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

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Joiner is a 31‐year‐old prisoner serving an eight-year sentence at U.S. Penitentiary Marion for a drug crime. In July 2020, amid the COVID‐19 pandemic, Joiner sought compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), citing “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” self‐reported hypertension, a body mass index (BMI) of 28.9 (the “over‐weight” category), and his skin color. He argued that Black Americans have disproportionately suffered from COVID‐19 because “society has put them in worse positions.” He cited a CDC article to argue that Black people in the U.S. face a higher risk of hospitalization and death from COVID‐19, and other articles to contend that, even though skin color should not affect health outcomes from infectious diseases, “our society” delivers subpar health care to “people with black skin,” even when controlling for class, comorbidities, and access to health insurance. The government contended that Joiner’s medical records did not contain evidence of hypertension and that his BMI did not place him at “high risk” for severe COVID‐19 complications.The district court ruled that Joiner did not present extraordinary and compelling reasons for release, without comment on Joiner’s racial disparity argument. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The cited articles identify multiple societal factors that are not relevant to Joiner’s individual situation in federal prison. Without any factual basis tying those broader societal concerns to Joiner’s individual situation, the district court was not required to address the argument. View "United States v. Joiner" on Justia Law

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Karr applied for Social Security disability benefits based on her complaints of chronic lower back pain and other ailments. Karr traces the source of her back pain to a car accident in the late 1990s. She has tried multiple forms of treatment for her pain, numbness, and weakness in her lower back and legs.An ALJ concluded that Karr was not disabled because she still could perform sedentary work with some restrictions. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Karr’s claim that the ALJ improperly discounted a statement from her treating neurosurgeon that she could not sit, stand, or walk for sustained periods. The ALJ’s decision was supported by substantial evidence Although acknowledging that the neurosurgeon was a treating provider who had examined Karr, the ALJ found “extreme” his notation that Karr could not “sit, stand or walk for any sustained period of time” because the record contained reports of multiple physical examinations showing that Karr had full strength and could walk normally. View "Karr v. Saul" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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Kelly, an off-duty Chicago police officer, shot his friend LaPorta in the head during an argument after a night of drinking together. LaPorta’s injuries left him severely, permanently disabled. LaPorta sued the city under 42 U.S.C. 1983, which provides a federal remedy against state actors who deprive others of rights secured by the federal Constitution and laws, arguing that the city had inadequate policies in place to prevent the shooting. He identified several policy shortcomings: the failure to have an “early warning system” to identify officers who were likely to engage in misconduct, the failure to adequately investigate and discipline officers who engage in misconduct, and the perpetuation of a “code of silence” that deters reporting of officers who engage in misconduct.A jury awarded LaPorta $44.7 million in damages. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Whatever viability LaPorta’s claim might have under state tort law, it has no foundation in constitutional law. When Kelly shot LaPorta, he was not acting as a police officer but as a private citizen. LaPorta claimed that he was deprived of his due-process right to bodily integrity but it has long been settled that “a State’s failure to protect an individual against private violence … does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause.” View "First Midwest Bank v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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In August 2018, Ford, Johnson, and Foster committed several Milwaukee armed robberies, in different combinations. On August 22, Johnson provided a handgun; Foster and Ford assaulted a taxi driver, then fled with Johnson, to split the proceeds. On August 23, officers located the getaway car near a Petro Mart where Johnson and Foster had committed an armed robbery that morning. The car contained driver’s licenses of three taxi driver victims; a pair of flip-flops consistent with those worn by Foster during the Petro Mart robbery; and identification cards and a prescription belonging to Johnson.On August 25, surveillance cameras recorded Johnson and Ford entering a B.P. station., Johnson approached the cashier, who stood behind ballistic-proof glass, pointed the handgun, and demanded cash. The cashier refused. Ford had exited the store. The cashier activated the door lock. Ford, unable to re-enter, fled. Johnson eventually escaped by another exit. Johnson was arrested after a high-speed chase. Officers recovered a loaded handgun from her pocket, with distinctive characteristics matching those of the handgun seen in surveillance camera recordings featuring the three. Ford pleaded guilty to two counts of Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a) and one count of brandishing a firearm to further a crime of violence, section 924(c)(1)(A)(ii) for the attempted armed robbery of the B.P.The court sentenced Ford to 114 months' imprisonment: 30 months (a 35 percent downward departure from the guideline range) for the Hobbs Act counts, and a mandatory minimum consecutive sentence of 84 months for brandishing a firearm to further a crime of violence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not err by inferring that Ford was accountable for Johnson’s use of the firearm and imposing a six-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2B3.1(b)(2)(B). View "United States v. Ford" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2020 Krislov sought to run in the Democratic primary for a position on the Illinois Supreme Court. To get on the ballot he needed 5,050 valid signatures, 0.4% of the votes cast in the same district for the same party’s candidate in the most recent gubernatorial election. He submitted about 9,500 signatures, but many were ruled invalid and his total fell about 100 short. Instead of protesting that decision in state court, Krislov sued in federal court, arguing that falling 100 signatures short of 5,050 is within the margin of error for document examiners. The district court dismissed the case as a state-law challenge to a state-law requirement, which Krislov had forfeited by not using his state remedies and stating that “close enough for government work” is not an available doctrine in Illinois.The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of a justiciable controversy. The U.S. Constitution does not require states to ensure that their laws are accurately administered. Accurate adjudication always is in the public interest—as is accurate administration of state law—but federal courts cannot proceed if the plaintiff lacks standing or the proposed remedy would not redress the plaintiff’s injury. The election is over and Krislov cannot establish that the same problem is likely to recur for him, personally; if it does, Krislov is entitled to prompt review in state court. There is no “public interest” exception to the justiciability rules. View "Krislov v. Yarbrough" on Justia Law

