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

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The Plaintiffs, purportedly the assignees of certain private insurers (Medicare Advantage Organizations), brought a putative class action against State Farm to recover payments State Farm allegedly should have made to them as reimbursement for certain medical costs. The district court dismissed the action with prejudice, and imposed sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 against one of the plaintiffs, MSP. and its attorneys. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ case with prejudice, when the problem was a fundamental lack of Article III standing so that the court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case. However, the court acted within its discretion when it denied plaintiffs a third opportunity to cure the defects in their pleadings. The court’s order, in substance, was a jurisdictional dismissal without prejudice with denial of leave to amend dismissal is without prejudice. The district court exceeded the bounds of its discretion when it imposed Rule 11 sanctions on Recovery Claims and its attorneys. View "MAO-MSO Recovery II, LLC v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Yochim worked in HUD's legal department for 26 years. Throughout her tenure, she took advantage of HUD’s flexible policy permitting employees to work from home several days per week. After undergoing hand surgery, Yochim requested time off and permission to work from home. HUD agreed and allowed her time to recover and to telework several days a week for many months as she received physical therapy. HUD later restructured its law department, with the effect of requiring employees to spend more time in the office. The restructuring, combined with Yochim’s performance deficiencies, led HUD to revoke her telework privileges and offer alternative accommodations. In the meantime, Yochim lodged two complaints with the EEOC, claiming that HUD discriminated and retaliated against her by failing to promote her and, separately, to accommodate her need for ongoing rehabilitation. Yochim retired from HUD once she became eligible to do so, then filed suit, citing the Rehabilitation Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of HUD. Although Yochim had established that she was a qualified person with a disability, no reasonable jury could find that the Department had failed to offer reasonable accommodations. Yochim did not establish that HUD retaliated against her or subjected her to a hostile work environment. View "Yochim v. Carson" on Justia Law

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Clark was convicted under 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), having been found in a hotel room with more than 80 grams of a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, a digital scale, and cellophane bags. He appealed the denial of his motion for a Franks hearing challenging the search warrant; the denial of his motion to suppress without an evidentiary hearing; the guideline treatment of his conviction for drug distribution that occurred in Illinois seven months after his Wisconsin arrest and one condition of supervised release. The Seventh Circuit vacated Clark’s conviction and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on his Franks challenge. Merely to obtain a Franks hearing, a defendant need only make a substantial preliminary showing that the warrant application contained a material falsity or omission that would alter the issuing judge’s probable cause determination and that the affiant included the material falsity or omitted information intentionally or with a reckless disregard for the truth. Clark asserted that the police investigator who applied for the warrant deliberately or recklessly omitted critical information affecting the credibility of the unidentified informant who told police about drug distribution at the hotel. Here, the foundation for probable cause independent of the credibility of the informant was so meager that the informant's credibility was material for Franks purposes. The police had provided no information about the informant’s credibility. The court rejected Clark's other claims. View "United States v. Clark" on Justia Law

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While Giles was in solitary confinement following state robbery convictions, FBI agents questioned Giles about another bank robbery. DNA recovered from a glove found next to dye-stained stolen money matched Giles’s DNA. Giles agreed in writing to be questioned without an attorney present. After he was shown the DNA report, Giles confessed to the robbery and agreed to a cheek swab after being advised of his right to refuse. Giles was indicted for bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2113, and using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence 18 U.S.C. 924(c). He unsuccessfully moved to suppress the confession, arguing that neither his Miranda waiver nor his confession were voluntary, given his long-term confinement in a “small windowless cell” with little opportunity for human interaction. A psychiatrist who had conducted a forensic psychiatric evaluation and reviewed medical records testified that prolonged isolation could result in impaired function and that Giles's history of psychological disorders and head trauma made him particularly vulnerable to the effects of isolation. A fellow inmate testified that he spoke to Giles regularly. Bacha testified that Giles showed no signs of mental distress. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and upheld his sentence, which effectively added 18 years to the term he was serving, reasoning that there was enough evidence to convict Giles without the confession. His conduct and statements reflected a clear, intelligent, and knowledgeable thought process. View "United States v. Giles" on Justia Law

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O’Donnell learned that her employer paid her less than her male peers and raised the issue with company officials, stating that she was going to file an EEOC complaint. O’Donnell shared a desk with her supervisor. She discovered performance evaluations of her male colleagues, which, she believed, confirmed that men were paid more for substantially the same work. She made copies and prepared to submit them to the EEOC. After learning that O’Donnell took other employees’ performance reports without authorization, the company suspended and ultimately terminated her. O’Donnell filed suit, alleging sex-based wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act (29 U.S.C. 206(d)); sex discrimination under Title VII (42 U.S.C. 2000); Retaliation under Title VII; and Retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. 215(a)(3)). The district court administered instructions based on the Seventh Circuit's Model Instructions. The jury returned a verdict for the employer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting O’Donnell’s claims that the jury instructions and the verdict forms incorrectly instructed the jury on the law and were confusing to the jury; that the court improperly allowed the company to assert an affirmative defense based on her previous salary amounts without raising that defense in its answer; and that the court erred by excluding expert testimony on damages from a forensic economist. View "O'Donnell v. Caine Weiner Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Higgs murdered three women at a Maryland federal property. He was convicted in federal court and sentenced to death. Higgs claimed that the government failed to turn over exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland. His 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Park Police sought a complete copy of everything pertaining to the convictions. The Park Police produced some information, then referred the request to the FBI. Higgs filed suit, challenging the FBI’s decisions to redact or withhold information under FOIA Exemptions, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(6), (b)(7)(C), and (b)(7)(D). Exemptions (6) and 7(C) cover materials that would invade personal privacy; Exemption 7(D) covers information that “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, … and, in the case of a record or information compiled by criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation … information furnished by a confidential source.” The district court concluded that the FBI properly withheld certain documents under Exemption 7(D), but did not justify the invocation of Exemption 7(C), and had to release all of the names of still-living people, contact information, reports of interviews, fingerprints, and rap sheets. T. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The court erred when it found that the public interest prevailed over the privacy interests of the persons involved under Exemptions 6 and 7(C). The court affirmed with respect to Exemption 7(D) materials. View "Higgs v. United States Park Police" on Justia Law

