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

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Scholz was honorably discharged following her 2006-2008 Army tour of duty in Iraq but the mental and physical toll of her service continued. Scholz required a range of medical treatments. Scholz sought two courses of inpatient mental health treatment at the Tomah VA Medical Center in 2011. Later, while receiving outpatient mental health treatment through the Tomah VAMC, she consulted surgeons at the Zablocki VA Medical Center about elective breast reduction surgery. An unrelated psychological assessment performed at Zablocki VAMC raised concerns about Scholz’s mental health. Zablocki VAMC surgeons performed elective breast reduction surgery in 2012, igniting multiple complications. Scholz continued to receive outpatient mental health treatment, including prescription medications, from various VA providers through late 2018.Scholz has two lawsuits pending against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671–2680. The government argued that the second suit on the same, or essentially the same, operative facts, was precluded on claim-splitting grounds. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Scholz’s theory amounts to “arbitrarily splitting the treatment timeline.” In both suits, she mentions her treatment for mental health issues, her breast reduction surgery, the unsafe prescribing of medications, and improper record handling. Both suits arise out of Scholz’s treatment at various VA locations in 2011-2018 and mention the same alleged incidents. View "Scholz v. United States" on Justia Law

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Owens was charged with the distribution and possession of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2)l after a government investigator used a confidential software program, Torrential Downpour Receptor (TDR), to download a video file containing child pornography from a folder shared via the BitTorrent network at an IP address later associated with Owens. A forensic search of Owens’s computer when he was arrested failed to locate the file on his computer. Owens unsuccessfully moved, under FRCP 16, to compel the production of information relating to the government’s download of the file.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Owens suffered no prejudice from the denial. The government presented evidence that undermined Owens’s proffered “false positive” theory, which the district court was entitled to credit. The court did not clearly err when it accepted testimony that the torrent relating to the target file had been opened in Owens’s BitComet application while the investigation was occurring, and evidence that a file with the same filename as the illicit video was present in Owens’s “most recently used” folder. This testimony was based on forensic analysis of Owens’s computer, which the government produced to the defense. Owens cannot demonstrate that access to TDR would “substantially alter the quantum of proof in his favor. View "United States v. Owens" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Yang pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). Before his sentencing hearing, Yang objected to the inclusion of one ounce of methamphetamine in the drug-quantity calculation listed in the PSR. The prosecutor cited an audio file of a recorded phone call between Yang and a co-conspirator that supported the PSR’s inclusion of the one ounce of methamphetamine in the drug-quantity calculation. Yang and his counsel acknowledged that they had listened to the recording before sentencing. The court overruled Yang’s objection and sentenced Yang to 30 months’ imprisonment, 21 months below the bottom of the applicable guidelines range.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Yang’s argument that the district court committed reversible error because it considered an audio file at sentencing that was not publicly available on the court’s electronic docket. District courts routinely review evidence at sentencing that is not publicly available on the court’s docket. The federal judiciary’s case management-electronic case filing system does not support the submission of audio files; like other exhibits not available electronically on the system, audio files are maintained by the district court, which transmits those files to the court of appeals if requested. That happened here. View "United States v. Yang" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Reinebold, then 56 years old, applied to be the head baseball coach of Indiana University South Bend (IUSB). After IUSB declined to hire Reinebold, he sued IUSB, Athletic Director Bruce, and Assistant Athletic Director Norris under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed all of Reinebold’s claims with his concession except for his section 1983 claims against Bruce and Norris in their individual capacities. The district court then entered summary judgment in favor of Bruce and Norris, finding that Reinebold did not identify a suitable comparator and did not show that he was intentionally treated differently because of his age.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The hiring committee distinguished Reinebold and his proposed comparator Buysse (age 31) based on their respective performances during their interviews. The evidence shows that Reinebold performed poorly during his phone interview. Buysse performed well. An employer is not required to score a job interview using objective criteria. View "Reinebold v. Bruce" on Justia Law

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Following an investigation of an Indianapolis‐based drug trafficking organization, the government secured a warrant to search Zamudio’s residence, where they found large amounts of methamphetamine, a digital scale, and a loaded firearm. Zamudio pled guilty to two drug‐related offenses and was sentenced to 300 months’ imprisonment. Zamudio challenged the calculation of his base offense level based on the amount of drugs attributed to him, the court’s application of a 2‐level firearm enhancement. and the court’s application of a 2‐level enhancement for maintaining drug premises.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Based on the government’s factual basis for the plea, the PSR, and an agent’s testimony, the district court found that Zamudio coordinated the sale of drugs to co‐conspirators, agreed (in text messages) to assist his brother in all aspects of the conspiracy, allowed large amounts of drugs and drug proceeds to be stored in his home; served as an interpreter in drug transactions, and picked up drug proceeds and wired the proceeds to the source in Mexico. Zamudio played a large role in the conspiracy; the drug amounts were reasonably foreseeable to him. Because the gun was found in close proximity to illegal drugs, it is presumed to have been used in connection with the drug trafficking offense. View "United States v. Zamudio" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After a steady buildup of performance problems, Sweet lost her job as a customer service representative in the Bargersville, Indiana clerk-treasurer’s office. Months before she was fired, Sweet criticized Longstreet, the elected clerk-treasurer, for reconnecting the utility service of a delinquent customer who was Longstreet’s wealthy business partner. Arguing that she was fired for vocalizing her opposition to the reconnection, she sued Longstreet and the town alleging retaliation in violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Sweet cited “suspicious timing” in the form of a five-month gap between her criticism and the termination of her employment; an ambiguous affidavit from a fellow employee; and the fact that her former employer offered several reasons for her termination rather than a single, consistent explanation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in her suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Even if Sweet’s criticism of Longstreet was constitutionally protected, she lacks sufficient evidence to support an inference that it was a motivating factor in the termination of her employment. The evidence, considered as a whole, indicates that Sweet was fired for multiple reasons, including “her long documented history of deficient performance, failure to improve on requested areas, incidences of bullying and repeated mistakes.” View "Sweet v. Town of Bargersville" on Justia Law