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LHO owns a downtown hotel that it rebranded as “Hotel Chicago” in 2014. In 2016, Rosemoor renamed its existing westside hotel as “Hotel Chicago.” LHO sued Rosemoor for trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act and for deceptive advertising and common-law trademark violations under Illinois law. The district court denied preliminary injunctive relief, finding that “LHO has failed, at this juncture, to show that it is likely to succeed in proving secondary meaning" and was unlikely to show that “Hotel Chicago” was a protectable trademark. LHO appealed but successfully moved to voluntarily dismiss its claims with prejudice before briefing.Rosemoor requested more than $500,000 in attorney fees, arguing that the case qualified as “exceptional.” The district court denied the request under the Seventh Circuit's “abuse-of-process” standard. The Seventh Circuit held that the district court should have evaluated Rosemoor’s attorney-fee request under the Supreme Court’s “Octane Fitness” holding. On remand, Rosemoor filed a renewed request for more than $630,000 in fees, arguing that the weakness of LHO’s position on the merits, LHO’s motives in bringing suit, and its conduct in discovery, made the case exceptional under Octane Fitness. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the request. The district court applied the Octane Fitness standard and reasonably exercised its discretion in weighing the evidence before it. View "LHO Chicago River, L.L.C. v. Rosemoor Suites, LLC" on Justia Law

