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

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An aircraft engine caught fire during testing in South Carolina. Rolls-Royce had manufactured and sold the engine to Boeing for incorporation into a 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Boeing demanded compensation from Rolls-Royce. In 2017, the companies settled for $12 million. Rolls-Royce then sought indemnification from Servotronics, the manufacturer of a valve. Under a long-term agreement between Rolls-Royce and Servotronics, any dispute not resolved through negotiation or mediation must be submitted to binding arbitration in England, under the rules of the Chartered Institute of Arbiters (CIArb). Rolls-Royce initiated arbitration with the CIArb. Servotronics filed an ex parte application in the Northern District of Illinois, seeking a subpoena compelling Boeing to produce documents for use in the London arbitration. The subpoena was issued, then quashed.The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of Rolls-Royce. A district court may order a person within the district to give testimony or produce documents “for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal,” 28 U.S.C. 1782(a). Section 1782(a) does not authorize the district court to compel discovery for use in a private foreign arbitration. View "Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Webster was sentenced to death for the murder of a 16-year-old girl. Webster has repeatedly sought relief from that sentence on the ground he advanced at trial—that he is intellectually disabled. In 2009, his lawyers came upon records dating to 1994 from the Social Security Administration showing that three different doctors found him intellectually disabled. In 2015, the Seventh Circuit held that Webster was not barred by the limitations imposed on successive requests for post-conviction relief from seeking to show that he is ineligible for the death penalty based on newly discovered evidence. The court remanded for a determination of whether the Social Security records constituted newly discovered evidence that counsel did not uncover despite diligent efforts.The district court found that Webster’s defense counsel did not discover the Social Security records despite reasonable diligence at the time of trial, held a five-day hearing, and determined that Webster had carried his burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that he is intellectually disabled. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision to vacate Webster’s death sentence. Documentary evidence established that defense counsel focused on the possible existence of Social Security records and repeatedly requested them. Having demonstrated substantial deficits in intellectual functioning and adaptive functioning and onset of the deficiencies before the age of 18, Webster has carried his burden of proving that he is intellectually disabled and constitutionally ineligible to remain under a death sentence. View "Webster v. Watson" on Justia Law

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Vialva was sentenced to death for murders he committed in 1999. Vialva argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his lawyer had a conflict of interest and conducted an inadequate investigation. Vialva maintained that the district judge suffered from alcoholism and should not have been allowed to preside at trial or sentencing.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition, seeking a stay of his scheduled September 24 execution; 28 U.S.C. 2255(e) provides: “An application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this section, shall not be entertained if it appears that the applicant has failed to apply for relief, by motion, to the court which sentenced him, or that such court has denied him relief, unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” The Fifth Circuit resolved Vialva’s contentions under section 2255 by denying his requests for certificates of appealability. The Supreme Court denied Vialva’s petitions for certiorari. He received effective merits decisions. A section 2241 proceeding is not an authorized way to contest the Fifth Circuit's procedures. Vialva does not rely on a new, retroactive legal rule; he does not point to facts that came to light after that decision. The Suspension Clause does not entitle anyone to successive collateral attacks. View "Vialva v. Watson" on Justia Law

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Moultrie pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). The presentence report calculated his offense level at 21, including enhancements for possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, for discharging his firearm in a manner that endangered others, and for obstructing justice by both fleeing and engaging in a standoff with law enforcement. The report determined that Moultrie had a criminal history category of III, resulting in a guidelines range of 46-57 months’ imprisonment. The court determined that, applying the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), Moultrie’s offense level did not account adequately for the dangerous situations that his actions had created, nor did it account for his post-arrest behavior, which included attempting to dissuade witnesses from testifying against him. The court noted the rapid escalation in Moultrie’s criminal activity and his risk of recidivism. The court believed an offense level of 23 and a criminal history category of IV better captured the risk that he posed, yielding a guidelines range of 70-87 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence of 84 months’ imprisonment as substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Moultrie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Green was visiting a friend at a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) public housing unit. Hudson, a security guard employed by AGB, attempted to stop and search Green. Hudson subdued Green outside the CHA unit and recovered a handgun before calling the police Green, charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), moved to suppress the gun. The district court held an evidentiary hearing, limiting the issue to whether Hudson had reasonable suspicion to justify the search. The court ruled there was no reasonable suspicion but denied Green’s motion to suppress, reasoning that Green failed to establish that the private security guard was a government agent. Green entered a conditional guilty plea.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Hudson was not a state actor who is subject to the Fourth Amendment. Illinois law expressly categorizes CHA’s police powers as distinct from its power to employ security personnel. The CHA-AGB contract labels AGB as an independent contractor to perform security services including ensuring unauthorized people do not enter and reporting incidents to the property manager. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

