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

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Burciaga lost his job and filed for bankruptcy a week later. On the date the bankruptcy proceeding began, Burciaga’s former employer owed him approximately $24,000 for unused vacation time. Illinois treats vacation pay as a form of wages. Exemptions for debtors in Illinois rest on state law, 11 U.S.C. 522(b)(2). Burciaga asked the district court to treat 85% of the vacation pay as exempt from creditors’ claims. Illinois permits creditors to reach 15% of unpaid wages but forbids debt collection from the rest. The Chapter 7 Trustee, objected. The bankruptcy judge and district court sided with the Trustee. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding nothing ambiguous about Illinois law or section 522(b)(2) and (3)(A); 85% of unpaid wages are exempt from creditors’ claims in Illinois, and vacation pay is a form of wages. View "Burciaga v. Moglia" on Justia Law

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Years of heavy industrial use at Wisconsin's Badger Army Ammunition Plant contaminated the soil and groundwater with asbestos, lead paint, PCBs, and oil. Operations ceased in 1975. Remediation has yielded thousands of acres suitable for recreational use. The National Park Service donated 3,000 acres to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. An environmental group sued to halt three activities at the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area: dog training for hunting, off-road motorcycle riding, and helicopter drills by the Wisconsin National Guard citing the Property and Administrative Services Act, which controls deeds issued through the Federal Land to Parks Program, 40 U.S.C. 550. The Act requires the government to enforce the terms of its deeds and that the land be used for recreational purposes. The relevant deeds require that Wisconsin use the park for its originally intended purposes. Dog training and motorcycle riding were not mentioned in Wisconsin’s initial application. The group also argued that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321, required an environmental impact statement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment. Dog training and off-road motorcycle riding were not mentioned in the application, but are recreational uses. While helicopter training is not recreational, the Service included an explicit deed provision reserving the right to continue the flights, as authorized by the Property Act. The Service reasonably concluded that its approval of dog training and motorcycle riding fell within a NEPA categorical exclusion for minor amendments to an existing plan. The Service was not required to prepare an environmental impact statement for helicopter training because it had no authority to discontinue the flights. View "Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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Trumpf, the U.S. subsidiary of an international business, hired Lynch to handle Trumpf’s appearance at a Chicago trade show. Lynch subcontracted with CSI for some of the services. CSI claims that it told Trumpf that it was unsure of Lynch’s reliability and that Trumpf agreed to pay CSI directly or guarantee the payment. There was no written agreement between Trumpf and CSI. Lynch did not pay CSI, which claimed $530,000 in Lynch’s ensuing bankruptcy. CSI also sued Trumpf, asserting promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment. The district court dismissed, reasoning that CSI was estopped, as a result of its bankruptcy claim, from suing Trumpf. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that Lynch has not prevailed on that claim and that the claim is not inconsistent with Trumpf guaranteeing payment. Filing a claim in bankruptcy does not foreclose claims against non-bankrupt obligors, 11 U.S.C. 524(e). View "CSI Worldwide, LLC v. Trumpf, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Two non-competing Midwestern companies operated by brothers used marks containing the family name, Fabick. The owner of the registered mark (FI), a small manufacturer of sealants, sued JFTCO, a larger distributor of Caterpillar equipment, for trademark infringement. A jury found that JFTCO had violated the Lanham Act but had not committed common law infringement. The district court entered limited injunctive relief requiring that JFTCO issue, for five years, disclaimers clarifying that it is not associated with FI. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting FI’s claim that it was entitled to a broad permanent injunction and should have been allowed to recover JFTCO’s profits, lacking evidence that the defendants were unjustly enriched by consumers assuming that Fabick’s sealants and coatings business is the same or related to JFTCO’s business. The court also rejected JFTCO’s challenged to a jury instruction: “[D]efendant JFTCO used the FABICK mark in a manner that is likely to cause confusion as to the source or origin of plaintiff’s product or that plaintiff has somehow become connected to JFTCO.” When read in context, the language regarding whether “plaintiff has somehow become connected to JFTCO” clearly refers to the parties’ products and/or services, and is not impermissibly vague. View "Fabick, Inc. v. JFTCO, Inc." on Justia Law

