Hitoshi Yoshikawa v. Troy Seguirant

FOR PUBLICATION UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT HITOSHI YOSHIKAWA, No. 21-15970 Plaintiff-Appellee, D.C. No. v. 1:18-cv-00162- JAO-RT TROY K. SEGUIRANT, Individually, Defendant-Appellant, OPINION and CITY AND COUNTY OF HONOLULU; GREG TALBOYS; AGT CONSTRUCTION, LLC; JAMES A. SCHMIT, Defendants. Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii Jill Otake, District Judge, Presiding Submitted April 14, 2022* San Francisco, California Filed July 25, 2022 * The panel unanimously concludes this case is suitable for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. App. P. 34(a)(2). 2 YOSHIKAWA V. SEGUIRANT Before: Jay S. Bybee and Ryan D. Nelson, Circuit Judges, and Susan R. Bolton,** District Judge. Opinion by Judge Bybee SUMMARY*** Civil Rights / Qualified Immunity The panel affirmed the district court’s order denying building inspector Troy Seguirant’s motion to dismiss, on the basis of qualified immunity, a claim brought by Hitoshi Yoshikawa under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Seguirant determined that Yoshikawa’s renovation of a property violated local ordinances. Although he conceded the ordinance violation, Yoshikawa alleged that the enforcement action against him was motivated by racial animus, in violation of § 1981. The panel held that, in addressing a qualified immunity claim in an action against an officer for an alleged violation of a constitutional right, the court first asks whether, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, the facts alleged show that the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right. If not, the complaint must be dismissed ** The Honorable Susan R. Bolton, United States District Judge for the District of Arizona, sitting by designation. *** This summary constitutes no part of the opinion of the court. It has been prepared by court staff for the convenience of the reader. YOSHIKAWA V. SEGUIRANT 3 for failure to state a claim. Second, the court asks whether the constitutional or statutory right was clearly established, such that the officer had fair notice that his conduct was unlawful. The panel held that Yoshikawa stated a § 1981 damages claim against Seguirant, a state actor. Under Comcast Corp. v. Nat’l Ass’n Afr. Am.-Owned Media, 140 S. Ct. 1009 (2020), an allegation of discrimination on the basis of race is a but-for element of a claim brought under § 1981. Disagreeing with Seguirant’s contention that Yoshikawa’s undisputed violation of building regulations created an absolute defense to any claim of but-for causation, the panel explained that such a rule would mean that a plaintiff would lose on a § 1981 claim as long as the defendant provided some justification for the discriminatory act. The panel concluded that Yoshikawa’s allegations, if proven, established but-for causation, and he therefore stated a § 1981 claim. The panel further held that Seguirant’s alleged actions violated clearly established law because he was accused of intentional racial discrimination, a violation of a well- established Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from racial animus in public decisions. The panel found irrelevant to qualified immunity, at the motion to dismiss stage, the issue of …

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