9th Circuit Appeals Judge Dies at 80


On the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for 25 years, Judge David R. Thompson died Saturday after a sudden illness. He was 80.

Thompson was nominated for the court in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan. The jurist took senior status in 1998, according to a release, "but continued to carry a substantial caseload while also serving as the court's Death Penalty Case Coordinator."

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Judge Thompson, who served this court with distinction for 25 years," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said in the release. "He was an esteemed jurist, highly regarded by his colleagues and by the many lawyers who argued before him."

Notable opinions written by Judge Thompson include:

  • Wood v. Ostrander, a 1989 decision which established the standard for deliberate indifference in police misconduct cases. The case involved a woman passenger in a car pulled over by police. After arresting the driver for driving while intoxicated and confiscating the car keys, the officer left the woman alone in a known high-crime area at 2:30 a.m. She was raped on her way home. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the officer, concluding that the woman raised a genuine issue of fact as to whether the officer was deliberately indifferent to her safety, and whether his actions affirmatively placed her in danger.
  • Coleman v. McCormick, a 1989 en banc ruling involving a Montana man sentenced to death under two different state sentencing schemes. The appellant was first sentenced under a statute later held unconstitutional. After a new statute that allowed additional factors to be considered was enacted, the man was again sentenced to death. The court reversed the second death sentence, holding that the re-sentencing violated the man’s right to due process. The court concluded that the death sentence imposed under the new statute hinged on factors appellant could not possibly have known were relevant to sentencing when his trial took place.
  • Oregonian Publishing Company v. U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, a 1990 decision involving a high-profile criminal case in which the defendant sought to have sealed a plea agreement with the government. Several newspapers intervened to oppose the motion to seal. After the district court sealed the records, the Ninth Circuit granted a writ of mandamus and ordered them released, reasoning that plea agreements have typically been open to the public.
  • Bunnell v. Sullivan, a 1991 en banc ruling that established the standard for evaluating complaints of disabling pain in Social Security cases. The appeal involved two cases in which administrative law judges disregarded claims of disabling pain because the claimants failed to present objective medical findings to fully corroborate the severity of pain alleged. The court held that although the claimant must produce medical evidence establishing the underlying impairment, medical findings that support the severity of that pain are not required, and the adjudicator may not discredit the claimant’s allegations of severity of pain solely on the ground that allegations are unsupported by objective medical evidence.
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