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

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White injured his knee while incarcerated and playing basketball at an Illinois prison in June 2015. From the date of his injury through November 2017, White complained about knee pain to various prison nurses and doctors, including Nurse Practitioner Woods and Doctor David, who met White’s complaints with “conservative” treatment. White did not receive an MRI for his knee until December 2017. The MRI revealed that White had a serious knee injury that required surgery.White filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Woods, David, and the prison’s healthcare provider, Wexford, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court dismissed White’s claims. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. The district court improperly granted Woods and David summary judgment on White’s deliberate indifference claims; the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to White shows a factual dispute. A jury could find that Woods’s decisions not to perform a complete examination on White and not to refer White to David, for an MRI or anything else, for nearly seven weeks were deliberately indifferent. A jury could conclude that he unreasonably delayed necessary treatment for White’s knee injury by continuing a conservative care regimen. View "White v. Woods" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin inmates undergo regular strip searches. One guard performs the search; another observes. West is a Muslim. Strip searches by guards of the opposite sex violate the tenets of his faith. He was required to submit to a strip search by a guard who is a transgender man—a woman who identifies as a man. West objected but was refused an accommodation. West unsuccessfully requested an exemption from future cross-sex strip searches. The warden stated that he would be disciplined if he objects again. West sought an injunction under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, and alleged Fourth Amendment violations. The district court dismissed the constitutional claim; circuit precedent held that a prisoner has no Fourth Amendment interest against visual inspections of his body. Rejecting the RLUIPA claim, the judge concluded that West had not shown a substantial burden on his religious exercise and that cross-sex strip searches are permissible as the prison’s only means to avoid unlawfully discriminating against transgender employees.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Intervening precedent revives the Fourth Amendment claim. West is entitled to judgment on the RLUIPA claim. His objection to cross-sex strip searches is religious in nature and sincere. The prison has substantially burdened his religious exercise by requiring him to either submit, in violation of his faith, or face discipline. The burden is unjustified under RLUIPA’s strict-scrutiny standard: providing an exemption will not violate the rights of transgender prison employees under Title VII or the Equal Protection Clause. View "West v. Radtke" on Justia Law

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Mwangangi provided roadside assistance around Indianapolis. He set out to jumpstart a car in his used Crown Victoria and activated clear strobe lights on the outside of his car. A driver that Mwangangi passed on the highway twice called 911 to report him as a police impersonator. Shortly after Mwangangi helped the stranded motorist, he found himself at a gas station surrounded by seven police officers. Mwangangi was ordered from his car, handcuffed, patted down twice, and arrested for police impersonation—charges that were not dropped until two years later, when everyone realized he had been telling the truth about his roadside assistance job.The district court entered summary judgment for Mwangangi on many of his Fourth Amendment-based claims, denying some of the police officers the protection of qualified immunity. The court found for the city and officers on other claims. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. Officer Nielsen had a “particularized and objective basis” to justify an investigatory Terry stop in the gas station and had the authority to ask Mwangangi to step out of his car to answer questions. Because of the context of the potential crime and surrounding circumstances, Officer Root’s decision to pat Mwangangi down did not amount to a constitutional violation. Officer Noland waived any challenge to the determination that his second pat down violated Mwangangi’s Fourth Amendment rights. The court stated that claims against officers for “bystander liability” required further factual development. View "Mwangangi v. Nielsen" on Justia Law

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Downing, an African-American woman, had significant sales experience when she was hired in 2002 by Abbott. In 2009 she became one of four Regional Sales Managers. Abbott came under financial pressure in 2012 and reduced its workforce. Downing’s new director, Farmakis, included detailed criticisms in Downing’s 2013 review. Downing and another employee reported to Abbott’s Employee Relations Department that Farmakis was discriminating based on race and gender. Farmakis was coached to improve his management style. Throughout 2013, Abbott’s business faltered, resulting in layoffs and realignment of its sales teams. Abbott placed Downing on a performance improvement plan, the last step before termination. Downing then retained counsel and gave notice that she intended to file discrimination claims. Abbott cut Downing’s stock award in 2014. Downing filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC. Abbott had another reduction in force in 2015. All four Regional Sales Manager lost their jobs when that position was eliminated. Farmakis was also terminated. Abbott invited Downing to apply for the position of Regional Commercial Director. Abbott did not select Downing or Farmakis and ultimately hired an African-American man.Downing filed suit under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Abbot, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings, the exclusion of Downing’s expert witness, the jury instructions, the testimony of her former manager, and the sufficiency of the evidence for her disparate-impact claim. View "Downing v. Abbott Laboratories" on Justia Law

