Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Urbana police officers responded to a domestic dispute. In their report, the officers noted that Hamilton called Wright a “pedophile” during the altercation. No arrests were made. The following morning, McNaught, who specializes in crimes against children, reviewed the report as a matter of course, and called Hamilton. Hamilton granted permission to search the couple’s apartment and computers for evidence of child pornography. McNaught seized a desktop computer from the living room; forensic analysis revealed images of child pornography on the hard drive. Wright was charged with possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252A, and sexually exploiting a minor. He moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that Hamilton lacked authority to consent to the warrantless search. McNaught testified that Hamilton had stated that Wright used his cellphone to visit a website called “Jailbait,” which McNaught recognized as featuring pornographic images of underage girls. Hamilton also mentioned seeing a video with a disturbing title on the computer. McNaught testified that he had “previewed” the hard drive by connecting it to his laptop, a standard procedure. Hamilton described the living arrangements at the apartment, which was leased in her name. The district judge denied the motion. Wright pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of suppression. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although Wright owned the computer, Hamilton was a joint user who enjoyed virtually unlimited access to and control over it. View "United States v. Wright" on Justia Law

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An Illinois inmate sued a corrections officer, Liszewski, with whom he had had an altercation almost a decade ago, alleging excessive force. On remand after an initial dismissal, a jury determined that Liszewski had used excessive force, but awarded Moore only one dollar on the ground (one of the options given in jury instructions) that the excessive force had not caused injury, so there was nothing to compensate. After exploring the justifications for awarding nominal damages as opposed to simply rejecting the suit, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. “By making the deprivation of such rights . . . actionable for nominal damages without proof of actual injury, the law recognizes the importance to organized society that those rights be scrupulously observed; but at the same time, it remains true to the principle that substantial damages should be awarded only to compensate actual injury or, in the case of exemplary or punitive damages, to deter or punish malicious deprivations of rights.” The court noted evidence that Moore’s the injury was attributable to having fallen and hit his head on a table, an accident not caused by Liszewski. View "Moore v. Liszewski" on Justia Law

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Kubsch was twice convicted of the 1998 murders of his wife, her son, and her ex-husband and was sentenced to death. No eyewitness, DNA evidence, fingerprints, or other forensic evidence linked Kubsch to the murders. After exhausting state remedies, he filed an unsuccessful petition for federal habeas relief. The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed, rejecting Kubsch’s arguments that the Indiana trial court wrongfully excluded evidence of a nine-year-old witness’s exculpatory but hearsay statement to police; that he was denied effective assistance of counsel with respect to that witness’s statement; and that his decision to represent himself at sentencing was not knowing and voluntary. On rehearing en banc, the Seventh Circuit reversed. The case concerns the total exclusion of relevant evidence, not with a limitation on the way the evidence can be used; the defendant’s interest in the evidence was at its zenith. The excluded evidence was easily the strongest evidence on Kubsch’s only theory of defense—actual innocence. It was not cumulative, unfairly prejudicial, potentially misleading, or merely impeaching. It was unusually reliable. The Indiana Supreme Court’s conclusion that Supreme Court precedent (Chambers) did not require the admission of this critical evidence was either contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, the Chambers line of Supreme Court precedent. View "Kubsch v. Neal" on Justia Law

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O.B., two years old, has Down Syndrome, lung disease, and cardiac abnormalities. He is ventilator‐dependent and cannot digest take oral nutrition. O.B. is the named plaintiff in a class action against the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, alleging violation of the Medicaid Act. The Act defines “medical assistance” as including “early and periodic screening, diagnostic, and treatment services [EPSDT] … for individuals … under the age of 21,” 42 U.S.C. 1396d(a)(4)(B), and requires "reasonable promptness." EPSDT services include “private duty nursing services,” so that the child lives at home. When he was nine months old, the Department approved $19,718 monthly to pay nurses for up to 18 hours a day to care for O.B. at home. It took his parents almost a year to obtain home‐nursing staff so that O.B. could go home. The district judge certified a class of Illinois children who have been approved for home nursing but who have not been able to hire nurses. The judge ordered the Department to “take immediate and affirmative steps to arrange directly or through referral . . . in‐home shift nursing services.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Congress has clarified that where the Act refers to the provision of services, a participating state is required to provide (or ensure the provision of) services, not merely pay for them and that O.B.’s in-hospital care cost four times what home nursing would cost. View "O. B. v. Norwood" on Justia Law

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Melton working in the Tippecanoe County Surveyor’s Office, asked his supervisor if he could take a class during work hours and make up the time by taking short lunches and coming in early. His supervisor responded that Melton could take the class, but due to concerns about tracking time and supervision, he would have to treat the time as unpaid or vacation time. Melton agreed. When his class began, Melton worked through lunch and came in early for a week. Melton was paid for the additional time, but was terminated for failing to follow his supervisor’s order. Melton filed suit, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 207(a), and the Indiana Wage Claim law, claiming that when he put his actual time worked on his timecard, the secretary would reduce his hours, telling him that he could not be paid for more than 37.5 hours in a workweek. The county argued that Melton was paid for the time he certified, his recollection was “demonstrably unreliable,” and he did not pursue remedies through the county. The district court granted the county summary judgment, finding that Melton had only designated 100 minutes of uncompensated time, which did not establish a FLSA violation because Melton had not shown that he worked more than 40 hours per week. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Melton had chosen not to respond to the county’s allegation that his evidence was implausible. View "Melton v. Tippecanoe Cnty." on Justia Law

