This week, the Ninth Circuit approves a district court decision to decline supplemental jurisdiction in a joint California Unruh Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act case.
The Court holds that a district court properly declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a California Unruh Civil Rights Act claim in a joint Unruh/Americans with Disabilities Act case.
The Panel: Judges Smith, Jr., Bade, and VanDyke, with Judge VanDyke writing the opinion, and Judge Bade writing a partial concurrence and partial dissent.
Key Highlight: “The district court’s order declining supplemental jurisdiction was issued weeks before it ruled on the ADA claim, the court explained why the concerns surrounding ADA/Unruh claims applied to the case before it, and the court explicitly considered the relevant factors when it invoked [28 U.S.C.] § 1367(c)(4). That is all that our caselaw requires.”
Background: Plaintiff Thanh Vo brought suit against defendant John Choi, the owner of a shopping plaza in Garden Grove, California, for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. A default was entered after Choi failed to respond to Vo’s complaint and Vo then filed a motion for default judgment on both claims. The district court ordered Vo to show cause why the court should not decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her Unruh Act claim, which may have been subject to heightened pleading requirements in state court. The district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the Unruh Civil Rights Act claim because the court concluded it would be unfair to defendants if plaintiffs could bypass the limitations California state law had imposed on such claims simply by bringing them in state court. The court then entered a default judgment on the ADA claim and Vo appealed.
Result: The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Court explained that the framework for evaluating a district court’s decision not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(4) in a joint ADA and Unruh Act suit was set out in Arroyo v. Rosas, 19 F.4th 1202 (9th Cir. 2021). That case instructed that the court must articulate why the circumstances of the case are exceptional, and whether the balance of the values set out in United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715 (1966) provides compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction in such circumstances. Applying this framework here, the Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining supplemental jurisdiction. Exceptional circumstances were present here because it would not be fair to defendants and would be an affront to the comity between federal and state courts to allow plaintiffs to evade California’s procedural requirements by bringing their claims in federal court. There were also compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction in this case because, unlike in Arroyo, where the district court waited until a late stage of litigation to decline jurisdiction and thus could not serve Gibbs’s fairness and comity values by doing so, the district court here had declined supplemental jurisdiction over Vo’s Unruh Act claim well before it ruled on the merits of the ADA claim. The Ninth Circuit disagreed that the district court’s decision was insufficiently case-specific, agreeing that a district court is required to engage in some level of case-specific analysis, but concluding that addressing the specific circumstances underlying Vo’s ADA and Unruh Act claims was enough. The Court rejected the dissent’s suggestion that, in order to properly address the compelling reasons prong, the district court must decide threshold Unruh Act issues such as whether a particular plaintiff is a high-frequency plaintiff or whether heightened pleading requirements apply and have been met.
Judge Bade concurred in part and dissented in part. Judge Bade agreed that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that exceptional circumstances under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(4) were presented by the distinctive configuration of California-law rules that would be rendered ineffectual if the district court were to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. She also agreed that the district court’s use of a boilerplate order was not insufficiently case-specific as to per se constitute an abuse of discretion or an error. She disagreed, however, with the conclusion that the district court provided compelling reasons for declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction in this case, and so would have reversed. The district court had reasoned that compelling reasons existed because it would not be fair to defendants to allow plaintiffs to evade California’s state law requirements for Unruh claims but had not made factual findings to support that Vo was “evading” those requirements. Judge Bade opined that the majority’s decision “undermines the responsibility of the federal courts to decide cases within their jurisdiction by giving a district court carte blanche to avoid any issue of state law it would prefer to not to address under the guide of making a ‘rare’ exercise of discretion to decline supplemental jurisdiction under § 1367(c)(4).”