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

by
After plaintiff's state criminal charge for animal cruelty was dismissed, plaintiff and his wife filed suit against the City and the Police Department under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims for wrongful arrest and excessive force, as well as various state law claims. The jury returned a verdict for defendants on all counts. The district court denied plaintiff's motion for a mistrial during the trial and later denied a post-trial motion for a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for mistrial based on its response to a potential juror's de minimis conduct. In this case, the district court properly dispatched its voir dire duties by probing whether the excused potential juror had made any additional statements which could have prejudiced plaintiff and by considering and rejecting the argument that brief departing comments in this instance required the empanelment of a new venire. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a continuance and properly exercised its discretion by limiting plaintiff's testimony to issues relevant to the substantive issues in the case being tried. The court further concluded that the district court did not err by allowing defendants to argue that the entire requested $975,000 damages award would come from Officer Horan personally. In any event, to the extent that these statements created confusion because of the temporal proximity between the accurate statements of the law and the references to the full amount requested, the district court allowed plaintiff's counsel on rebuttal to explain the issue. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's challenges to the district court's handling of the jury instructions. View "Farnik v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

by
After plaintiff was injured from a slip and fall in a Home Depot parking lot, he filed suit against the store claiming that he sustained substantial injuries and alleging that his injuries required multiple surgeries, as well as physical and occupational therapy.The Seventh Circuit concluded that plaintiff's appeal is limited to the district court's denial of his second post-judgment motion filed under Rule 60(b). The court noted that, as a practical matter, that conclusion changes very little because plaintiff's appeal is all and only about whether the district court abused its discretion in dismissing his case for lack of prosecution. The court explained that the district court's denial of the Rule 60(b) motion effectively amounted to reinforcing and standing by its original dismissal decision. In this case, the court concluded that the district court acted well within its discretion dismissing plaintiff's suit where plaintiff's counsel missed many conferences. Because plaintiff chose counsel as his agent, he bears the consequences of counsel's actions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's refusal to reopen the case. View "Krivak v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law

by
In 2008, pursuant to a plea agreement, Fowowe pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute 50 or more grams of crack cocaine. The district court determined that Fowowe’s sentencing range was a statutory mandatory minimum of life imprisonment and sentenced Fowowe to 262 months’ imprisonment. In 2015, Fowowe sought a reduced sentence pursuant to Amendment 782 to the federal sentencing guidelines, to which the government agreed; the district court reduced Fowowe’s sentence to 235 months.Although the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 had reduced the amount and kind of punishment for crack cocaine convictions like Fowowe’s, the changes only became retroactive with the First Step Act of 2018, 132 Stat. 5194. Fowowe unsuccessfully requested a reduced prison sentence under section 404(b) of the First Step Act.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, rejecting Fowowe’s argument that the district court’s evaluation of his request was deficient because the court failed to apply a 2020 Seventh Circuit decision concerning sentencing enhancements for prior cocaine convictions. Section 404(b) authorizes but does not require district courts to apply an intervening judicial decision in evaluating First Step Act motions. View "United States v. Fowowe" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Cook County inmate Bowers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after other inmates attacked him in 2012, alleging the defendants failed to protect him, instituted an observation policy that caused the attack, and later discriminated against him because of a resulting disability. Bowers remains in a wheelchair. The jail is short on ADA‐ compliant cells, however, and, save for one month, Bowers has lived in cells without accessible showers or toilets. The district court dismissed most of Bowers’s claims before trial. A jury returned a verdict in the Sheriff’s favor on the remaining claims,The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Bowers, before filing suit, did not exhaust his failure‐ to‐protect claims as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). Bowers prison grievances did not assert the same claims as his complaint; his “Monell” claim was untimely. A reasonable jury could find that Bowers is not a qualified individual with a disability--someone who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his major life activities,” has “a record of such an impairment,” or is “being regarded as having such an impairment,” 42 U.S.C. 12102(1). The jury had sufficient evidence to find that Bowers lied about needing a wheelchair. View "Bowers v. Dart" on Justia Law

by
Eaton was an apprentice in 2011 when Local 139 dispatched her to Findorff. At the end of Eaton’s first day on the job Findorff’s Project Superintendent, Szymkowski, terminated Eaton, concluding that she was inadequately trained. Local 139 filed a grievance. Findorff agreed to hire Eaton for a different job when that position became available. Weeks later, Findorff hired Eaton. Szymkowski privately told Eaton that she was slow and inefficient but rated her an average apprentice when filling out reports, which addressed only her technical skills. In late 2011, Findorff found itself overstaffed and implemented a rotating layoff schedule. Eaton filed a charge with the EEOC alleging that her layoff amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex; her complaint was dismissed. In August 2012, Findorff no longer needed a skip hoist operator and her employment was terminated.In 2017, Eaton left a resume at Findorff. Szymkowski told the company’s receptionist that he would not rehire her. Later, a position opened. Local 139 notified Findorff’s receptionist that it was dispatching Eaton. Szymkowski sent a letter to Local 139, declining to hire Eaton due to past performance issues.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Findorff. Eaton waived a claim of sex discrimination. She lacks any evidence that the decision-makers knew that she had engaged in protected activity; she has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact in support of causation for her retaliation claim. View "Eaton v. J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Kerstiens family runs companies that build single-family homes out of Jasper, Indiana. Plan Pros and Prime Designs are home design companies that license their plans through Design Basics, which acts as a broker, serving as an intermediary between home builders and design firms. Design Basics markets the thousands of plans it holds copyrights to through trade publications, promotional materials placed in home improvement stores, and national builder associations and “has become a serial litigant,” having filed more than 100 infringement suits against home builders.In affirming the dismissal of Design Basic’s suit against the Kerstiens, the Seventh Circuit referred to “intellectual property trolls,” enforcing copyrights not to protect expression, but to extract payments through litigation. Design Basics has thin copyright in its plans because they consist largely of standard features found in homes across America. View "Design Basics, LLC v. Kerstiens Homes & Designs, Inc" on Justia Law

