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

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Aluminum Recovery Technologies (ART) operates a smelter and during a renovation, one of its furnaces failed, causing molten aluminum to escape and damage the plant and the furnace itself. The insurance company, ACE American Insurance, paid for some of the damages but not the cost of replacing the furnace's refractory. ART sued ACE, arguing that an explosion in the furnace caused the damage and thus, the insurance company should cover the refractory replacement costs. However, the insurer argued that the policy specifically excludes coverage for any damage to the refractory lining unless it directly results from specific perils such as fire, lightning, windstorm, hail, or explosion. The United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in favor of ACE. The court held that the explosion did not necessarily cause the leak, and ART failed to provide engineering evidence to support its claims. Additionally, the court found that ART had consented to the investigation protocol proposed by the insurer's experts, which involved destructive testing that led to the need for the refractory's replacement. Therefore, the insurer was not responsible for the additional expenses incurred due to the replacement of the refractory lining. View "Aluminum Recovery Technologies, Inc. v. Ace American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Bruno, a veteran firefighter with the Kankakee Fire Department, sued Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, James Ellexson, the Human Resources Director for the City of Kankakee, and the City of Kankakee, alleging discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA). Bruno suffered a severe cardiac event in 2017 and upon his return to work was promoted to Deputy Chief. However, in 2019, he was denied a raise and presented with an employment contract that tied additional compensation to his enrollment in college courses. When Bruno requested the removal of this education condition, citing his heart condition as a barrier to attending classes, his request was denied. After signing the contract, Bruno retired and initiated legal proceedings.The United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, which had granted summary judgment for the defendants. The court concluded that Bruno's request to remove the education condition was not a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, as it would not impact his ability to perform his job. The court also rejected Bruno's claim of disparate treatment, as his argument of pretext was contradicted by the evidence. Bruno's ADA retaliation claim also failed because his identified protected activity was not protected under the ADA. As Bruno's IHRA and indemnification claims were dependent on his ADA claims, these too were rejected. View "Bruno v. Wells-Armstrong" on Justia Law

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Donald Pierce was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation and of being a repeat sexual offender. The case revolved around the testimonies of the victim and several adults who had been told about the incidents. Pierce's lawyer did not object to the sequence of these testimonies, which violated an Indiana evidentiary rule. Pierce later petitioned for post-conviction relief, arguing that his lawyer's failure to object meant he was deprived of constitutionally adequate representation. This was denied by the Indiana Court of Appeals, which found that the lawyer's failure to object was strategic and did not constitute constitutionally deficient performance. Pierce then sought habeas relief, alleging the state appellate court had unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent and made an unreasonable fact determination. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the previous decision, finding that the state court did not unreasonably apply the precedent and its fact determination was not unreasonable. View "Pierce v. Vanihel" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit addressed a dispute involving the owners of two parcels of real estate in Chicago who contended that banks tried to collect notes and mortgages that belonged to different financial institutions. The state judiciary had ruled that the banks were entitled to foreclose on both parcels, but the properties had not yet been sold and no final judgments defining the debt were in place. The plaintiffs attempted to initiate federal litigation under the holding of Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., arguing that their case was still pending. However, the district court dismissed the case, citing the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which states that only the Supreme Court of the United States can review the judgments of state courts in civil suits.The Appeals court held that the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine was incorrect in this case because the foreclosure litigation in Illinois was not yet "final". According to the court, the foreclosure process in Illinois continues until the property is sold, the sale is confirmed, and the court either enters a deficiency judgment or distributes the surplus. Since these steps had not occurred, the plaintiffs had not yet "lost the war", and thus parallel state and federal litigation could be pursued as per Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp.However, by the time the district court dismissed this suit, the state litigation about one parcel was over because a sale had occurred and been confirmed, and by the time the Appeals court heard oral argument that was true for the second parcel as well. The Appeals court stated that Illinois law forbids sequential litigation about the same claim even when the plaintiff in the second case offers novel arguments. The court found that the plaintiffs could have presented their constitutional arguments in the state court system and were not free to shift what is effectively an appellate argument to a different judicial system.The court also noted that Joel Chupack, the lead defendant, was the trial judge in the state case and was not a party to either state case. He did not claim the benefit of preclusion. Judge Chupack was found to be entitled to absolute immunity from damages, as he acted in a judicial capacity.The judgment of the district court was modified to reflect a dismissal with prejudice rather than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, and as so modified it was affirmed. View "Bryant v. Chupack" on Justia Law

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This case involves a federal habeas corpus petition by Darnell Dixon, who was convicted of home invasion and murder by an Illinois state court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Dixon's habeas petition primarily focused on claims of actual innocence and prosecutorial misconduct. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his habeas petition by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.The case involved a series of events including a drug-related robbery and subsequent murders. Dixon and Eugene Langston were implicated in the murders, with Langston identified in a police lineup by a witness, Horace Chandler. However, Chandler later recanted this identification. The state's case against Dixon relied heavily on a confession that Dixon later claimed was false. Dixon's confession and Chandler's identification of Langston were central to the state's theory of accomplice liability, arguing that Dixon was accountable for Langston's acts.In his habeas petition, Dixon argued that he was denied due process when the trial court excluded evidence that charges against his alleged accomplice, Langston, were dismissed. He also asserted that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the exclusion of that evidence. Furthermore, Dixon claimed that the state committed prosecutorial misconduct by presenting conflicting positions regarding Langston's involvement in the murders at trial and during post-conviction proceedings.However, the Seventh Circuit found that Dixon's claim of actual innocence, based on the state's post-conviction contention that Langston's involvement was irrelevant and evidence of abusive and perjurious conduct by the case's police detective, did not meet the high standard required to conclusively prove his innocence. The Seventh Circuit also rejected Dixon's arguments of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel, finding no clear error in the district court's factual findings on these issues. View "Darnell Dixon v. Tarry Williams" on Justia Law

