incident to arrest except under certain circumstances; Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009).
The 9th Circuit panel held the Gant rule should apply retroactively in Gonzalez and suppressed the evidence, completely disregarding the rationale of the Fourth Amendment, a judicially invented rule attempting to prevent officers from using duress. The dissenting judge challenged this "reasoning" and wrote a critical opinon disagreeing with the other judges. A rehearing en banc was denied.
On rehearing,here are the three judges response to the dissent:

B. FLETCHER, PAEZ, and N.R. SMITH, Circuit Judges, concurring in the denial of rehearing en banc [in U.S. v. Gonzalez]:
"Judge Bea's dissent presents a distorted view of what this case is all about. It requires a response that can be part of the public record. Otherwise our panel's reasoned response to the en banc call would remain hidden from public view."
The "distorted view of what this case is all about" apparently did not sit well with the Supreme Court, and the Justices reversed the 9th Circuit without even conducting a hearing citing Davis v. U.S., 131 S.Ct. 2419 (2011). In Davis, the Supreme Court held the officers who were searching in good faith under existing law should not be penalized on grounds the Justices changed the rules. The Justices, citing this rule, reversed the 9th Circuit.
 Yes, the public should know the three 9th Circuit judges named above had ruled improperly, were reversed, and the dissenting judge did not have a "distorted view."  By all means, let's make this reversal of the 9th Circuit panel part of the public record.
Finally, in a non published opinion the per curium court affirmed the District Court denial of defendant's motion to suppress.  No apology for reversal of its  "reasoned opinion" or its censorious snipe at the 9th Circuit dissenting judge.