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

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Zellweger applied for disability benefits in 2013, claiming a per se disabling spinal condition equivalent to Listing 1.04. His amended onset date was August 28, 2013. His last-insured status expired on September 30, 2013, so the application presented a narrow question: whether he was disabled during the one-month period from August 28 to September 30 (42 U.S.C. 416(i)(3)(B)). The primary medical basis for his application was cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease.An ALJ denied his claim, concluding that the medical evidence did not meet the criteria for Listing 1.04 and that Zellweger could perform light work. A magistrate reversed, ruling that the ALJ’s discussion was too cursory at step three of the sequential analysis prescribed in the agency regulations: assessing whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or medically equals one of the Listings. Although the ALJ explained his reasoning more thoroughly later in his decision, the magistrate refused to consider that discussion.The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The sequential process is not so rigidly compartmentalized. Nothing prohibits a reviewing court from reading an ALJ’s decision holistically. The ALJ thoroughly analyzed the medical evidence at the step in the sequential analysis that addresses the claimant’s residual functional capacity. That analysis elaborated on the more cursory discussion at step three and was easily adequate to support the ALJ’s rejection of a per se disability under Listing 1.04. View "Zellweger v. Saul" on Justia Law

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In 2006 Conners began work as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at a VA-operated facility near Chicago. Her duties included treating and observing patients, giving immunizations, managing the front desk, teaching classes, and completing paperwork. In 2011 she was hit by a car and suffered severe injuries. Her supervisor initially permitted her to retain her LPN position but radically reduced her responsibilities to only teaching and paperwork. After more than two years in that status, the VA concluded that Conners could not perform the essential duties of an LPN even with reasonable accommodations and unsuccessfully attempted to work with her on an acceptable reassignment. The VA terminated her employment.Conners sued the VA under the Rehabilitation Act for failing to accommodate her disability, retaliating against her, and subjecting her to a hostile work environment based on her disability. The district court rejected the claims on summary judgment. Only the accommodation claim was appealed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Conners had to prove that when she was fired she was a “qualified individual with a disability,” capable of performing the essential functions of an LPN with or without reasonable accommodation. Conners’s abilities to stand and walk were severely limited, making it impossible for her to treat and observe patients, respond to medical emergencies, give immunizations, or manage the front desk View "Conners v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Clearview's facial recognition tool takes advantage of public information on the Internet. Clearview uses a proprietary algorithm to “scrape” pictures from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Venmo. Clearview’s software harvests from each scraped photograph the biometric facial scan and associated metadata (time and place stamps); that information is put onto its database, which is stored on servers in New York and New Jersey. Clearview offers access to this database for users who wish to find out more about someone in a photograph. Many of its clients are law-enforcement agencies. The New York Times published an article about Clearview.This putative class action asserted violations of Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, 740 ILCS 14/15. After its removal to federal court, the district court remanded the case to state court, stating that the complaint alleged only a bare statutory violation, not the kind of concrete and particularized harm that would support Article III standing in federal court. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In alleging a violation of a general rule that prohibits the operation of a market in biometric identifiers and information, the complaint described only a general, regulatory violation, not something that is particularized to the plaintiffs and concrete. It alleged no particularized injury resulting from the commercial transaction. View "Thornley v. Clearview AI, Inc." on Justia Law

