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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Until 1997, Illinois residents could only purchase power from a public utility, with rates regulated by the ICC. The Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law allows residents to buy electricity from their local public utility, another utility, or an Alternative Retail Electric Supplier (ARES). The ICC was not given rate-making authority over ARESs, but was given oversight responsibilities. The Law did not explicitly provide a mechanism for recovering damages from an ARES related to rates. Zahn purchased electricity from NAPG, after receiving an offer of a “New Customer Rate” of $.0499 per kilowatt hour in her first month, followed by a “market-based variable rate.” Zahn never received NAPG’s “New Customer Rate.” NAPG charged her $.0599 per kilowatt hour for the first two months, followed by a rate higher than Zahn’s local public utility charged. Zahn filed a class-action complaint, claiming violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. The court dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, or for failure to state a claim. After the Illinois Supreme Court answered a certified question, stating that the ICC does not have exclusive jurisdiction to hear Zahn’s claims, the Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court had jurisdiction and Zahn alleged facts that, if true, could constitute a breach of contract or a deceptive business practice. View "Zahn v. North American Power & Gas, LLC" on Justia Law

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Dana operates a Summit, Illinois truck‐tank washing facility. Dana employees drain residual product from the truck’s metal tank; insert a mechanical spinner that rotates scrubbers, dousing it with soap or solvents; then rinse the tank with water. Occasionally, employees have to enter a tank and manually clean residual sludge. OSHA has regulations for entering these “permit‐required confined spaces (PRCSs),” 29 C.F.R. 1910.146: the employee must obtain an entry permit and checklist of required safety precautions; must hook a full‐body harness to a mechanical retrieval device that can pull him out of the tank; must test the tank air; and must wear a respirator and conduct continuous atmospheric testing. While an employee is in the tank, automatic blowers force fresh air into it. Another employee must be on standby. Employees may not enter a tank before it has been mechanically cleaned. Fox encountered a problem with a tank before beginning the mechanical cleaning. He entered the tank without attaching the retrieval device or following permit procedures. After a short time, another employee saw Fox unconscious in the chemical sludge and called the fire department. A TV news crew broadcast the rescue. An OSHA inspector saw it; she arrived at the facility within three hours of the accident, inspected and issued citations for serious and willful violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. An ALJ vacated some of the citation items, finding that Dana qualified for the less stringent “alternate entry procedures.” The Commission held that Dana was not eligible for the alternate entry procedures and reinstated the citation items. The Seventh Circuit rejected a petition for review. Dana did not provide a compelling reason to overturn the Commission’s determinations. View "Dana Container, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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In 2009, the Social Security Administration notified Casey that he needed to repay about $334,000 in disability benefits he should not have received. Casey unsuccessfully sought a waiver. Six months later, Casey submitted an untimely request for review to the Appeals Council, arguing that he had good cause for his delay. The Appeals Council extended Casey’s deadline to submit evidence or a statement in support of his waiver claim; 15 months later, the Council reversed course, informing Casey that it had dismissed his review request because there was “no good cause to extend the time for filing.” Casey then sued the Acting Commissioner of Social Security. The district judge dismissed. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The Council's action in first granting and then retroactively denying Casey’s good cause request was arbitrary, having the effect of an unfair bureaucratic bait‐and‐switch. The Council had discretion to determine initially whether Casey offered good cause for his late administrative appeal, but, having granted Casey’s request, the Council could not simply change its mind on the theory that he had not adequately justified his delay, after leading him on for over a year without suggesting he needed to provide more information, an affidavit, or anything else by way of support. View "Casey v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Indiana’s 2015 Vapor Pens and E-Liquid Act regulates the manufacture and distribution of vapor pens and the liquids used in e-cigarettes, Ind. Code 7.1-7- 1-1. The Act has extraterritorial reach and imposed detailed requirements of Indiana law on out-of-state manufacturing operations. It purported to regulate the design and operation of out-of-state production facilities, including requirements for sinks, cleaning products, and even the details of contracts with outside security firms and the qualifications of those firms’ personnel. The Seventh Circuit reversed dismissal of a challenge to the Act. Imposing these Indiana laws on out-of-state manufacturers violates the dormant Commerce Clause. Indiana has ample authority to regulate in-state commerce in vapor pens, e-liquids, and e-cigarettes to protect the health and safety of its residents, by prohibiting sales to minors and requiring child-proof packaging, ingredient labeling, and purity. The requirements for in-state production facilities pose no inherent constitutional problems. Indiana may not, however, try to achieve its health and safety goals by directly regulating out-of-state factories and commercial transactions. View "Legato Vapors, LLC v. Cook" on Justia Law

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Builders Bank is insured and regulated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which conducts a “full‐scope, on‐site examination” every 12-18 months, 12 U.S.C. 1820(d). After a 2015 examination, the FDIC assigned the Bank a rating of four under the Uniform Financial Institutions Rating System, which has six components: capital, asset quality, management, earnings, liquidity, and sensitivity (CAMELS). The highest rating is one, the lowest five. The Bank claims that its rating should have been three and that the lower rating was arbitrary and capricious. The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal. The presence of capital as one of the CAMELS components does not necessarily mean that the rating as a whole is committed to agency discretion for the purposes of 5 U.S.C. 701(a)(2). The FDIC has discretion to set appropriate levels of capital for each institution, 12 U.S.C. 3907(a)(2), but the Bank argued that it takes the FDIC’s capital requirements as given and challenged only its application of the “asset quality, management, earnings, liquidity, and sensitivity” factors. The court did not determine whether other components of a CAMELS rating may be committed to agency discretion. View "Builders Bank v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp." on Justia Law

