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

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Police found more than 80 grams of red methamphetamine in a car. The ensuing investigation resulted in the indictment of 12 people for a drug-distribution conspiracy; 11, including Garcia, pleaded guilty. Pineda-Hernandez stood trial and was convicted. The Seventh Circuit found that the judge improperly enhanced Garcia’s sentence based on a prior drug conviction. That conviction involved an Indiana law that then banned manufacturing or delivering “marijuana, hash oil, hashish, or salvia.” Decisions by Indiana’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals show the statute is not divisible and the modified categorical approach does not apply. Inclusion of salvia in the statute excludes it from the federal definition of “felony drug offense,” so Garcia’s prior conviction is not a “felony drug offense” and does not support the sentencing enhancement. The court affirmed with respect to Pineda-Hernandez, who spoke little English, rejecting claims of multiple errors involving an alleged language-interpretation debacle and that the judge improperly augmented his sentence based on his role. No widespread or particular interpretation errors deprived Pineda-Hernandez of due process. Pineda-Hernandez’s arguments that he was not the leader or organizer do not overcome the bulk of the evidence showing he exercised some significant control and was responsible for some significant organization of others. View "United States v. Pineda-Hernandez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Preston brought a putative class action, claiming that Midland Credit sent him a collection letter that violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692–1692[. He claimed the words “TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENT” on the envelope violated section 1692f(8)’s prohibition against “[u]sing any language or symbol,” other than the defendant’s business name or address, on the envelope of a debt collection letter. He claimed that those words, and the combination statements about discounted payment options with a statement that Midland was not obligated to renew those offers, in the body of the letter, were false and deceptive, under section 1692e(2) and (10). The district court dismissed the complaint, citing a "benign‐language exception" to the statutory language because the language “TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENT” did not create any privacy concerns or expose Preston to embarrassment. The court also rejected Preston’s section 1692e claims. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part: the language of section 1692f(8) is clear and its application does not lead to absurd results. The prohibition of any writing on an envelope containing a debt collection letter represents a rational policy choice by Congress. The language on the envelope and in the letter does not, however, violate section 1692e(2) and (10). Midland accurately and appropriately used safe‐harbor language as described in precedent. View "Preston v. Midland Credit Management, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law
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The plaintiffs received form notices from Client Services with a header stated only “RE: CHASE BANK USA, N.A.,” with an account number. The letters continued: “The above account has been placed with our organization for collections.” The letters did not say whether Chase Bank still owned the accounts or had sold the debts. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, requires the collector of consumer debt to send the consumer-debtor a written notice containing, among other information, “the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed.” The plaintiffs argued that Client Services’ letters failed to identify clearly the current holder of the debt. The district court certified a plaintiff class of Wisconsin debtors who received substantially identical notices from Client Services, found that Chase Bank was actually the current creditor, and granted Client Services summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The actual identity of the current creditor does not control the result. The question under the statute is whether the letters identified the then-current creditor clearly enough that an unsophisticated consumer could identify it without guesswork. The notices here failed that test. View "Steffek v. Client Services, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law
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Censke sought to bring a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) suit for injuries he says he suffered at the hands of Indiana federal prison guards. The FTCA required Censke to give notice in writing to the Bureau of Prisons within two years of the incident, 28 U.S.C. 2401(b), by sending form SF-95 to the regional office in which the injury happened. The Bureau considers claims filed when first received by any of its offices. Censke moved prisons six times in the two years following the alleged incident and lost access to his legal materials. He contends that the prison staff ignored his requests for an SF-95 form. When he got the form, he was in Kentucky. Censke asked the staff for the address of the Bureau’s North Central Regional Office. He says they refused to help. Nine days before the end of the limitations period, Censke placed his SF-95 form in the outgoing mail, addressed to the Bureau's Central Office in Washington, D.C. The Bureau stamped it as received at the North Central Regional Office on February 16, 2016—over two months after Censke put it in the mail. The Bureau denied the claim on the merits, without mentioning timeliness. Censke filed suit under the FTCA. The court concluded that the mailbox rules apply and rejected Censke’s arguments for equitable tolling and delayed accrual. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The prison-mailbox rule applies to administrative filings under the FTCA. View "Censke v. United States" on Justia Law

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Goodloe arrived at the Hill Correctional Center in July 2013 and immediately complained of pain from rectal bleeding. His pain continued despite treatments for hemorrhoids and anal warts. Goodloe wanted to see an outside specialist and filed several grievances. He repeatedly asserted that his pain was internal. In September 2014, Goodloe finally saw a specialist, and immediately diagnosed an anal fissure—a small tear in the anal tissue lining. Goodloe underwent surgery on October 3 and testified that he experienced instant pain relief. The rectal bleeding abated and eventually altogether stopped. The district court rejected, on summary judgment, Goodloe’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit reversed as to the deliberate indifference claims against one physician but affirmed with respect to a claim of retaliation. A reasonable jury could conclude that Dr. Sood’s persistence in the ineffective treatment, or his delay in getting Goodloe to an outside specialist, or both, amounted to deliberate indifference. The record lacked evidence permitting a finding that Dr. Sood made any treatment decision in response to Goodloe’s submission of multiple grievances. View "Goodloe v. Sood" on Justia Law