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Moreland, convicted of first-degree reckless homicide by delivery of a controlled substance, unsuccessfully appealed. On August 11, 2013, his direct review ended when the opportunity to file a certiorari petition in the U.S. Supreme Court expired. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, he had one year from that date to file a federal habeas corpus petition, 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1). Moreland sought collateral postconviction relief in state court on July 30, 2014. On March 7, 2016, the Wisconsin Supreme Court denied Moreland’s petition for review. All 586 days of the state postconviction process were tolled.Moreland filed a federal habeas petition on March 28, 2016, nine days after the one-year statute of limitations elapsed; 374 untolled days had elapsed since the end of Moreland’s direct review. Moreland’s petition raised claims related to due process, ineffective assistance of counsel, the right to confrontation, and the right to a fair and impartial jury. Moreland alleged that the time for filing his petition should be equitably tolled because he suffered from schizophrenia, and on several occasions, was unable to research his case due to lack of access to the prison library.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition. Moreland has not demonstrated extraordinary circumstances or reasonable diligence to warrant equitable tolling. The court rejected claims that the district court should have tolled the time connected with motions for postconviction discovery and for reconsideration. View "Moreland v. Eplett" on Justia Law

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Sarter drowned after a vessel capsized in Lake Superior. His employer Roen, which owned the vessel, asked the court to limit its liability to $25,000, its interest in the vessel, under 46 U.S.C. 30505(a) (Limitations Act). It also asked for exoneration from all liability, citing the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims, 4F. A federal court has exclusive jurisdiction of Limitation Act claims, 28 U.S.C. 1333(1), “saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.” After a vessel’s owner seeks Limitation Act protection, a plaintiff often files a concession that the federal court’s decision about the owner’s maximum liability will control even if a state court sets a higher figure in a Saving-to-Suitors action. Sarter's spouse made a Limitations Act concession but declined to make a concession concerning total exoneration. The district court declined to enjoin Sarter's state suit.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No federal statute entitles a vessel owner to have a federal judge determine exoneration. Under the common law of admiralty, when there is one claimant, or when the total demanded by multiple claimants does not exceed the value set by the Limitation Act, a federal court may permit substantive claims to proceed in state court. When multiple state court claims exceed the likely value of the vessel the federal judge may retain all aspects of the litigation and decide whether the owner is entitled to exoneration. In other situations, it is enough for the federal court to set the maximum amount of recovery that a state court may allow. Sarter is the only plaintiff. The district court can set a maximum level of liability based on section 30505(a). View "Roen Salvage Co. v. Sarter" on Justia Law

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Dean, incarcerated since 2012, developed kidney cancer. Seven months after he first presented symptoms, Dean had kidney-removal surgery. The cancer had already spread to his liver, Dean remains terminally ill. Dean sued his doctors and their employer, Wexford, a private corporation that contracts to provide healthcare to Illinois inmates, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Dean cited delays in his diagnosis and treatment, caused by his doctors’ failure to arrange timely off-site care, and on a policy that requires Wexford’s corporate office to pre-approve off-site care.A jury awarded $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, which was reduced to $7 million. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Dean has endured great suffering, but he did not produce enough evidence to hold any of the defendants liable for violating the Eighth Amendment. Dean’s claim against Wexford hinged on two expert reports from another case that critique the medical care, and process for medical care, that Illinois provides, through Wexford, to its prisoners. Those reports are hearsay, but the district court allowed Dean to use them for a non-hearsay purpose: to prove that Wexford had prior notice of the negative assessments of its review policy. One report postdated all events relevant to Dean and could not have given Wexford prior notice. The other report alone was insufficient to hold Wexford liable under the exacting “Monell” requirements in this single-incident case. View "Dean v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Kurzynowski pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography. He admitted to officers that he spent years in internet chatrooms discussing sexual behavior involving minors and that his sexual interest focused on 10-13-year-old boys. His more recent online conversations explored fantasies of cooking and eating children. In 2015, the district court sentenced Kurzynowski to 96 months’ imprisonment. In 2020, Kurzynowski moved for compassionate release under the First Step Act of 2018, 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), citing his hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion. The fact that Kurzynowski is vaccinated precludes a finding that the COVID-19 pandemic presents extraordinary and compelling reasons for his release. The district court properly recognized that the need to protect the public, “especially the most vulnerable members, children,” was particularly significant with Kurzynowski because his crimes “were motivated by his depraved sexual appetite toward young children, a pathology for which he has not received medical, psychological, or spiritual treatment.” The district court adequately considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and did not err or abuse its discretion. View "United States v. Kurzynowski" on Justia Law