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Childress unsuccessfully sought Social Security Administration disability benefits in 2008, at age 35. He appealed to the district court, which remanded for reevaluation of the medical opinions in the record and reconsideration of the plaintiff’s credibility. After a second hearing, in 2013, the same ALJ again ruled that Childress was not disabled. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The ALJ did not give proper weight to medical evidence presented by Childress’s treating physicians, which was extensive and indicated that Childress suffers from congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, severe asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), occasional chest pain, obesity, hypertension, and dyspnea (difficult or uncomfortable breathing, resulting in shortness of breath). He was prescribed Advair, Benazepril, Coreg, Diovan, Lanoxin, Lasix, Norvasc, Proventil, and Spiriva, but the cardiologist estimated that in an eight‐hour workday Childress would be able to stand or walk for no more than one hour and to sit for no more than two hours. The court characterized the ALJ’s conclusion as “absurd,” noting that the vocational expert admitted that an employee who misses three or more days of work a month is unemployable. The court also noted the ALJ’s reference to Childress’s history of smoking. View "Childress v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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Brown applied for disability benefits on the ground that her bad back and obesity left her in too much pain to work. The Social Security Administration denied Brown’s application; an administrative law judge upheld the denial, concluding that Brown could perform sedentary work associated with six jobs identified by a vocational expert. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that the ALJ violated the Treating Physician Rule when he rejected certain opinions proffered by Brown’s doctor regarding Brown’s ability to sit and stand for prolonged periods of time. In substituting his own opinions for the doctor’s, the ALJ focused on facts that did not directly pertain to sitting or standing and misrepresented multiple statements Brown made to treatment providers and others. The court rejected arguments that the ALJ insufficiently considered her obesity and improperly relied on the vocational expert’s testimony from the administrative hearing, claiming that the expert failed to provide enough information to justify her departure from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and failed to verify the source of the data on which her jobs-related opinions were based. View "Brown v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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On the night of January 27, 2014, DND’s driver, Velasquez, crashed his semi-truck into two emergency vehicles and another semi which were stopped on an unlit highway. An Illinois Toll Authority employee was killed and a police officer was seriously injured. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) immediately revoked Velasquez’s commercial-driving privileges and opened a company-wide investigation. After a very thorough, two-month investigation, FMCSA issued an imminent-hazard out-of-service order (IHOOSO) without warning, directing DND to immediately halt its trucking operations nationwide and freeze trucks in place within eight hours. During the investigation DND had been permitted to continue normal operations and there were two or three minor problems. An administrative law judge opened a hearing nine days after the order issued and rendered his decision after another six days, finding that the IHOOSO should not have been issued and was an effective “death penalty” to the small company. Apparently, the sudden halt to the company’s operations put the company out of business. The Seventh Circuit dismissed, for lack of Article III standing, a petition for review seeking to correct a decision of an assistant administrator that upheld the ALJ grant of relief to DND. The case is moot. View "DND International, Inc. v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration" on Justia Law

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Brunson purchased the only liquor store in Bridgeport, Illinois. Bridgeport Police Chief Murray was a frequent visitor and often told Brunson that he was violating liquor laws that did not actually exist. Once, Bridgeport Mayor Schauf, also the local liquor commissioner, “confirmed” a non-existent law. Schauf had made a competing offer to purchase the store and had an interest another alcohol-serving establishment by subterfuge. Schauf’s son opened another Bridgeport bar. In 2010, Brunson applied to renew his liquor license weeks before it would expire. A licensee with no violations is entitled to pro forma renewal. Chief Murray told Bronson to hire a lawyer; Schauf told Brunson that he would not renew the license in time. Brunson had to close his business, hired counsel, and contacted the state Commission, which ordered that Brunson be allowed to remain open pending a hearing. Brunson’s liquor supplier then was told by the city clerk to not sell to Brunson. Before the Commission’s scheduled hearing, Schauf retroactively renewed the license without explanation. Subsequently Brunson discovered an attempted break-in; Murray did not file a report. The following weekend, the store was vandalized and the police took no action. Brunson stood guard the next weekend. During the night, the store’s windows were shattered. Bronson found Harshman—a convicted felon, and occasional employee at Schauf’s businesses. After a fight and a chase, Bronson held Harshman at gunpoint until police arrived. Brunson pointed out Schauf’s son waiting nearby. Brunson was charged with felony aggravated battery. Brunson sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the prosecutor, based on absolute prosecutorial immunity, and with respect to false arrest. The court reversed summary judgment on Brunson’s class-of-one equal protection claim and for Schauf, who is not entitled to absolute immunity on Brunson’s due process claim. View "Brunson v. Murray" on Justia Law

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In 2014, the IRS attempted to collect $244,464 in unpaid taxes and penalties from Adolphson for tax years 2002 and 2006-2010. Adolphson claims he was unaware of the IRS’s collection efforts until the agency levied on his funds held by third parties (26 U.S.C. 6330). Rather than challenge the levies with the IRS, Adolphson filed a pro se petition, asking the tax court to enjoin the collection efforts and refund amounts already collected. Adolphson argued that the IRS had not mailed him the required Final Notice of Intent to Levy, so that he was deprived of a “collection due process hearing” (CDP) before the IRS Office of Appeals. Adolphson cited tax court decisions in which the tax court asserted that it lacked jurisdiction without an IRS notice of determination, yet nevertheless invalidated levies after finding that the taxpayer was prevented from requesting a CDP by failure to mail a Final Notice to the proper address. The IRS was unable to say “with certainty” whether the Final Notices were sent to proper addresses. Exhibits corroborated the dates on which the Final Notices were issued but did not show where the notices were mailed. The tax court dismissed, reasoning that it lacked authority to grant relief without a notice of determination. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While Adolphson’s case is indistinguishable from the tax court precedent he cited, those decisions were unsound and reflect an improper extension of the tax court’s jurisdiction. View "Adolphson v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law