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Bethany participated in a conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. He was sentenced in 2013. That sentence was vacated under 28 U.S.C. 2255, and he was resentenced in 2019, after the enactment of the First Step Act of 2018.The Seventh Circuit ordered a limited remand. Bethany is entitled to the benefit of the First Step Act. When the Act became effective, Bethany was awaiting resentencing. The court considered the possibility that any error in the failure to apply the Act was harmless because the district court made it clear that it did not rely on the mandatory minimum in resentencing Bethany. The record reveals a significant possibility that Bethany would have received the same sentence regardless of whether the Act applied but the district court did refer to the 20-year mandatory minimum and, in a colloquy with the defendant during resentencing, said, “It seems … you’re stuck with the … 20-year mandatory minimum.” Because some ambiguity exists in the resentencing transcript and because of the very significant difference in the mandatory minimum now applicable under the First Step Act, the proper course is a remand. If the district court indicates that it is not inclined to resentence Bethany, the Seventh Circuit will address whether the present sentence is reasonable. View "United States v. Bethany" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Uriarte, a gang member, was convicted of racketeering, drug crimes, and two counts of using a firearm to commit a kidnapping, 18 U.S.C. 924(c). A conviction for a single count of using a firearm to commit a crime of violence carries a mandatory minimum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, which is elevated to seven years if the firearm was “brandished” during the crime. Before the First Step Act, a second section 924(c) violation triggered a 25-year mandatory minimum, even if the counts were asserted in a single indictment. Under the First Step Act, only a second violation committed after a prior conviction for the same offense triggers the 25-year minimum. At Uriarte’s 2013 sentencing, the court calculated a mandatory minimum of 42 years’ imprisonment: 10 years from the racketeering and drug charges, seven years for the first firearm offense because it involved brandishing a weapon, and 25 years for the second firearm offense. The court sentenced Uriarte to 50 years, well below the Guidelines recommendation. The Seventh Circuit remanded, citing the Supreme Court’s “Alleyne” decision--brandishing is an element of section 924(c) that must be found by a jury. At the time of the enactment of the First Step Act, Uriarte was convicted, but unsentenced.The Seventh Circuit affirmed his resentencing under the First Step Act, to 20 years’ imprisonment: 10 years for the drug and racketeering offenses, five years for the first firearm offense without the brandishing enhancement, and five years for the second firearm offense. View "United States v. Uriarte" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Peeters sought disability benefits, citing degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and learning disabilities. Peeters has not sustained gainful employment since 2014. After a hearing, an ALJ denied Peeters disability benefits in 2016. On stipulated remand, the Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to reconsider Peeters’ maximum residual functional capacity, obtain evidence and examples of jobs Peeters could perform from a vocational expert, provide a new hearing, and issue a new decision. At the second hearing in 2018, the ALJ issued a 15-page decision denying Peeters disability benefits because he failed to meet the severity requirements of 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 and 20 C.F.R. pt. 416.The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial as supported by substantial evidence. The court upheld the greater weight given to the opinions of six state agency psychologists who evaluated Peeters; three found Peeters would have moderate limitations completing a normal workday and carrying out detailed instructions, but could handle simple two to three-step instructions, while three found Peeters capable of performing light work. View "Peeters v. Saul" on Justia Law

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In 2006, Mlsna was hired by Union Pacific, as a conductor. Union Pacific was aware of Mlsna’s hearing impairment. In 2012 the Federal Railroad Administration implemented regulations to ensure that train conductors possessed hearing acuity, and to confirm that railroads appropriately protected their employees’ hearing, 49 C.F.R. 242.105(c). Union Pacific had Mlsna’s hearing tested several different ways. Mlsna passed the hearing acuity test only when he relied on his hearing aids with no additional hearing protection. Later Mlsna was retested with the same results. Union Pacific decided it could not recertify Mlsna to work as a conductor. When he wore hearing aids and passed the hearing acuity requirement he was in violation of Union Pacific’s hearing conservation policy, which required additional hearing protection; when he complied with that policy by wearing the protection, he could not pass the hearing acuity test. Mlsna proposed he use specific custom‐made hearing protection. Union Pacific rejected his proposal because that device did not have a factory‐issued or laboratory‐tested noise reduction rating, as required by the regulation. Mlsna’s employment was terminated.Mlsna sued, alleging discrimination based on his hearing disability. The district court granted the railroad summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Issues of fact exist as to whether wearing hearing protection is an essential function of Mlsna’s work as a conductor, as well as whether reasonable accommodations for the conductor were properly considered. View "Mlsna v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of a taxpayers' suit, challenging Cook County’s pre-2008 property tax assessments. The district court had determined that it lacked jurisdiction under the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341, because Illinois offered the taxpayers a “plain, speedy and efficient remedy.” The Seventh Circuit held that Illinois’s procedures left these taxpayers no remedy. Mandate issued in April 2020, The case returned to the district court. In June, the defendants sought a stay pending the resolution of a petition for a writ of certiorari that they planned to submit in September. The Seventh Circuit denied their request but the district court granted relief.The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court order. Declining to consider the taxpayers’ argument under 28 U.S.C. 2101(f), which governs cases in which a “final judgment” is subject to Supreme Court review, the court stated that the district court’s stay was in direct opposition to the mandate. When a court of appeals has reversed a final judgment and remanded the case, the district court is required to comply. The Seventh CIrcuit noted that it had already denied the defendants’ request for the same relief. The spirit of the mandate entailed more than changing the status of the case from “closed” to “reopen”; it presupposed that further proceeding would be at an ordinary pace. View "A.F. Moore & Associates, Inc. v. Kocoras" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure