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

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Dingwall was charged with three counts of robbery and three counts of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. She admits the robberies but claims she committed them under duress, in fear of brutal violence by her abusive boyfriend, Stanley. Dingwall sought a ruling on evidence to support her duress defense, including expert evidence on battering and its effects. The duress defense has two elements: reasonable fear of imminent death or serious injury, and the absence of reasonable, legal alternatives to committing the crime. The district court denied Dingwall’s motion. Dingwall then pleaded guilty, reserving her right to appeal the decision on the motion in limine. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that the cases are close and difficult, often dividing appellate panels. “Dingwall surely faces challenges” Stanley was not physically present for any of the robberies, Dingwall actually held a gun, and there is a dispute about whether Stanley threatened harm if she did not commit these specific offenses. Those facts present questions for a jury; the immediate physical presence of the threat is not always essential to a duress defense. Expert evidence of battering and its effects may inform the jury how an objectively reasonable person under the defendant’s circumstances might behave. View "United States v. Dingwall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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All Seasons inspected SparrowHawk's warehouse roofs and discovered hail damage. Because All Seasons did not hold an Illinois roofing license, it arranged for Prate to serve as general contractor with All Seasons as subcontractor. All Seasons was to provide materials and labor, maintain safety, and supervise the project. All Seasons purchased a commercial general liability policy and general liability extension endorsement from United, listing Prate as an “additional insured” in a “vicarious liability endorsement.” All Seasons then subcontracted with Century. Ayala, a Century employee was working on a SparrowHawk warehouse when he fell to his death.The Illinois workers’ compensation system provided limited death benefits but precluded tort remedies against his direct employer, Century. Ayala’s estate sued Prate, All Seasons, and SparrowHawk. Prate tendered the defense to United, which declined to defend and sought a declaratory judgment. All Seasons and United reached a settlement with the estate, paying the policy limits.The district court granted Prate summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting United’s argument that because its named insured was an independent contractor, Illinois law would not impose any liability on the additional insured and there was no risk of covered liability. The duty to defend depends on the claims the plaintiff asserts, not on their prospects for success. The settlement of the underlying claims against the named insured, however, removed any possibility that the additional insured might be held vicariously liable for actions of the named insured; the duty to defend ended when that settlement was consummated. View "United Fire & Casualty Co. v. Prate Roofing & Installations LLC" on Justia Law

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Officers used a confidential informant to arrange four controlled drug buys from Rollerson. Officers obtained search warrants for an apartment and for Rollerson’s home, then stopped Rollerson for speeding. They recovered a gun and marijuana from his car. Rollerson, a convicted felon, said that he “was the only one who had something to do with the drug sales.” In Rollerson's home, police found $150,000 in cash that Rollerson admitted were drug proceeds. Rollerson had a key to the apartment, which contained four kilograms of fentanyl, 52 grams of heroin, 97 grams of cocaine, and 236 grams of tramadol, plus digital scales, firearms, and mail addressed to Rollerson. Rollerson was convicted on certain drug and firearm charges but acquitted on other drug charges. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 276-month sentence. Rollerson claimed that the prosecution did not present sufficiently reliable information that he sold heroin and fentanyl during four controlled drug buys for which he was not charged and that those uncharged controlled buys and other drugs for which he was acquitted were not “part of the same course of conduct … scheme or plan” as his offenses of convictions. The record at sentencing on the controlled buys was sparse but absent contradictory evidence, a police officer’s affidavit attesting that the buys occurred provided the “modicum of reliability” needed to find by a preponderance of the evidence that Rollerson committed those additional crimes. View "United States v. Rollerson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Meinders offers chiropractic services. United provides or administers insurance plans nationwide. In 2006, Meinders became a “participating provider” with United to expand his customer base; he signed a provider agreement with ACN. which provided administrative and network management services for chiropractors, and had a preexisting master services agreement with United. The agreement allowed ACN, “in its sole discretion,” to “assign its rights, duties or obligations” under the agreement.“ The agreement stated that if a dispute arose, either party “may” submit the issue “to arbitration” and any arbitration decision would be “final and binding.”Meinders submitted claims for United-insured patients directly to United; United paid those claims. Those claims were submitted on United forms and if an explanation of benefits was requested, United provided it. Meinders confirmed a patient’s eligibility either through United’s website or through a United phone number. ACN became a wholly-owned subsidiary of United.In 2013, United sent a fax to Meinders, who believed that United had violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and filed suit. After remands, the district court held that “United … assumed the material obligations of ACN …, a wholly-owned subsidiary of United, under the Provider Agreement, which authorizes United to enforce the arbitration clause.” The Third Circuit affirmed. View "Dr. Robert L. Meinders, D.C., Ltd. v. United HealthCare Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Omowole, a citizen of Nigeria, married her first husband, Festus, in 2007. Festus had won a diversity lottery visa for admission to the U.S. in 2006, and Omowole, as his spouse, was eligible for a derivative visa. By the time they emigrated (separately), months later they were estranged as a result of Festus’s disclosure that he had fathered a child with another woman before he married Omowole. Omowole settled in Indiana and Festus in California. The two never cohabited in the U.S. as husband and wife. In 2011, they divorced. Festus subsequently married the mother of his child. When he then attempted to become a naturalized U.S. citizen and sought lawful permanent resident status for his new wife and his child, USCIS investigated and determined his marriage to Omowole had been a sham entered into for the purpose of facilitating her entry into the United States.The Board of Immigration Appeals sustained the findings of two immigration judges that Omowole is removable for having procured an entry visa by fraud and not entitled to asylum or withholding of removal. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. The decision rested on the immigration judges’ adverse findings as to Omowole’s credibility and that of her ex-husband, and those findings are supported by substantial evidence. View "Omowole v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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In 2013, a Chicago Best Buy store's manager warned the Plaintiffs that plasma‐screen televisions frequently experienced longevity problems, and encouraged them to buy a five‐year extended warranty, the “Geek Squad Protection Plan.” They bought a Samsung 64‐inch plasma‐screen television for $3,119.99 and the Plan for another $519.99. The television broke down after four years. Best Buy could not repair it. The Plan provided that if the television could not be repaired, Best Buy could elect either to replace the television or to compensate the consumer with a gift card. Best Buy provided a gift card, the value of which was keyed to the current market price of a new television of similar quality to the one purchased in 2013.The Plaintiffs filed a purported class action under the Magnuson‐Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. 2301, which requires that if a warrantied consumer good cannot be repaired, the written warranty must give the consumer a choice of remedy: either a replacement or a refund of the purchase price, less reasonable depreciation. They argued that the Plan is a full “written warranty” and that Best Buy’s unilateral decision to provide the gift card failed to provide consumers with the choice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, the Wares have not met the amount‐in‐controversy requirement. View "Tawanna Ware v. Best Buy Stores" on Justia Law

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While Appvion was in financial distress, 2012-2016, the defendants allegedly fraudulently inflated stock valuations to enrich the directors and officers, whose pay was tied to the valuations of its ERISA-covered Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). They allegedly carried out this scheme with knowing aid from the ESOP trustee, Argent, and its independent appraiser, Stout. Appvion directors allegedly provided unlawful dividends to its parent company by forgiving intercompany notes. Appvion filed for bankruptcy protection. Appvion’s bankruptcy creditors were given authority to pursue certain corporation-law claims on behalf of Appvion to recover losses from the defendants’ alleged wrongs against the corporation; they brought state law claims against the directors and officers for breaching their corporate fiduciary duties; alleged that Argent and Stout aided and abetted those breaches, and asserted state-law unlawful dividend claims. The defendants argued that their roles in Appvion’s ESOP valuations were governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which preempted state corporation-law liability and that, despite their dual roles as corporate and ERISA fiduciaries, they acted exclusively under ERISA when carrying out ESOP activities, 29 U.S.C. 1002(21)(A). The district court agreed and dismissed.The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. ERISA does not preempt the claims against directors and officers. ERISA expressly contemplates parallel corporate liability against those who serve dual roles as both corporate and ERISA fiduciaries. ERISA preempts the claims against Argent and Stout. Corporation-law aiding and abetting liability against these defendants would interfere with the cornerstone of ERISA’s fiduciary duties—Section 404's exclusive benefit rule. View "Halperin v. Richards" on Justia Law

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In 1993, Millis and Creeden committed two armed robberies. State police stopped them and searched their vehicle, which contained ammunition, a pistol, and cash from the robberies. The traffic stop was found to be pretextual but Creeden had already implicated Millis as the getaway driver. Millis was convicted of aiding and abetting: an armed bank robbery, the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, a Hobbs Act robbery, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Millis’s previous convictions, a 1992 Ohio conviction for aggravated assault and a 1991 Ohio conviction for selling marijuana, plus his federal armed bank robbery conviction qualified him as a career offender. The district judge sentenced him to a below-guidelings 410 months’ imprisonment, stating, “if I had discretion ... I would sentence him to about 25 years.”Millis repeatedly sought post-conviction relief. Attempting to benefit from intervening legal changes concerning career offender designation, Millis invoked the 28 U.S.C. 2255(e), “savings clause” to seek habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The savings clause is a narrow exception to the rule that federal sentences must be collaterally attacked under section 2255. Millis’s sentence on his guidelines counts fell within the range for a non-career offender, so his career offender designation did not result in a miscarriage of justice, as required for savings clause relief. View "Millis v. Segal" on Justia Law

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Talevski, living with dementia, was a patient at Valparaiso Care, a state-run Indiana nursing facility. His wife filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA), 42 U.S.C. 1396r, which establishes the minimum standards of care to which nursing-home facilities must adhere in order to receive federal funds in the Medicaid program. Some of the requirements relate to residents’ rights, including two cited by Talevski, the right to be free from chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience rather than treatment and the right not to be transferred or discharged unless certain criteria are met.The district court dismissed the action, finding that FNHRA does not provide a private right of action that may be redressed under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The section 1983 remedy broadly encompasses violations of federal statutory as well as constitutional law. The court noted the express rights-creating language in the statute and that FNHRA is not the type of comprehensive enforcement scheme, incompatible with individual enforcement. The right protected by the statute is not so vague and amorphous that its enforcement would strain judicial competence. View "Talevski v. Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County" on Justia Law

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Algozine employed members of the Union and, pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, was required to submit contributions to three employee benefit funds on behalf of employees who performed covered work: the Welfare Fund; the Pension Fund; and the Annuity Fund. All are multi-employer benefit funds under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. 1002. Algozine fell behind on its contributions and filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition.The Funds filed separate proofs of claims under 11 U.S.C. 507(a)(5) for unpaid contributions. Section 507(a) affords priority status up to a specified point to certain types of unsecured claims, including claims for unpaid contributions to an employee benefit plan. The Welfare Fund sought $21,334.30, the Pension Fund sought $18,453.40, and the Annuity Fund sought $11,607.16. Algozine argued that the total should be reduced to $5,556.34 because the Funds erred by applying the priority cap that appears in section 507(a)(5) to each individual Fund’s claims rather than the Funds’ aggregate claims. The bankruptcy court, district court, and the Seventh Circuit agreed with the Funds that section 507(a)(5) does not require assessing distinct benefit plans collectively. View "In re: Algozine Masonry Restoration, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy, ERISA