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The Watters moved into the Preserve as the only black couple in the subdivision. Kate and Ed Mamaril have each been president of the Homeowners’ Association (HOA). When the Watters began construction, Ed told them that they were not welcome. There was a dispute about the Maramils’ cats. Subsequent encounters involved shoving and racial epithets. When the Watters asked for copies of the HOA’s restrictive covenants, Marmaril, as HOA president, refused to provide copies. The Watters had disputes with the HOA concerning mailboxes, paint colors, and porch posts. The HOA has a rule against privacy fences. Watters is a veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD after being trapped in a cave, with a dog. He is unable to work because of a terminal lung condition that further exacerbates his reactivity to dogs. Watters states that his doctors advised him to get a privacy fence to mitigate his PTSD triggers. He unsuccessfully requested the privacy fence as a reasonable and necessary accommodation. A subsequent dispute involved the Watters’ plan to construct a pool.In a suit under Fair Housing Act and 42 U.S.C. 1982, the district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The Watters can proceed with their race discrimination claim under the Act and section 1982 against the Mamarils, but not against the HOA. Without any evidence showing that the HOA knew about Watters’s PTSD, the Watters’ failure-to-accommodate claim cannot survive. View "Watters v. Homeowners Association at the Preserve at Bridgewater" on Justia Law

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Jarnutowski sought Social Security disability benefits, claiming she could not work due to a foot condition, neck and leg pain, obesity, and mental health issues. Jarnutowski underwent multiple surgeries, X-rays, and CT scans on her foot between 2011-2015. An ALJ awarded Jarnutowski found that she was disabled during September 2013-January 2016, with only the ability to perform light work with some limitations; her foot condition, neck issues, and obesity were severe impairments; and, she was disabled by direct application of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines due to her age. The ALJ concluded that Jarnutowski’s disability ended when she regained the ability to perform medium work after her foot surgery and was again able to perform her past work as a store manager. The ALJ did not explicitly address Jarnutowski’s functional capabilities related to medium work, including Jarnutowski’s ability to lift objects weighing up to 50 pounds and frequently lift or carry objects weighing up to 25 pounds, emphasizing Jarnutowski’s ability to walk.The Seventh Circuit reversed. In Social Security disability determinations, the lifting and carrying weight requirements associated with medium work are more than double those of light work. The ALJ found that Jarnutowski’s “residual functional capacity” was limited to light work with some restrictions before her final foot surgery, but increased to medium work after the surgery without explaining how, after surgery, Jarnutowski could lift or carry objects more than twice the weight that she lifted or carried before surgery. View "Jarnutowski v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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Officer Crowder observed an SUV outside a closed business. Pace exited that vehicle. sta5int that he was lost and needed directions to Johns's house. Crowder knew of Johns's past methamphetamine use and had received complaints from Johns’s neighbors about traffic at her home. Crowder activated his emergency lights, and parked directly behind Pace’s SUV; nothing obstructed Pace’s ability to drive away. Shining his flashlight inside the SUV, Crowder did not see weapons or contraband but did see multiple musical instrument cases. Pace walked around his SUV and attempted to get one of the instruments. Pace’s behavior struck Crowder as odd and overly friendly, yet nervous. Dispatch confirmed that Pace’s license was clear and that he had no outstanding warrants but he had a history of drug possession including methamphetamine, narcotic instruments, and drug paraphernalia. Pace denied that he had weapons but declined to consent to a vehicle search. Crowder explained that Pace was not under arrest, but that he was going to place him in restraints during a canine sniff. After the dog indicated the presence of drugs in the SUV. Crowder searched the SUV and found methamphetamine and cannabis. Pace unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that ruling, a 60-month sentence, and a finding that Pace was not eligible for relief from the five-year statutory minimum sentence under the “safety valve” provision of 18 U.S.C. 3553(f). The search was based on reasonable suspicion. View "United States v. Pace" on Justia Law

