On April 25, 2022, President Biden nominated Judge Salvador Mendoza, Jr. to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to the seat being vacated by Judge M. Margaret McKeown, who is taking senior status.
Judge Mendoza has served on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington since 2014. He was the first Latino judge to serve in the Eastern District. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Mendoza worked in criminal law; he briefly served as a prosecutor before focusing on criminal defense work as a solo practitioner and then president of a small law firm. If confirmed to the Ninth Circuit, Judge Mendoza would be the first Latino judge to ever serve on the Ninth Circuit from Washington state.
Judge Mendoza was born in Pacoima, California in 1971 to parents who immigrated from Mexico. When he was a child, his parents, who worked as farmworkers, moved to the Yakima Valley in Washington state. Judge Mendoza graduated with a B.A. from University of Washington in 1994 and earned a J.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law in 1997. While in law school, Judge Mendoza interned at United Farm Workers of America and with the Office of the Washington State Attorney General.
Judge Mendoza’s varied legal career, which included work in government and private practice, focused on criminal law. For two years directly after law school, Judge Mendoza served as a prosecutor in the Office of the Washington State Attorney General and the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
For the next decade-and-a-half, Judge Mendoza worked in private practice and focused on criminal defense work. First working as a solo practitioner, and later as president of a small firm, Judge Mendoza represented both private and court-appointed clients in state and federal court. He represented clients in a wide range of criminal matters and maintained a busy docket of up to 250 criminal cases each year.
While maintaining his practice, Judge Mendoza was involved in the local courts system. He served as a judge pro tempore, a substitute judge, and heard civil, criminal, and juvenile matters. In 2002, he also helped create the first drug court for juvenile offenders in Washington State’s Benton and Franklin Counties; drug courts are an alternative to traditional criminal courts for individuals with substance abuse issues that focus on treatment and supervision rather than incarceration.
Judge Mendoza has served as a judge for almost a decade. In 2013, Washington Governor Jay Inslee appointed Judge Mendoza to serve on the Superior Court for Benton and Franklin Counties. Less than a year later, on January 16, 2014, President Obama nominated Judge Mendoza to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. He was confirmed by the Senate on June 17, 2014, receiving overwhelming bipartisan support with a 92-4 Senate vote. During his time on the District Court, Judge Mendoza has issued over 9,000 orders and opinions. He has also sat by designation on the Ninth Circuit several times, authoring two opinions while there.
Judge Mendoza has adjudicated a wide variety of civil rights matters. In Davis v. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Barbara Davis sued the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the Riverside School District after they ignored signs of child abuse against her grandson, G.B. DSHS placed G.B., who was five years old, with an aunt after his parents died and soon after started showing signs of severe abuse. The signs of abuse were not consistently reported to DSHS and G.B. was killed by his aunt. Judge Mendoza denied Riverside School District’s motion to dismiss the case, finding that Ms. Davis provided adequate evidence that the District’s policies and customs caused G.B.’s death. Judge Mendoza later denied school administrators’ efforts to escape liability with the qualified immunity defense, a decision that was upheld by the Ninth Circuit.
While a state judge, Judge Mendoza ruled on key pre-trial motions in the LGBTQ+ rights case Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers. In that case, a gay couple asked Arlene’s Flowers to arrange flowers for their wedding, but the florist declined the request, citing her religious beliefs. Judge Mendoza granted a motion to consolidate the case with another filed by the state Attorney General and denied defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment. Judge Mendoza stopped working on the case shortly thereafter due to his elevation to federal court. The Washington State Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of plaintiffs, finding that the store violated state anti-discrimination law.
Judge Mendoza has consistently made decisions to uphold consumer protection laws. For example, in 2015, plaintiff George Langley, who was insured by Geico, sued the company alleging a violation of consumer protection laws. Plaintiff purchased an RV for 50,000 and put roughly 200,000 dollars of repair into the vehicle. When plaintiff’s RV was destroyed in a fire, Geico refused to consider plaintiff’s extensive improvements and repairs and offered to pay plaintiff only 50,500. After a bench trial, Judge Mendoza concluded that Geico violated consumer protection laws and that plaintiff was entitled to damages in the amount of 621,808.92 as well as attorneys’ fees.