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Under Ind. Code 31-14-7-1(1), a husband is presumed to be a child’s biological father; both spouses are listed as parents on the birth certificate and the child is deemed to be born in wedlock. There is no similar presumption with respect to a same-sex couple. The district court issued an injunction requiring Indiana to treat children born into female-female marriages as having two female parents, who must be listed on the birth certificate. Because Indiana lists only two parents on a birth certificate, this prevents the state from treating as a parent the man who provided the sperm but requires that one spouse, who provided neither sperm nor egg, be identified as a parent. The court reasoned that Indiana lists a husband as a biological parent (when a child is born during marriage) even if he did not provide sperm, and must treat a wife as a parent even if she did not provide an egg. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, citing the Supreme Court’s 2017 holding, Pavan v. Smith, that same-sex and opposite-sex couples must have the same rights with respect to the identification of children’s parentage on birth certificates. Indiana’s statutory presumption violates the Constitution. The court rejected the state’s arguments that the statutory presumption is rebuttable. View "Henderson v. Box" on Justia Law

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Ingram committed three robberies and one attempted robbery. Police identified Ingram from his social media postings and two anonymous tips. Charged with three counts of Hobbs Act robbery and one count of attempted Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a), and four counts of brandishing a firearm in connection with each of those crimes of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c), Ingram admitted guilt as to Counts 1–4 but contested the four 924(c) charges. During the first robbery, Ingram shoved into the store clerk’s back what she believed was a gun. The clerk did not see, and the security cameras did not capture an image of, the object that Ingram shoved against her back. During the next robbery, he pulled out a gun and demanded money. Three days later, Ingram robbed another salon, threatening a clerk and customers with a gun. Ingram then tried to rob a store. Despite her terror at Ingram’s weapon, the clerk could not open the register. Ingram argued that the government had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the object he had brandished was actually a firearm. The district court rejected that argument; he was convicted on all counts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that there was insufficient evidence for a conviction and that his conviction on Count 8 cannot stand because attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a crime of violence. View "United States v. Ingram" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Prater was denied Social Security Disability Insurance benefits when she was 47-years-old and weighed about 400 pounds at 64 inches tall. X-rays showed mild-to-moderate degenerative joint disease in her feet and knees and degenerative disc disease in her spine. She was diabetic and had a history of gout. Prater stated that at her last job she experienced pain and fatigue “all the time.” None of her treating physicians indicated that she must alternate between sitting and standing. A vocational expert testified that a hypothetical individual with Prater's vocational background, education, and age, limited to sedentary work with restrictions on lifting, carrying, climbing, driving, and more, who could stand and walk no more than two hours of an eight-hour day and would need to change positions during the day but could remain in place for at least 30 minutes, whether sitting or standing, could not do any of Prater’s past jobs but could perform other jobs available in the national economy. The ALJ concluded that Prater was not disabled, finding that she had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work with numerous restrictions; that her statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were “not entirely consistent” with the evidence; and that, although Prater was morbidly obese, “her physical examination was otherwise unremarkable.” The Appeals Council, the district court, and the Seventh Circuit upheld the decision. The sit/stand limitation in the RFC assessment is not too vague. The ALJ’s finding that she could sit and stand for 30 minutes at a time does not lack medical support; the ALJ did not improperly discredit her testimony that she could remain in position for only 20 minutes. View "Prater v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Kaiser had surgery to implant the Prolift Anterior Pelvic Floor Repair System, a transvaginal mesh medical device that supports the pelvic muscles. A few years later, Kaiser began experiencing severe pelvic pain, bladder spasms, and pain during intercourse. Her physician attributed these conditions to contractions in the mesh. Kaiser had surgery to remove the device, but her surgeon could not completely extract it and informed her that the complications she was experiencing were likely permanent. Kaiser sued Ethicon, Prolift’s manufacturer, under the Indiana Products Liability Act. A jury found Ethicon liable for defectively designing the Prolift device and failing to adequately warn about its complications and awarded $10 million in compensatory damages; the judge reduced a punitive award to $10 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Ethicon’s claim of federal preemption. The requirements of the FDA’s premarket-notification process do not directly conflict with Indiana law. A reasonable jury could conclude that Prolift was unreasonably dangerous and could credit the physician’s assertion that additional warnings about complications would have led him to choose a different treatment plan. The court rejected challenges to the damages and to jury instructions. Seventh Circuit precedent interprets the Indiana Product Liability Act to require a plaintiff in a design-defect case to produce evidence of a reasonable alternative design for the product but the Indiana Supreme Court disagreed in 2010. The state supreme court’s decision controls on a matter of state law. View "Kaiser v. Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon, Inc." on Justia Law

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Dodds applied for a passport using his brother’s personal information, rather than his own because he was restricted by a condition of probation. He pleaded guilty under 18 U.S.C. 1542. He did not object to any of the proposed supervised-release conditions, which concerned: refraining from excessive alcohol use; remaining within the jurisdiction unless granted permission to leave; permitting a probation officer to visit places including work; submitting to searches of person, property, residence, vehicle, papers, electronic communications, or office upon reasonable suspicion; community service until gainfully employed; not maintaining employment that includes access to personal information; and, as directed by a probation officer, third-party notifications. The court asked, “can [I] impose these conditions without reading them verbatim?”, counsel responded, “yes,” then asked: “Are there any objections ... to any of the proposed conditions of supervised release?”, counsel stated, “No.” Dodds later objected to the search condition. The court rejected his argument, explaining, “the needs for reasonableness and to take into account Mr. Dodds’s privacy while balanced against the need to make sure that Mr. Dodds is not misusing identities or identity documents or engaged in financial wrongdoing, which his history suggests he poses some risk of doing.” Dodds was sentenced to six months in prison and three years’ supervised release. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the challenged conditions were unconstitutionally vague or lacked adequate justification. Dodds waived any objection other than to the search condition. View "United States v. Dodds" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law