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Hilger, the president of Allied, which provides customized products to financial institutions, was named in separate lawsuits brought by credit unions in Michigan and Tennessee. Hilger’s codefendants include O’Malley, who sells life insurance through O’MA, and Phillips, who brokers the sale of life-insurance to third parties through Berkshire and Capital. The credit unions allege that the defendants persuaded them to fund loans used to pay life-insurance premiums by overstating the value of the policies that would serve as collateral. Hilger tendered his defense to Landmark under a professional liability policy held by O’MA. Although Hilger is not a named insured under O’MA’s policy, the policy defines “covered persons and entities” to include O’MA’s independent contractors. Landmark sought a declaratory judgment that it has no duty to defend, arguing that Hilger did not perform the professional services at issue in the Michigan and Tennessee suits as an O’MA independent contractor. The district court, applying Illinois law, entered judgment on the pleadings for Hilger. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Landmark is entitled to take discovery and offer evidence regarding the true nature of Hilger’s relationship to O’MA. Judgment on the pleadings was inappropriate. Under Illinois law an insurer that seeks a declaration of its duty to defend may offer evidence outside the underlying complaint for purposes of establishing that no duty exists. View "Landmark Am. Ins. Co v. Hilger" on Justia Law
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In 2013, the U.S. Soccer Team Players Association disapproved the US Soccer Federation’s proposed tequila poster advertisement, which contained player images. The Federation issued a notice, declaring that the collective bargaining agreement/uniform player agreement (CBA/UPA) did not require Players Association approval for use of player likenesses for six or more players in print creative advertisements by sponsors. The Players Association filed a grievance and demanded arbitration, arguing that the CBA/UPA did require approval, based on the past practice of the parties. The arbitrator issued an award in favor of the Players Association. The district court confirmed the award. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The contractual provisions are clear and unambiguous, establishing that the parties contemplated and anticipated the use of player likenesses for six players or more and agreed only to “request, but not require” a sponsor contribution to the applicable player pool for advertisements of the type at issue. No other terms that contradict this “request, but not require” condition. View "United States Soccer Fed'n Inc. v. United States Nat'l Soccer Ass'n" on Justia Law

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In November 2012, 18 months before Indiana’s primary election, Common Cause sought a declaration that Indiana Code 33– 33–49–13 violated its members’ First Amendment right to cast a meaningful vote. The statute established the system for electing Marion Superior Court judges, providing that a political party could not nominate through the primary election more than half of the candidates eligible to sit on that court. Political parties eligible to hold primaries were those whose candidates for Indiana Secretary of State received at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the last general election; since 1952, only the Republican and Democratic parties have met that threshold, effectively limiting the candidates that could be selected by the voters. Marion County was the only place in the country to employ such a process. While the litigation was pending, Marion County held its primary election. There were 16 open Superior Court positions; eight Republican and 11 Democratic candidates (including plaintiffs) ran. Plaintiffs spent almost no effort campaigning and did poorly. The statute was declared unconstitutional before the general election. Plaintiffs sought a special election, to vindicate their constitutional rights. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment, holding that a special election was not appropriate, given the potential burdens on the county as weighed against plaintiffs’ interest in being placed on the ballot and the voters’ interest in casting a meaningful vote. View "Bowes v. Ind. Sec'y of State" on Justia Law

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Kolbusz, a dermatologist, submitted thousands of claims to the Medicare system and private insurers for the treatment of actinic keratosis, a skin condition that sometimes leads to cancer. He received millions of dollars in payments. Convicted of six counts of mail or wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, 1343, he was sentenced to 84 months in prison plus $3.8 million in restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The evidence permitted a reasonable jury to conclude that many, if not substantially all, of the claims could not have reflected an honest medical judgment and that the treatment Kolbusz claimed to have supplied may have failed to help any patient who actually had actinic keratosis. Because the indictment charged a scheme to defraud, the prosecutor was entitled to prove the scheme as a whole, and not just the six exemplars described in the indictment. The judge did not err in excluding evidence that, after his arrest and indictment, Kolbusz continued to submit claims to Medicare, and many were paid. “It would have been regrettable to divert the trial into an examination of Medicare’s claims-processing procedures in 2013 and 2014, rather than whether Kolbusz knew that he was submitting false claims in 2010 and earlier." View "United States v. Kolbusz" on Justia Law

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Williams, serving a 65‐year prison sentence for murder at the Pontiac Illinois maximum‐security prison, ordered the death certificate of the woman whom he murdered. Staff confiscated the certificate (which had arrived from the county clerk's office with an unsigned note: “There is a place in hell waiting for you, as you must know you will reap what you have sowed!” The stated reason for confiscation was “it posed a threat to the safety and security of the institution and would negatively impact Inmate Williams’ rehabilitation.” The district court dismissed a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, reasoning that confiscating the certificate had decreased the risk that inmates would retaliate against “boasting inmates” like Williams, and had protected the victim’s family from being identified. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to defendants not involved in the confiscation, but otherwise reversed. The right of an inmate to read the mail he receives, provided that his reading it would not infringe legitimate interests, is clearly established. The prison must present “some evidence” to show that the restriction is justified. A prison has a legitimate safety concern about “boasting inmates” carrying around trophies, but Williams asserted that he needed the death certificate for use in state post‐conviction proceedings; the defendants presented no contrary evidence. View "Williams v. Hansen" on Justia Law