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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Harper, an Illinois prisoner, sued a prison doctor and a nurse under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for deliberate indifference to his pain following nine abdominal surgeries, the management of his diet, and inattention to a possible renal cell tumor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that Harper had not produced evidence from which a jury could find that either defendant ignored a substantial risk of harm. Harper was evaluated and treated each time that he appeared at the health center, given a treatment plan, and told to return if his symptoms persisted. Harper is not entitled to dictate how he should have been treated or whether he should have been transferred. View "Harper v. Santos" on Justia Law

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Kenosha Detective Strelow received an anonymous tip that an African-American man in a yellow shirt was selling heroin on a specific corner. Without corroborating the tip, Strelow and Detective Beller, drove to that intersection. They saw Beal, who matched the description, talking to a woman in a driveway (his aunt). They approached and asked Beal to identify himself. He did so without objection. Beller then grabbed Beal’s left wrist and Strelow frisked him. Beal’s right hand had been in his pocket. Strelow asked him to remove his hand. Beal immediately complied. Strelow felt keys and what he described as a soft bulge that felt like tissue. It was immediately apparent that neither item was a weapon. Strelow emptied Beal’s pocket, removed keys, tissues, a photo ID, and letters. He examined the keychain’s attached flashlight, which he discovered had been hollowed out and contained four small baggies with a substance Strelow believed was heroin. Beal had no money. Beal was charged with possession of heroin. A Wisconsin state court suppressed the evidence and dismissed all charges. Beal filed suit against the detectives under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted defendants summary judgment, stating that “no reasonable jury could find that plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.” The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that the court assumed disputed facts in finding the detectives’ actions permissible under Terry v. Ohio. View "Beal v. Beller" on Justia Law

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Police found Moore’s body in a parking lot next to a bloody garbage can. Before Moore was identified, Officer Blackman told Detective Brownfield that, at 2 a.m., he had seen a black male, 6’1”, 185 pounds, in his forties, pulling a garbage can into that parking lot and exiting without it. A woman then identified Moore, stating that Moore lived with her boyfriend, McDaniel, a black male, 6’3”, 185 pounds, in his late forties. Inside the couple’s house, the officers asked McDaniel if he knew why they were there. He allegedly responded, “my girlfriend was murdered.” McDaniel agreed to go to the police station. McDaniel was placed in an interrogation room, read his Miranda rights, and questioned three separate times over 24 hours. He eventually signed a written confession. McDaniel later unsuccessfully moved to suppress his confession, arguing that it was the fruit of his arrest, which violated the Fourth Amendment. He was convicted. On appeal, McDaniel’s appointed counsel argued only that the prosecution’s reference to McDaniel’s refusal to take a polygraph while in custody denied him due process. Rejecting his petition for state post-conviction relief, Illinois courts held that Officer Blackman’s description of the man pulling the garbage can, which Detective Brownfield relayed to the arresting officers, created probable cause justifying the arrest. The federal district court held and the Seventh Circuit affirmed that McDaniel had not shown prejudice as required to establish ineffective assistance of counsel. View "McDaniel v. Polley" on Justia Law

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Illinois prisoner Bell filed a civil rights suit, asserting unsafe conditions at the prison, and an application to proceed in forma pauperis. The court denied his application because Bell did not attach his inmate trust-account ledger (28 U.S.C. 1915(a)(2)) without assessing Bell’s explanation that prison staff refused to give him the ledger. The court instructed the clerk to “forward a copy of this order to the trust fund officer ... to facilitate compliance.” Three months later the court dismissed the suit. Two months later Bell wrote to the court, saying that he recently received the dismissal order and that he never had received the order denying his application and warning him to submit a completed one. The court interpreted Bell’s letter as a “motion to reconsider” and denied it because Bell still had not submitted a completed application. Now at a different prison, Bell has received the ledger. The Seventh Circuit granted him leave to appeal without prepaying fees and vacated the dismissal, noting that the court had not imposed a deadline for compliance, nor ordered prison officials to provide the ledger. “Dismissal is a harsh sanction and should not occur unless the court concludes that it is necessary because other options have failed or would fail.” View "Bell v. Supervisor Kay" on Justia Law

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In 1994 Brown was convicted of four sex offenses and sentenced to prison. His projected release date was July 2009, followed by three years of mandatory supervised release. On that date, the Illinois Department of Corrections did not release Brown, but issued a “Parole Violation Report” reciting anticipatory violations of the terms of supervised release. Brown refused to accept required electronic monitoring; he lacked a place where he could lawfully reside. Illinois tries to find lawful accommodations for sex offenders who wear electronic monitoring devices, but because Brown rejected the device the system did not try to find him a place to live. The Prisoner Review Board held a hearing in October 2009 and determined that Brown had not violated the conditions of his release, but on the same date the Department of Corrections issued a second Parole Violation Report, giving the same two reasons. Brown remained in prison until January 2011, when he was released unconditionally. Brown sought damages for the delay. He did not contend that either the electronic-monitoring or the residential-location condition was invalid, but cited the lack of a hearing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of his claims, based on qualified immunity. As of 2009, no court had held that the Fourth Amendment entitles a sex offender to release when it appears likely that, as soon as he steps is released, he will be in violation of the terms of release. View "Nathaniel Brown v. Michael Randle" on Justia Law