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NFA is a self‐regulatory organization registered under the Commodity Exchange Act, subject to the authority of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), 7 U.S.C. 21, including review of NFA disciplinary actions. Effex, a closely held, foreign‐currency trading firm controlled by Dittami, is not subject to NFA regulation. NFA determined that its member, FXCM, had violated NFA rules. NFA released several documents related to a settlement, including allegations that Effex was involved in FXCM's misconduct. The press release did not specifically reference Effex but directed the public to the NFA’s website. Effex alleged that NFA’s findings are false and that their publication was defamatory. NFA had not contacted Effex or provided Effex notice of the investigation. CFTC conducted its own investigation, subpoenaed documents from Effex, and took the depositions of Dittami and other Effex employees. Effex alleged that NFA obtained documents from CFTC despite Effex’s request that its responses as a third party be kept confidential. CFTC issued its decision, finding that FXCM had concealed an improper trading relationship with a “high‐frequency trader” and the trader's company (HFT). Although not explicitly named, HFT is Effex. CFTC found materially the same facts as NFA did regarding Effex. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Commodity Exchange Act regulates comprehensively all matters relating to NFA discipline, so a federal Bivens remedy is unavailable, and preempts Effex’s state law claims. View "Effex Capital, LLC v. National Futures Association" on Justia Law

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The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) “three strikes” provision, 28 U.S.C. 1915(g), specifies that a prisoner may not proceed in forma pauperis if she “has, on [three] or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Many courts require prisoner‐litigants to identify their entire litigation histories. The Northern District of Illinois’s form requires 42 U.S.C. 1983 inmate-plaintiffs to list the name of each case, assigned judge and court, docket number, filing date, all plaintiffs (with aliases), all defendants, a description of claims made, the disposition and date of disposition. In cases consolidated on appeal, the district court concluded that inmate-plaintiffs committed fraud. The Seventh Circuit vacated. District courts must ensure that a prisoner’s negligent or even reckless mistake is not improperly characterized as an intentional and fraudulent act. Even prisoners with no incentive to lie may not have ready access to their litigation documents and may not remember all of the details. When viewed in the liberal light appropriate for pro se pleadings, one inmate’s explanation of his mental health issues and illiteracy indicated he did not fully understand what was being asked of him; the omissions were inadvertent. None of the cases omitted by the inmates met applicable standards for materiality. View "Johnson v. Dalke" on Justia Law

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Marchan was convicted of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 846, and distribution of 500 grams or more of cocaine, section 841(a)(1). The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that he was denied a fundamentally fair trial. The district court judge diligently presided over the trial; to the extent that any errors were made, they were harmless. Allegedly hearsay testimony was cumulative and corroborated; the few objections that were made at trial were largely sustained and the court instructed the jury to disregard the questions and answers. The testimony of a cooperating witness was sufficient to expose his bias against Marchan and illustrate the benefits he might receive in connection with his testimony. Giving the jury a recording it requested during deliberations was not error; the recording was properly admitted into evidence, provided additional information not present in the transcript (e.g., tone and clarity), and the district judge gave a proper limiting instruction. View "United States v. Marchan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Unions set up a pension plan under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001, with electrical contractors (Revcon) sharing ownership. Revcon withdrew from the plan in 2003. The Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, 29 U.S.C. 1381, requires employers who withdraw from underfunded pension plans to pay withdrawal liability. The trustees notified Revcon of $394,788 in withdrawal liability and demanded quarterly payments of $3,818. Revcon missed several payments. The trustees accelerated the outstanding liability (29 U.S.C. 1399(c)(5)) and filed suit. Revcon offered to cure its defaults and resume payments. The trustees agreed and voluntarily dismissed the suit under FED. R. CIV. P. 41(a). Revcon made some payments, then defaulted again. The trustees again sued. Revcon again promised to cure; the trustees again voluntarily dismissed. This cycle repeated in 2011, 2013, and 2015. In 2018, after another default, the trustees filed this case, which, unlike previous complaints, only the payments that Revcon had missed since the 2015 dismissal. Revcon argued claim preclusion because the previous complaints demanded the entire liability, which necessarily includes the defaulted payments at issue. The “two dismissal rule” of Rule 41(a)(1)(B) therefore barred any claims arising from that liability, and, because the trustees sought to collect the entire debt in 2008, the six-year limitations period had expired. The trustees countered that they revoked the 2008 acceleration with each dismissal and that the two dismissal rule did not apply because all parties consented to the previous dismissals. The Seventh Circuit found the case untimely, noting that the earlier complaints all stated the withdrawal liability was accelerated in 2008, contradicting an argument that acceleration had been revoked. The statute makes no mention of such a deceleration mechanism. View "Bauwens v. Revcon Technology Group, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure, ERISA