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Anderson furnished heroin to Sublett every month; Sublett cut the heroin with sleeping-aid medication and used retail-level sellers, including Ray, and paid Anderson after selling the heroin. Occasionally Sublett also stored large quantities of heroin for Anderson. Anderson provided Sublett with “Kansas City” heroin, which Ray sold to his regular customer, Buchanan. Buchanan overdosed. Paramedics revived Buchanan and took him to the hospital. After his release, Buchanan told Ray that he had overdosed on the "Kansas City."Anderson, Sublett, Ray, and others were charged under 21 U.S.C. 846. Count Two charged Anderson with aiding and abetting the distribution of heroin to Buchanan that resulted in his overdose (section 841(a)(1)). Anderson’s codefendants pleaded guilty. Anderson was convicted on both charges. For the serious-bodily-injury enhancement, the jury responded yes to: “With respect to Count One, Count Two, or both … the government has proven beyond a reasonable doubt Ian Buchanan suffered serious bodily injury and that the serious bodily injury … resulted from the use of heroin distributed by” Anderson. The court calculated a guidelines range of 360 months to life, considering the serious-bodily-injury finding and a two-level “leadership” enhancement, but ultimately imposed a below-guidelines sentence of 300 months.The Seventh Circuit vacated the distribution conviction, which was based on an aiding-and-abetting theory of liability that was unsupported by the evidence. To establish under an aiding-and-abetting theory, the government had to prove that Anderson “affirmative[ly] act[ed] in furtherance of” Ray’s sale to Buchanan and intended to facilitate the commission of that sale. It is impossible to tell from the jury’s verdict whether the serious-bodily-injury enhancement applied only to the flawed distribution conviction, only to the unchallenged conspiracy conviction, or to both. View "United States v. Anderson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Illinois inmate Mejia sued correctional officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging his filthy cell conditions and constant hallway lighting that prevented him from sleeping. His primary claim survived dismissal and summary judgment and proceeded to trial. The jury returned a defense verdict. Mejia had asked the district court, six times, to appoint counsel. Each time the court denied the request, reasoning that Mejia had demonstrated through his many filings that he understood his burden of proof and was capable of assembling evidence and marshaling arguments to support his contention that the Pontiac Correctional Center's conditions of confinement violated the Eighth Amendment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court correctly observed that Mejia had an extensive litigation history, including at least one prior case going to trial, albeit with counsel. Mejia had difficulty with the discovery process, but it was within the judge’s discretion to overlook his slips and help him rather than try to recruit counsel. The court observed, during the pretrial conference, Mejia’s ability to comprehend and address the facts and issues pertinent to his Eighth Amendment claim. There was no abuse of discretion; the fact that some trial witnesses testified by videoconference does not change the analysis. View "Mejia v. Pfister" on Justia Law

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Igasaki, a gay, Japanese-American, suffers from gout. From 1994 until his 2015 termination at age 62, Igasaki was an IDFPR staff attorney. In 2011, Forester gave Igasaki a good performance review; in 2012, Forester rated Igasaki poorly, providing specific examples of deficient performance. In 2013, IDFPR placed Igasaki on a corrective action plan. He subsequently received three reprimands. Igasaki made limited progress on seven of 12 plan requirements. The plan listed: failure to meet 50 deadlines; sleeping while at work; problems finding files; and lack of preparation for administrative proceedings. In 2014, the Igasaki was suspended for incompetence. Igasaki’s corrective action plan was again renewed. Igasaki received another suspension for insubordination. In Igasaki’s 2014 review, Forester rated him as needing improvement in all categories. In 2015, Forester noted that he had not progressed on six of the 12 requirements; for the first time, Igasaki formally requested accommodation for his gout. IDFPR granted Igasaki an ergonomic keyboard and authorization for an administrative assistant; Igasaki’s request for flexible deadlines, not supported by a doctor’s note, was denied. IDFPR terminated him weeks later.After filing charges with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the EEOC, Igasaki sued. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of IDFPR, rejecting claims of race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation (Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2), age discrimination (Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 623), and disability discrimination (Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12112). View "Igasaki v. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation" on Justia Law

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Guzman-Cordoba and Alvarado-Santiago participated in an extensive drug trafficking organization operating from Indianapolis and Chicago. Guzman-Cordoba was a drug courier, drug seller, and stash house guard; Alvarado-Santiago laundered the drug proceeds by wiring large sums from the Indianapolis grocery store that he managed to California and Mexico. Nine defendants were indicted. Guzman-Cordoba presented a duress defense, arguing that she had been forced to join the organization through violence and threats of violence to herself and her family. Alvarado-Santiago argued that he did not know that the money he had sent to California and Mexico was drug money. A jury convicted Guzman-Cordoba of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances and distribution of methamphetamine and convicted Alvarado-Santiago of conspiracy to launder money.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court erred in limiting the evidence Guzman-Cordoba attempted to introduce regarding her duress defense, erred in instructing the jury on that defense, and erred in ordering her to forfeit $10,000 in cash that was found at a stash house. The court rejected Alvarado-Santiago’s argument that the district court erred in only admitting a portion of his post-arrest statement, in admitting a statement by Guzman-Cordoba without limiting the jury’s ability to consider that evidence against him, and in giving the jury an instruction on deliberate avoidance of knowledge, the “ostrich instruction.” View "United States v. Alvarado-Santiago" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law