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Tatum was charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide by use of a dangerous weapon. The case was set for a jury trial on November 29, 2010. On August 12, at Tatum’s request, counsel moved to withdraw. Lawyer 2 was subsequently allowed to withdraw. The court reset the date for January 31, 2011 for Tatum’s third lawyer, Erickson. On January 18, Erickson requested a competence evaluation. After an in-patient exam, the report concluded that Tatum was competent to understand the proceedings and assist in his defense, but was likely to be “an extremely challenging defendant.” Tatum asked the court to dismiss Erickson, stating that she was working with the state and not investigating his case to his standards. Tatum refused to meet with Erickson because of counsel’s competence challenge. Tatum stated that he wished to represent himself. After engaging in a colloquy with Tatum, the court denied his request, stating that Tatum’s limited education would make it difficult for him to understand the difficulties and disadvantages of self-representation, and refused to dismiss Erickson. Tatum, convicted and sentenced to life in prison, was unsuccessful on direct appeal and in state post-conviction proceedings. The Seventh Circuit reversed denial of a federal habeas petition; the Wisconsin courts unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent when they refused to allow Tatum to represent himself, after questioning Tatum not about his general competence, but about his educational level and understanding of the legal system. View "Tatum v. Foster" on Justia Law

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On the day he was moved to a new unit at the Terre Haute prison, Miller told a circulating guard, Rogers, that he had a brain tumor and was entitled to a lower bunk. Rogers replied that Miller must follow his assignment or be put on report . Days later, Miller fell out of the bunk. He was examined in the emergency room, then returned to the prison, where he still had an upper bunk. He again complained to Rogers, but did not follow procedures for obtaining a new bunk assignment. He subsequently fell out of the bunk and broke his back. After surgery, he was temporarily returned to the upper bunk. Contending that he should have been in a lower bunk, Miller sought compensation, naming two defendants, Rogers, and then-warden Marberry. Miller did not seek relief from any physician or nurse, although the prison’s medical department is responsible for deciding who has a medical need for a lower bunk, nor did he sue the guard responsible for making bunk assignments. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that there is a material dispute about what Rogers would have found, had he consulted the database. Inaction following receipt of a complaint about someone else’s conduct is not a source of liability, View "Miller v. Marberry" on Justia Law

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In 1998 Maryetta was raped, strangled to death, and left in an abandoned garage. In 2004 Milwaukee police arrested Avery, who was convicted of first-degree homicide. Avery spent six years in prison before DNA evidence proved that a serial killer linked to nine similar homicides was responsible for the murder. Avery alleged that detectives concocted a fake confession and induced jailhouse informants to falsely incriminate him and that the detectives failed to disclose, as required by Brady v. Maryland, impeachment evidence about the informants’ false statements. Avery added a “Monell” claim against the city. The district judge rejected the Brady claims on summary judgment, reasoning that the detectives had no duty to disclose the impeachment evidence because Avery already knew the informants’ statements were false. A jury found two detectives liable for violating Avery’s due-process rights, found the city liable, and awarded $1 million, but the judge invalidated the verdict based on “mixed signals” from the Seventh Circuit on whether an officer’s fabrication of evidence is actionable as a due process violation, and holding that without a constitutional violation by the detectives, Monell liability was not possible. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Avery’s due-process claims fall “comfortably within” circuit precedent. That Avery knew the informants’ statements were false did not relieve the detectives of their duty to disclose impeachment evidence. View "Avery v. City of Milwaukee" on Justia Law

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A resident of Elkhart’s housing for low-income elderly people and disabled adults was strangled to death. Canen and Royer, recipients of disability benefits, were also residents. They were convicted of felony murder in Indiana state court in 2005. Seven years later, Canen’s conviction was vacated after Chapman, the state’s fingerprint expert, recanted his testimony, conceding that he mistakenly had identified a latent fingerprint found at the crime scene as belonging to Canen. Chapman only was trained to compare “known prints” (i.e., digital, ink, or powder fingerprint exemplars), not “latent prints” (i.e., invisible, unknown fingerprints found at a crime scene), and lacked the necessary qualifications to identify the latent print. He had not disclosed his lack of training in the state proceeding. Canen sued Chapman under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that he had withheld his lack of qualification to perform latent fingerprint analysis in violation of Brady v. Maryland. The district court dismissed, holding that Chapman was entitled to qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Chapman’s failure to disclose that he was not trained as a latent print examiner is not a violation of any clearly established right, and, to the degree that Canen’s claims are premised on the preparation or presentation of his testimony, absolute immunity protects him. View "Canen v. Chapman" on Justia Law

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Illinois’ Rushville Treatment and Detention Facility houses persons adjudged to be sexually violent; many have completed prison sentences for sexually violent acts but are considered too dangerous to be released into the general population. Rushville detainee Hayes alleged deliberate indifference to Hayes’s hydration needs during a five-day “boil order” imposed by the city and applicable to the detention facility. The boil order directed residents to boil tap water before drinking it. The detainees have sinks in their rooms and access to a microwave oven, so Hayes could boil the water from his sink in his microwave. He was also given an eight-ounce carton of milk at each of three daily meals. He nonetheless claimed to have gone without drinkable water for five days, during which time he felt dizzy and dehydrated. The district judge rejected the suit on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that detainees were notified of the order and how to cope with it (by boiling water in their microwave ovens). The facility ordered extra boiled water. The court noted that Hayes did not report feeling dizzy and dehydrated during the boil order: “there can’t be deliberate indifference if the indifferent person did not know what harm he was being indifferent to.” View "Hayes v. Scott" on Justia Law