by
Officer Cowick’s informant informed Cowick that she believed that Gholston was about to pick up large quantities of methamphetamine using his green pickup truck. At least three months later, Cowick spotted Gholston’s green pickup truck, followed Gholston, and activated his lights when Gholston turned without using a signal. Gholston parked and was walking away, which heightened Cowick’s suspicions but eventually returned. Cowick handcuffed Gholston at 12:18 am and began writing a ticket. Dispatch informed Cowick that Gholston’s ID was valid but that he had a Notice of Violation for improperly parking over a year earlier. At 12:24:23 am, Cowick called for a K9 officer, Saalborn, and requested assistance in delivering the Notice to the traffic stop. Sargent Elbus responded that he could bring the Notice. Cowick told Elbus, “take your time!!” because he was “trying to get” Saalborn While completing the ticket, Cowick continued to urge Elbus to move slowly and to urge Saalborn to “drive fast.” Cowick printed Gholston’s ticket at 12:32:27, then realized that he had not asked Gholston for insurance information. Gholston did not have proof of insurance. Cowick returned to his car to write another ticket. As Cowick was finishing that ticket, Saalborn arrived; his drug-sniffing dog alerted as the ticket was printing. The officers searched the truck and discovered nine grams of methamphetamine.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Gholston’s motion to suppress. Cowick did not unreasonably extend the stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment; his failure to request Gholston’s insurance information at the start of the stop was a good-faith blunder. View "United States v. Gholston" on Justia Law

by
McHaney participated in at least four armed cellular phone store robberies around Chicago. While attempting a fifth, he was arrested. He was charged with Hobbs Act conspiracy (18 U.S.C. 1951(a)); four counts of Hobbs Act robbery (18 U.S.C. 1951(a)); attempted Hobbs Act robbery (18 U.S.C. 1951(a)); three counts of using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)); using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)); and possession of a firearm by a felon (18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The district court denied McHaney’s motion to dismiss the 18 U.S.C. 924(c) counts, finding that Hobbs Act robbery qualifies as a crime of violence under section 924(c)(3)(A). McHaney entered into a plea agreement and was sentenced to 177 months’ imprisonment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, declining to reject its precedent that Hobbs Act robbery meets the definition of a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) and is a qualifying predicate crime under the statute. Putting any person in fear in the context of robbery necessarily involves “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” “Every other court of appeals to have considered this agrees with this conclusion.” View "United States v. McHaney" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Esposito sexually assaulted and abused his adopted son from Guatemala for years, beginning when his son was about seven years old. Esposito documented his repetitive, shocking, and horrific abuse in videos and photographic images which he shared online. He also downloaded other child pornography in hundreds of thousands of images and videos.Without a plea agreement, Esposito pleaded guilty to 20 counts of sexually exploiting a minor, each reflecting a different instance of abuse documented in videos and images, and to one count of possessing child pornography. His PSR calculated an offense level of 51, which defaulted to a maximum of 43 under the Sentencing Guidelines. Esposito had no criminal history. The resulting Guidelines range was life in prison, but none of the crimes of which Esposito was convicted had a statutory maximum of life imprisonment. The defense suggested 420 months because Esposito was already in his mid-fifties.The district court concluded that a de facto life sentence was appropriate and imposed sentences totaling 200 years. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Esposito’s argument that the court should have considered his criminal conduct, history, and characteristics as a whole, determined an appropriate overall punishment, and then set the sentences for each count to equal that overall punishment, rather than imposing sentences for each count, then adding them together. View "United States v. Esposito" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Inmate Robinson was offered new medication. Unaware of any prescription, he questioned the officer who gave it to him and followed up with the health services manager and others. Despite learning that there was no record of any new prescription for him, Robinson took the medication. Days later, Robinson passed out. A nurse advised him to keep taking the medication. Robinson then was sent to an outside hospital, where doctors surmised that he might be allergic to the medication. The prescription was meant for a different inmate. Robinson sued. The defendants moved for summary judgment; 20 days after his deadline for filing a brief in opposition, Robinson filed a brief to support his own request for summary judgment, supplemented by a proposed statement of facts. He did not respond to the defendants’ statement of facts. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court permissibly applied Eastern District of Wisconsin Local Rule 56(b)(4) to deem the defendants’ facts unopposed, regardless of Robinson’s later filings. Based on those facts, no reasonable jury could find deliberate indifference to a serious medical risk. Nor could a jury conclude that the health‐services manager violated his constitutional rights by failing to intervene. Robinson’s state‐law negligence claims were barred by Wisconsin’s notice‐of‐claim statute. The defendants were not entitled to summary judgment based only on Robinson's failure to timely respond. View "Robinson v. Waterman" on Justia Law