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On August 17, 2004, Randall opened fire on Copeland’s vehicle while Copeland drove by. Copeland’s car was struck by gunfire. No one was injured. Armfield and Nelson were present. Later that evening, Randall spotted Copeland again. Armfield and Nelson armed themselves. They tracked down Copeland. As Copeland approached an intersection, Randall gave the signal. Armfield and Nelson sprang from their car and fired into Copeland's vehicle, killing him.The state charged the three with first-degree murder. Two separate trials occurred simultaneously before the same judge, with the juries and defendants shuffling in and out depending on the evidence presented. During deliberations, the Armfield/Randall jury requested a transcript of certain witnesses’ testimony. The court, by mistake, tendered a transcript containing the prosecutor’s opening statements from Nelson’s case. The Armfield/Randall jury had not heard this version, in which the prosecutor referenced a videotaped statement from Nelson that purported to implicate all three defendants in the murder. In Armfield's trial, the state leaned primarily on two witnesses. The jury convicted Armfield of first-degree murder. Illinois courts rejected Armfield’s appellate argument that disclosing the reference to Nelson’s confession deprived him of a fair trial and a collateral attack, arguing that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. Armfield’s Confrontation Clause claim failed because the state’s strong case against him renders any constitutional error harmless. Armfield cannot show trial counsel’s shortcomings resulted in prejudice. View "Armfield v. Nicklaus" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Higgs, Haynes, and Gloria picked up three women. They ultimately drove the women to the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, federal land. Haynes shot and killed the women with Higgs's gun. Higgs and Haynes were charged with three counts of each: first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree murder committed in the perpetration of kidnapping, kidnapping resulting in death, and using a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.The court imposed concurrent life sentences on Haynes. Higgs’s jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts and recommended a death sentence for each murder and kidnapping count under the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act. The court imposed nine death sentences, with 45 consecutive years for the 924(c) convictions. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Higgs unsuccessfully pursued post-conviction relief.In 2016 Higgs unsuccessfully asked the Fourth Circuit for permission to file a new 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, seeking to invalidate his section 924(c) convictions based on the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Davis” holding that 924(c)(3)(B), providing enhanced penalties for using a firearm during a “crime of violence,” is unconstitutionally vague.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a subsequent petition in the jurisdiction in which Higgs is incarcerated. Higgs cannot satisfy the 28 U.S.C. 2255(e) savings clause and therefore may not pursue habeas relief under section 2241. There is nothing structurally inadequate or ineffective about using section 2255 to bring a Davis-based claim. View "Higgs v. Watson" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs challenged Indiana’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) as it applies to offenders who have relocated to Indiana from other states. A 2006 SORA amendment applied the statute’s requirements to any “person who is required to register as a sex offender in any jurisdiction.” Indiana does not require any person to register if the offense occurred prior to SORA, provided that person remains a resident of Indiana. Persons with pre-SORA convictions who relocate to Indiana from another state where registration was required must register in Indiana, even if Indiana would not have required them to register had they committed their offenses in Indiana and never left.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that this application of SORA violates the plaintiffs’ right to travel. The amendment relies exclusively upon another state’s decision to require an offender to register and is necessarily using an offender’s travel as the trigger for its registration requirement. Indiana has created two classes of otherwise similarly-situated citizens based on whether they previously lived (or were otherwise present) in a state that required them to register. The distinction is purposeful; it expressly looks to what obligations have been imposed on a person elsewhere to determine what obligations he will now have in Indiana. The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits this differential treatment. View "Hope v. Commissioner of Indiana Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Lothridge applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income in 2013 when she was 33 years old. She asserted that she was disabled by fibromyalgia, COPD, asthma, and hypertension. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, learning disabilities, significant problems with decision-making, moderate problems with social functioning, and problems with remote memory. She had worked as a CNA, a daycare worker, a cashier, and a telemarketer. She had tried, unsuccessfully. to earn her GED. Hip and back pain caused her to stop working in 2009.After an ALJ denied her application, a district judge remanded for further explanation of how the ALJ considered Lothridge’s periodic non-compliance with treatments. The ALJ again denied the application, finding that Lothridge could still perform light work with certain limitations. A district judge affirmed.The Seventh Circuit vacated. In assessing Lothridge’s impairments using the five-step disability analysis, the ALJ found moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace. In determining her residual functional capacity, the ALJ failed to take those limitations into account. The jobs that the ALJ determined that Lothridge could still perform would require the ability to stay on-task for at least 90% of the workday and would have little tolerance for tardiness or absences. The ALJ made no determination of whether Lothridge is capable of meeting these requirements. View "Lothridge v. Saul" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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Sterling Bank purchased Damian Services. The stock purchase agreement set up a two-million-dollar escrow to resolve disputes arising after the purchase and established comprehensive rights, obligations, remedies, and procedures for resolving disputes. After the purchase, a former Damian employee called some of Damian’s clients to tell them of a billing practice that the sellers had instituted years earlier. When Sterling learned of the situation, it investigated with the help of a forensic accountant. Sterling concluded that under the sellers’ management, Damian had overcharged its clients by over one million dollars. Sterling refunded the overpayments to its current clients, then unsuccessfully demanded indemnification from the escrow, claiming that the sellers had misrepresented Damian’s liabilities and vulnerability to litigation.The district court granted the sellers summary judgment, reasoning that Sterling missed the deadline for claiming indemnification under the stock purchase agreement. The court denied the sellers’ request for statutory interest on the escrow money.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Whether Sterling’s demand for indemnification was late depends on disputed facts. Even if the demand was late, however, the agreement’s elaborate terms provide that any delay could be held against Sterling only “to the extent that [sellers] irrevocably forfeit[] rights or defenses by reason of such failure.” Undisputed facts show that the sellers have not irrevocably forfeited any claims or defenses. View "Sterling National Bank v. Block" on Justia Law

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Kellogg testified that when the Indiana Academy hired her as a teacher in 2006, its director, Dr. Williams, told her that she “didn’t need any more [starting salary, $32,000], because he knew [her] husband worked.” In 2017, Kellogg complained to the Dean of Ball State’s Teacher’s College, which oversees the Academy, that she received less pay than her similarly-situated male colleagues. The Dean responded that “[t]he issue [wa]s salary compression, which means those who [we]re hired after [Kellogg] began at a higher salary.” The Dean also noted that Kellogg’s salary increased by 36.45% during her time at the Academy while her colleagues’ salaries increased by less. In Kellogg’s 2018 lawsuit, the district court granted the Academy summary judgment, reasoning that there were undisputed gender-neutral explanations for Kellogg’s pay.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Williams’s statement contradicts the Academy’s explanations for Kellogg’s pay and puts them in dispute. It does not matter that Williams uttered the statement long ago, outside the statute of limitations period. Under the paycheck accrual rule, Williams’s statement can establish liability because it affected paychecks that Kellogg received within the limitations window. Kellogg can rely on Williams’s statement to put the Academy’s explanations in dispute. View "Kellogg v. Ball State University" on Justia Law

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McAllister began working for Innovation in 2014. In June 2016, an automobile accident left McAllister with serious head and back injuries. On her Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. 2601, application her doctor wrote she could not perform “any & all” functions and estimated that McAllister could not return to work until September 2016. McAllister was granted short-term disability benefits. According to McAllister, Innovation indicated that “all restrictions had to be lifted before [she] could return to work.” Thereafter, her doctors extended the date for her return to work. Her FMLA leave expired. At an October 2016 meeting, Innovation told McAllister that an employee unable to return to work after six months of leave would be terminated but granted her additional leave, to expire upon her November neuro-psychological evaluation. Her doctors failed to complete the required testing.Innovation terminated her in December. McAllister was granted long-term disability benefits, which ended in October 2018 when the insurer determined she no longer had “functional deficits," and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, retroactive to the date of her accident. McAllister sued for failure to accommodate her under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12111(8)). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Innovation. McAllister was not “qualified” under the ADA; there was no genuine dispute of material fact that she could perform another job with or without accommodations. View "McAllister v. Innovation Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law