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

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Kaminski, a Polish-American woman in her fifties, worked for Elite, a temporary employment agency, for about two-and-a-half years. When assigned to a job, Kaminski traveled to and from the site on a bus equipped with security cameras. During her time at Elite, she never received a disciplinary infraction. Nor did anyone ever reprimand her for poor work or for any other reason. In 2019, Elite informed Kaminski that the warehouse where she was working no longer needed her help and discharged her. Kaminski says she called Elite’s human resources department to obtain the names of her former coworkers, but the office declined to supply the information.Kaminski sued Elite for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint after screening under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e) and two opportunities to amend. Kaminski failed to allege facts showing a connection between her membership in a protected class and Elite’s decision to terminate her, nor did Kaminski’s complaint identify any similarly situated employees who received more favorable treatment. View "Kaminski v. Elite Staffing, Inc." on Justia Law

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Lewis left her car parked on an Alsip street during a snowstorm. She was fined $50 for violating an ordinance that prohibits parking on any “primary snow route” if more than one inch has fallen within 12 hours and requires all primary snow routes to be identified by signs; a three-inch limit applies to “all other public streets not designated as primary snow routes.” The street where Lewis had parked was not posted as a primary snow route.Lewis could have challenged the fine in state court but instead filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Alsip violated the Due Process Clause by failing to erect signs on every block of every street telling drivers when snow requires them to remove their vehicles. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Due Process Clause requires governmental bodies to make laws available to the public, not to ensure that everyone knows all rules. The statute or regulation itself is adequate notice if it is clear. Drivers know that many traffic rules are not set out on signs but still must be obeyed. View "Lewis v. Village of Alsip" on Justia Law

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Merrill pressured 12-13-year-old girls to take and send him sexually explicit photographs of themselves. Merrill was indicted for producing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a); receiving child pornography, section 2252A(a)(2)(A); and possessing child pornography, section 2252A(a)(5)(B). He pleaded guilty to one count each of producing and possessing with respect to one girl. At his plea hearing, Merrill confirmed that he remembered: “soliciting photographs and possessing the types of photographs that are set forth in the plea agreement.” Before the scheduled sentencing hearing, new counsel appeared for Merrill and moved to withdraw his guilty pleas, asserting that his former attorneys “never explained what the elements of the production charge were or what the government was required to prove to establish his guilt.”At an evidentiary hearing. Merrill’s former lawyers testified to having explained to Merrill the differences among the three charges and how the evidence established each element of the production charge; each told Merrill that he could be convicted of production based on proof that he had asked the minors to take and send the sexually explicit photographs and that the minors did so at his request.The district judge denied Merrill’s motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Merrill’s attorneys’ advice was sound, and in any event, he has not shown prejudice from the supposedly erroneous advice. View "United States v. Merrill" on Justia Law