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In an appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed a case concerning Adam Tyrale Williams Jr.'s ongoing effort to reduce his sentences for crack-cocaine offenses. Williams was convicted in 2001 of various drug-related offenses, and over the years, he sought sentence reductions based on retroactive amendments to the guidelines and, most recently, the First Step Act of 2018. The district court denied Williams's most recent application for sentence reduction, but the appellate court vacated the decision because the district court failed to calculate the amended statutory sentencing ranges applicable to Williams's convictions. Upon remand, Williams further emphasized changes to his record and conditions of confinement that occurred after the order was vacated. However, the district court again denied Williams's request shortly after receiving the updated motion. The appellate court found that the district court's reliance on its previous reasoning and failure to adequately explain its decision was an abuse of discretion. Thus, the appellate court vacated the judgment and remanded for further proceedings, indicating that a more complete explanation from the district court was necessary given the changes in law and facts relevant to the case. View "USA v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Adrian L. Johnson was pulled over by a Deputy Sheriff for driving with a suspended license. The officer's trained dog indicated the presence of a controlled substance in Johnson's car, leading to a search of the vehicle. The officer found drugs, drug paraphernalia, and two handguns. Johnson was subsequently charged with possession of drugs with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. He moved to suppress all evidence, arguing that the search of his car violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The district court denied the motion, and Johnson pled guilty, reserving his right to appeal the suppression ruling. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court, holding that the officer did not unconstitutionally prolong the stop to conduct the dog sniff, and that the subsequent search of Johnson's car did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The officer had probable cause to search the car because the dog's alerts indicated the presence of contraband. Therefore, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "USA v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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This case involves a group of plaintiffs who were minors at the time their guardians purchased and activated DNA test kits from Ancestry.com. The plaintiffs, through their guardians, provided their DNA samples to Ancestry.com for genetic testing and analysis. The plaintiffs later sued Ancestry.com, alleging that the company violated their privacy rights by disclosing their confidential genetic information to another business. Ancestry.com moved to compel arbitration based on a clause in its Terms & Conditions agreement, which the plaintiffs' guardians had agreed to when they purchased and activated the test kits.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, applying Illinois law, held that the plaintiffs were not bound to arbitrate their claims under the agreement between their guardians and Ancestry.com. The court reasoned that the plaintiffs neither signed the agreement nor created Ancestry.com accounts, and did not independently engage with Ancestry.com's services. Furthermore, the court refused to bind the plaintiffs to the agreement based on equitable principles, including the doctrine of direct benefits estoppel. The court noted that while the plaintiffs theoretically could benefit from Ancestry.com's services, there were no allegations that the plaintiffs had actually accessed their DNA test results.The court therefore affirmed the district court's decision denying Ancestry.com's motion to compel arbitration. The court's holding clarified that under Illinois law, a minor cannot be bound to an arbitration agreement that their guardian agreed to on their behalf, unless the minor independently engaged with the services provided under the agreement or directly benefited from the agreement. View "Coatney v. Ancestry.com DNA, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the defendant, Christopher Christophel, was convicted of knowingly attempting to persuade, induce, or entice a minor to engage in sexual activity. He was convicted based on his online communications with an undercover federal agent who was posing as a 15-year-old girl. Christophel appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in giving a jury instruction that, in his view, misstated the elements of the offense.The specific issue on appeal was whether the language of a particular jury instruction, which stated that the government did not need to prove that the defendant intended to have sex with the minor, only that he intended to entice the minor to have sex with him, accurately summarized the law. Christophel contended that this instruction described a wider range of behavior than that proscribed by the statute.The appellate court held that, when viewed in its entirety, the jury instruction did not misstate the law. Although the term "causing ... assent" might suggest unintentional conduct when read out of context, when read in the context of the entire instruction, it was best understood as a shorthand reference to the specific conduct described in the first paragraph of the instruction: knowingly taking a substantial step with the intent to commit the offense of enticement of a minor.Even if the jury instruction could have been clearer, the court found that Christophel was not prejudiced by any potential error. Given the overwhelming evidence of Christophel's intent, any potential error would have been harmless. The court affirmed the judgment. View "USA v. Christophel" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this federal case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Thomas Moorer, who had been arrested and indicted on charges including murder and attempted murder, challenged the constitutionality of his pretrial detention, claiming that there was no probable cause for his arrest. Moorer was ultimately acquitted by a jury of all charges. The defendants in the case were officers of the Chicago Police Department.The case arose from a fatal shooting that took place in an apartment shared by multiple people. Multiple witnesses, including Edwin Ramos, whose brother Edward was killed in the shooting, identified Moorer as the perpetrator. Edwin informed the police that the man who entered the apartment was nicknamed “Boom.” Moorer was subsequently arrested and charged with first-degree murder and other crimes, and a grand jury returned a 135-count indictment against him.Moorer claimed that the witness identifications were unreliable and that police failed to properly investigate his alibi. He argued that the prosecutors would have concluded there was no probable cause if they had been properly informed of all the facts known to the officers.However, the Court of Appeals found that the officers did have probable cause to arrest and detain Moorer, based on seven independent witness identifications. The court noted that the question for pretrial detention is not whether the officers have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime, but whether a reasonable person would have a sound reason to believe the suspect committed a crime. The court concluded that Moorer had not identified any facts known to the defendants that would eliminate probable cause.Therefore, the court affirmed the decision of the district court, which had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. View "Moorer v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law