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Each plaintiff purchased an opaque, seven-ounce box of Fannie May chocolates for $9.99 plus tax. Although the boxes accurately disclosed the weight of the chocolate within and the number of pieces, the boxes were emptier than each had expected. A box of Mint Meltaways contained approximately 33% empty space, and a box of Pixies contained approximately 38% empty space. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action, alleging violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and asserting claims for unjust enrichment and breach of implied contract. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The court rejected the district court’s reasoning that the claims were preempted by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C 301–399, but reasoned that the Illinois Act requires proof of actual damage. The plaintiffs never said that the chocolates they received were worth less than the $9.99 they paid for them, or that they could have obtained a better price elsewhere. That is fatal to their effort to show a pecuniary loss. The receipts embody the contract between the parties. State law does not recognize an implied contract in this situation View "Benson v. Fannie May Confections Brands, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
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Edwards pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, 18 U.S.C. 2250 (SORNA). It was his fourth conviction for a failure to register a change of address as required by state and federal statutes. The district court ordered him to serve a prison term of 27 months and imposed three conditions on his supervised release: a requirement that, as required by his probation officer, he inform employers, neighbors and family members with children, and others of his criminal record, his obligation to register as a sex offender, and other SORNA requirements; a ban on meeting, spending time with, or communicating with any minor absent the express permission of the minor’s parent or guardian and the probation officer; and a bar on working in any job or participating any volunteer activity in which he would have access to minors, absent prior approval of his probation officer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the conditions. Although Edwards has never committed a “hands‐on” sexual offense against a child, the district court expressly considered that point and articulated a reasonable basis to believe that such restrictions were warranted. Edwards has possessed and distributed child pornography, including pornography depicting adults having sex with minors. The court noted his enduring sexual interest in children and his pattern of deception and non‐compliance with the conditions of his release. View "United States v. Edwards" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Sergeant Mueller took a leave of absence from the Joliet Police Department to report for active duty in the Illinois National Guard Counterdrug Task Force. The Department placed him on unpaid leave, Mueller resigned from his National Guard position and sued the city and his supervisors for employment discrimination, citing the Uniformed Service Members Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which prohibits discrimination against those in “service in a uniformed service.” The district court dismissed, finding that National Guard counterdrug duty was authorized under Illinois law and not covered by USERRA. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that “service in the uniformed services” explicitly covers full-time National Guard duty, including counterdrug activities, 38 U.S.C. 4303(13). USERRA does not limit protection to those in “Federal service” like the Army or Navy but to those in “service in a uniformed service,” which explicitly includes Title 32 full-time National Guard duty. The Posse Comitatus Act likewise only bars the Army and Air Force from domestic law enforcement, but does not apply to Title 32 National Guard duty, 18 U.S.C. 1385. View "Mueller v. City of Joliet" on Justia Law

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Stegall applied and interviewed for a Social Security Administration (SSA) service representative position in 2010. Stegall claims she received an offer of employment at the end of her interview. Stegall subsequently disclosed her physical and mental disabilities, which she claims prompted the SSA to rescind the offer. The SSA denied offering Stegall a position, stating it never extends offers of employment during interviews, and that it deemed Stegall not motivated for public service due to her answers in the interview. Stegall claimed discrimination based on race and her mental and physical disabilities. The SSA denied Stegall’s claim. She appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed suit. Before trial, Stegall dismissed her race and mental disability discrimination claims. A jury found that Stegall had a disability, that the SSA regarded her as having a disability, and that the SSA failed to hire Stegall, but that even without her physical disability, Stegall would not have been hired. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the verdict went against the manifest weight of the evidence and that the court abused its discretion in admitting evidence relating to subsequent contradictory statements about her disability and evidence that SSA ultimately hired a candidate with a disability. View "Stegall v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Harnishfeger published a book under a pseudonym, Conversations with Monsters: Chilling, Depraved and Deviant Phone Sex Conversations, concerning her time as a phone‐sex operator. A month later, Harnishfeger began a one‐year stint with the Indiana Army National Guard as a member of the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, a federal anti-poverty program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). When Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor discovered Conversations and identified Harnishfeger as its author, she demanded that CNCS remove Harnishfeger. CNCS complied and ultimately cut her from the program. Harnishfeger filed suit alleging First Amendment and Administrative Procedure Act violations. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The book is protected speech; it was written and published before Harnishfeger began her VISTA service. Its content is unrelated to CNCS, VISTA, and the Guard. It was written for a general audience, concerning personal experiences and is a matter of public concern. A jury could find that Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor infringed her free-speech rights by removing her from her placement because of it. The supervisor’s actions were under color of state law, so 42 U.S.C. 1983 offers a remedy, and she was not entitled to qualified immunity. There is no basis, however, for holding CNCS or its employees liable. Harnishfeger failed to show a triable issue on any federal defendant’s personal participation in a constitutional violation. View "Harnishfeger v. United States" on Justia Law

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Porraz was the leader of a Chicago Latin Kings gang for about four years. In 2018 he pleaded guilty to participating in a racketeering conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961–1968. The district judge applied the base offense level for conspiracy to commit murder, factored in Porraz’s criminal history, and sentenced him to 188 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Porraz’s argument that his sentence was procedurally defective because he did not kill anyone and murder was nota reasonably foreseeable part of the conspiracy. He also cited “unwarranted disparities” between his sentence and sentences imposed on other Latin Kings members.Porraz’s admitted conduct defeated his claim that murder was not a reasonably foreseeable part of his gang activities. The judge considered and responded to his disparity arguments. View "United States v. Porraz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law