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Ruenger applied for Social Security Disability benefits in 2015, alleging that he had limited use of his left arm and mental impairments including anxiety and depression. At a hearing, the ALJ determined that Ruenger had not worked within the claim period, that his mental and physical impairments were severe but did not presumptively establish a disability, and that he had the capacity to perform light work with certain physical and social limitations. At the final step of the inquiry, the ALJ determined—based on a vocational expert’s testimony—that Ruenger could still perform jobs that exist nationwide in significant numbers and denied Ruenger’s application.The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded. Substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s decision. ALJs cannot afford complete discretion to vocational experts. When a claimant challenges a vocational expert’s job-number estimate, the ALJ must inquire whether the methodology used by the expert is reliable. In this case, the vocational expert enlisted by the agency to estimate the number of jobs suitable for Ruenger omitted crucial details about her methodology, such as the source of her job numbers and the reason she used the equal distribution method; the ALJ nevertheless relied on the expert’s testimony. View "Ruenger v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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After his co-conspirator gave officers details about a plan to defraud a university and about previous fraudulent schemes, Mboule was charged and signed a plea agreement. The agreement provided that Mboule was entitled to a reduction in his offense level for acceptance of responsibility and contained an appellate waiver. Mboule participated in a pre-plea proffer session with an FBI agent. Mboule broke his promise to provide complete and truthful information. After a plea colloquy, the district judge accepted Mboule’s plea. At the initial sentencing hearing, the government objected to the PSR’s acceptance-of-responsibility recommendation and presented information about the proffer session. The court also heard testimony from a victim of a different wire fraud that Mboule committed. The district court concluded that Mboule violated his plea agreement.Mboule moved to withdraw his guilty plea, stating that Mboule’s previous trial counsel failed to inform Mboule that he could “enter[] an open plea of guilty.” The court denied the motion, noting that Mboule did not express dissatisfaction with his attorney or a desire to cancel the plea agreement until he saw the consequences of his lies. Mboule was sentenced to 42 months’ imprisonment, within the guidelines range of 37-46 months. The court advised Mboule of his right to appeal but stated that “[appellate] waivers are generally enforceable.” The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal. Mboule has not shown that the plea agreement should be voided in its entirety; the appellate waiver is applicable. View "United States v. Mboule" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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For almost 30 years, Prill worked for the Eau Claire, Wisconsin County Highway Department performing physically demanding work, including driving a dump truck and maintaining roads. She suffered from pain in her lower back and knees, which was exacerbated by a car accident and multiple work injuries. Prill retired in 2014 and later filed for Social Security disability benefits alleging she could no longer perform heavy or medium work. Several doctors examined Prill or reviewed her medical records but reached different conclusions about her physical limitations.An ALJ found Prill’s testimony only partially credible, concluding that her report about the severity of her symptoms and the extent of her limitations was inconsistent with other record evidence. The ALJ also weighed the competing medical evidence and gave greater weight to the opinions of consulting physicians who reviewed Prill’s medical records than to the opinion of Prill’s treating physician. The ALJ concluded that Prill had not been disabled since August 2014. The Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied her request for review. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. Substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s decision. The court rejected arguments the ALJ wrongly discounted Prill’s subjective allegations and improperly weighed the differing medical opinions. View "Prill v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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Three months before McClinton's eighteenth birthday, McClinton and five others robbed a CVS pharmacy, pointing guns at customers, grabbing purses and wallets, and destroying cell phones. One customer escaped. Yates returned from chasing her and told the others to hurry. They took money from the cash register; someone pointed a gun at a pharmacy technician and demanded drugs. The technician stated that most of the requested drugs were in a time-delay safe. He produced one bottle of hydrocodone. When the pharmacist entered the passcode and the safe would not open, the robbers left and drove away to split the proceeds. Perry left the car with the few drugs they had taken. McClinton followed Perry and fatally shot him. The others ran away. The following day at a dice game, McClinton told another player about the robbery and shooting.After transfer to adult court, McClinton was convicted of robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a); and brandishing a firearm during the robbery, section 924(c)(1)(A)(ii). He was acquitted of the robbery of Perry and causing death while using a firearm during and in relation to the robbery. The court concluded that McClinton was responsible for Perry’s murder and enhanced McClinton’s offense level but varied downward to account for McClinton’s age and his co-defendants' sentences, sentencing him to 228 months' imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court could not consider conduct for which McClinton was acquitted in calculating his sentence and that McClinton’s counsel was ineffective during his juvenile transfer proceedings. View "United States v. McClinton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Rasho, on behalf of a class of mentally ill inmates in Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) custody, sued IDOC officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for failing to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care. The parties reached a settlement requiring IDOC to meet certain benchmarks across several areas of treatment. A year later IDOC had failed to substantially comply with portions of the agreement. Under the agreement, the plaintiffs needed to prove that the breach itself caused an Eighth Amendment violation. The judge held that they made that showing in five areas of treatment, noting that IDOC’s deficiencies were primarily attributable to chronic, severe staff shortages. Because IDOC knew about its staffing problem for several years, the judge concluded that IDOC was deliberately indifferent to the risk of harm. He entered a permanent injunction requiring IDOC to hire and maintain a specific number of staff members and other specific measures on a mandatory timetable.The Seventh Circuit reversed. IDOC officials took reasonable steps to cure the identified deficiencies, particularly understaffing, which is inconsistent with the finding of deliberate indifference. Even if those steps were not fully successful, the reasonable efforts indicated that IDOC did not recklessly disregard the risks. The court’s order also exceeds remedial limitations under the Prison Litigation Reform Act; prospective corrections remedies must be “narrowly drawn, extend[] no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and [be] the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right,” 18 U.S.C. 3626(a)(1)(A). View "Rasho v. Jeffreys" on Justia Law

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Two churches sued Illinois Governor Pritzker after he issued an executive order that limited to 10 the number of people who could attend a religious service during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court declined to enjoin enforcement. By the time the appeal reached the Seventh Circuit, Pritzker had rescinded the order. The court held that the case was not moot but that the order did not violate the Free Exercise Clause. The churches nonetheless requested that the district court issue an injunction, citing recent Supreme Court decisions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the request. The court noted that the Governor will likely consider recent legal developments in crafting any new order in response to the recent surge. The court further noted that Pritzker is entitled to qualified immunity and that an award of damages is not available. View "Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker" on Justia Law

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Nichols prevailed in a discrimination action against his employer. The district court awarded Nichols $300,000 in compensatory damages and various forms of equitable relief, including back pay and pension contributions as well as reinstatement. Two years later, the district court awarded his attorney (Longo) $774,645.50 on a post‐trial motion for statutory attorney’s fees. While Longo’s appeal proceeded, Nichols filed a district court motion to adjudicate attorney’s fees and for other relief. He had executed a contingency fee agreement before filing the underlying discrimination action, and he challenged Longo’s assertion that he had a right to 45% of the entire relief, including the total monetary award and all equitable relief. Longo contended that he was entitled to that amount under the contingency fee arrangement in addition to the entire statutory attorney fees award. Nichols argued that Longo’s fee demand is excessive and violates Illinois Supreme Court Rule 1.5 because the contingency agreement itself was unconscionable.The district court, while expressing concern about Longo’s position, determined that its jurisdiction did not extend to attorney fee disputes after the case has been dismissed and jurisdiction has been relinquished. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the statutory attorney fee award. The district court correctly determined that the contingency contract dispute is not within its jurisdiction. View "Nichols v. Longo" on Justia Law