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Watson pled guilty to federal charges pursuant to an agreement that waived his right to appeal any aspect of his conviction or sentence, subject to exceptions not relevant to his appeal. Following sentencing, Watson instructed his appointed counsel to file a notice of appeal. Counsel did so but then moved to withdraw because he did not practice in appellate courts. The court appointed another lawyer and set a schedule allowing 90 days for the opening brief. The government cited the waiver in the plea agreement and immediately moved to dismiss the appeal.The Seventh Circuit denied the motion. The government’s filing a motion to dismiss before the opening brief is generally premature. Even a broad appeal waiver forecloses only certain arguments, not the appeal itself, and a defendant has no obligation to identify what arguments he may bring when filing a notice of appeal. Neither counsel nor the defendant has done anything incompatible with the waiver until they press an argument the waiver forecloses. The grounds for dismissal do not exist until those arguments are made in the opening brief. View "United States v. Watson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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At a barbecue at Brown's home. K.M. and Brown became inebriated and had a physical altercation. K.M.’s wife, Rebecca, got K.M. to his car, in front of Brown’s house. According to Rebecca, K.M. was standing in the street when Brown approached and swung a knife at K.M.. K.M. swung back with a piece of wood that Brown had thrown at K.M. earlier. Brown claims K.M. came up the driveway toward him holding pieces of wood and raised his hands as if to strike Brown, so Brown picked up a knife from the grill and swung it. He did not realize he had stabbed K.M. until K.M. collapsed in the street. Brown did not call 911 but made statements such as “that will teach him.” In recorded telephone calls from the jail, Brown made statements attributing the stabbing to anger rather than fear. K.M.’was struck three times; the knife’s blade penetrated his skull and passed through the brain. K.M. survived but has cognitive and physical impairments and will require care for the remainder of his life.Brown was convicted of first-degree reckless injury. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Brown’s habeas petition. Even if he was deprived of due process when the trial court refused to instruct the jury on the “castle doctrine” as part of his self-defense theory, any error was harmless. It is unlikely that a properly instructed jury would have accepted Brown’s factual account. View "Brown v. Eplett" on Justia Law

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Armbruster, a CPA with experience working at a Big Four accounting firm, began serving as the controller for Roadrunner's predecessor in 1990 and became Roadrunner’s CFO. Roadrunner grew rapidly, acquiring transportation companies and going public in 2010. In 2014, Roadrunner’s then‐controller recognized shortcomings in a subsidiary's (Morgan) accounting and began investigating. In 2016, many deficiencies in Morgan’s accounting remained unresolved. The departing controller found that Morgan had inflated its balance sheet by at least $2 million and perhaps as much as $4–5 million. Armbruster filed Roadrunner's 2016 third quarter SEC Form 10‐Q with no adjustments of the carrying values of Morgan balance sheet items and including other misstatements. Roadrunner’s CEO learned of the misstatements and informed Roadrunner’s Board of Directors. Roadrunner informed its independent auditor. Roadrunner’s share price dropped significantly. Roadrunner filed restated financial statements, reporting a decrease of approximately $66.5 million in net income over the misstated periods.Criminal charges were brought against Armbruster and two former departmental controllers. A mixed verdict acquitted the departmental controllers on all counts but convicted Armbruster on four of 11 charges for knowingly falsifying Roadrunner‘s accounting records by materially misstating the carrying values of Morgan's receivable and prepaid taxes account, 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(2), (5), i78ff(a), 18 U.S.C. 2, fraudulently influencing Roadrunner’s external auditor, and filing fraudulent SEC financial statements, 18 U.S.C.1348. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While the case against Armbruster may not have been open‐and‐shut, a rational jury could have concluded that the government presented enough evidence to support the guilty verdicts. View "United States v. Armbruster" on Justia Law