Judge Mendoza has extensive experience adjudicating criminal matters. For example, he recently presided over proceedings for one of the deadliest recent shootings in Washington state. In June 2019, James Cloud, assisted by Donovan Quinn Cloud, killed five people in White Swan, a community on the Yakima Indian Reservation. Judge Mendoza presided over proceedings for both defendants, including James Cloud’s trial, which ultimately resulted in the jury finding him guilty on thirteen of fourteen counts. After the trial, the second defendant, Donovan Quinn Cloud, pled guilty. Sentencing for both defendants is scheduled for July 2022.
Judge Mendoza’s rulings have consistently enforced federal environmental protections. For example, in City of Spokane v. Monsanto, the City of Spokane sued Monsanto, an agricultural corporation, and other corporations alleging that the companies knowingly polluted the Spokane River. Monsanto executives knew for decades that their products were toxic to fish, birds, and humans and continued to produce the chemicals anyway. Judge Mendoza denied defendants’ attempts to dismiss the case. Judge Mendoza later stayed proceedings after the parties reached a tentative 500-million-dollar settlement as part of a nationwide class action encompassing the case.
In Center for Environmental Law and Policy v. United States Fish & Wildlife Service, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) was operating a fish hatchery without the appropriate permit and polluting a local creek. Plaintiffs, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP), sued and sought an injunction, alleging that FWS and the hatchery violated the Clean Water Act. Judge Mendoza granted CELP’s motion for permanent injunction and ordered FWS to limit pollution, work with CELP to develop a monitoring plan, and obtain the required permit.
Judge Mendoza presided over a multi-year case in which Empire Health Foundation (EHF), a Washington nonprofit, sued a for-profit health company, Community Health Systems (CHS), for failing to provide charity care for patients. EHF alleged that CHS’s local hospitals violated the Washington Charity Care Act, which requires hospitals to provide free or discounted care to low-income individuals. When both parties moved for summary judgment, Judge Mendoza found in favor of the nonprofit, finding that defendants had indeed violated the law. After the decision, the parties reached a settlement agreement in which CHS discharged as much as 50 million dollars of uncollected patient debt.
Judge Mendoza has applied critical worker protections. He has overseen several important worker class action lawsuits. In Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Company,farmworkers who were paid per piece of fruit picked alleged that Dovex violated state and federal labor law by failing to pay them for other work. Due to novel questions of Washington state law, the case was sent to the Washington Supreme Court, which ruled that pieceworkers must be paid for time spent performing activities outside of picking at either minimum wage or a greater agreed upon rate. The case returned to Judge Mendoza, who approved a settlement between the workers and company. In Renteria v. Stemilt Agricultural Services, plaintiff Omar Palma Renteria sued Stemilt, a fruit grower, on behalf of thousands of other farmworkers. The class alleged that Stemilt had violated anti-trafficking laws, discriminated based on plaintiffs’ national origin, and violated wage laws by failing to pay for “non-productive” hours such as wait time and equipment transportation time. In 2021, Judge Mendoza approved a three million dollar settlement impacting over 10,000 eligible workers. In Sali v. Corona Regional Medical Center, Southern California nurses sued their hospital for violating state labor law and sought class certification from the U.S. District Court. That court denied class certification for reasons including that the class did not meet predominance requirements and that the attorneys were not adequate class counsel. The nurses appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit. Judge Mendoza, who was sitting by designation, reversed the denial of certification; he found that the class did meet the predominance requirement and that attorneys were adequate class counsel.
Judge Mendoza has also adjudicated numerous individual labor and employment cases. In Baker v. United Parcel Service, plaintiff Baker worked as a driver at United Postal Service (UPS) Ohio and served in the U.S. Army Reserve. While UPS compensated other employees for jury duty, bereavement, and sick leave, it did not compensate Mr. Baker for his required short-term military service each year. Mr. Baker sued UPS for failing to compensate him, alleging a violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. Judge Mendoza denied UPS’s motion to dismiss and allowed the case to move forward.
PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITES AND ACCOLADES
Throughout his career, Judge Mendoza has worked to make legal services more accessible in his community. He served on the Board of Directors for the Benton-Franklin Legal Aid Society and the Benton & Franklin Counties Circle of Hope Foundation for Drug Courts. For over a decade, he has led the planning and implementation of the Washington State Minority & Justice Commission’s Tri-Cities Youth and Justice Forum, a day-long event aimed at encouraging students from underrepresented communities to pursue careers within the legal system.
Judge Mendoza has received numerous accolades for his work in the community, including the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Leadership Award, the Benton-Franklin Legal Aid Society Award for Outstanding Service, and the Columbia Basin College Martin Luther King, Jr. Spirit Award.