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

by
Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

by
Applecars is a member of a network of Wisconsin used-car dealerships. McCormick owned a majority share in each dealership. Each dealership received management services from Capital M, which McCormick also owned. Capital M tracked shared dealership inventory, held employee records, and issued identical employee handbooks for each dealership; Capital M’s operations manager hired and fired each dealership’s general manager. The employees of each dealership gathered as one for events several times per year. The dealerships advertised on a single website, which included some language suggesting a single entity and some indicators that each dealership is a separate entity. Each dealership properly maintained corporate formalities and records. Capital M billed each dealership separately. Each dealership had a distinct general manager, bank accounts, and financial reports. The dealerships separately filed and paid taxes, paid employees, and entered into contracts.Prince worked at Applecars for several months before he was fired. Prince claims his firing was retaliatory and sued Applecars and its affiliates for racial discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The court granted the defendants summary judgment, noting that Applecars had fewer than 15 employees and was not subject to Title VII. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There is insufficient evidence to support Prince’s theory that the court should pierce the corporate veil of the network, aggregating the number of employees such that Title VII would apply. View "Prince v. Appleton Auto LLC" on Justia Law

by
A Wisconsin jury found Gage guilty of repeatedly sexually assaulting his daughter, H.R.G., when she was a child. Gage asserted that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to interview and present testimony from his son and mother, Josh and Nancy. Gage was living with Nancy at the time of the assaults and most of the assaults occurred on Nancy's property. The state appellate court concluded that Gage was not prejudiced by his trial counsel’s failure to call those witnesses because their testimony in post-conviction proceedings concerned only matters such as the layout of Nancy's house.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief. The state court’s decision was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, despite its incorrect recitation of the "Strickland" prejudice standard. The state court’s analysis focused on the consistency between Josh’s and Nancy’s testimony at the post-conviction hearing and H.R.G.’s testimony at trial, which can reasonably be interpreted as “whether the proffered testimony could have affected the outcome,” or its likely impact on the verdict. The state court noted that Josh’s and Nancy’s testimony did not undermine H.R.G.’s testimony in any significant way. View "Gage v. Richardson" on Justia Law

by
In 2008, an Illinois jury convicted Brown of three counts of first-degree murder for shooting three people outside of the Champaign American Legion building. Brown subsequently filed two post-conviction motions, a direct appeal, and a federal habeas corpus petition. Brown’s only remaining claim is that the Illinois Court unreasonably applied the Supreme Court’s Batson holding. Ware was one of two African-Americans in the 60-person venire gathered for Brown’s trial. The court asked whether anyone was familiar with the American Legion where the crime took place. Ware said yes: “Been on the outside. Not inside.” He denied that his familiarity with the site would affect his jury service. Ware was excused at the prosecutor's request. The court overruled a Batson objection, finding that Brown failed to make “a prima facie case that a discriminatory practice was being conducted” and did not ask the prosecution to provide “a race-neutral explanation” for its strike. The Illinois Appellate Court explained that there was no evidence of a pattern of striking African-Americans or of a disproportionate number of strikes used against African-Americans and that Ware meaningfully distinguished himself from other potential jurors by stating that he was familiar with the crime scene.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The Illinois court correctly noted the prosecution’s apparent reason for striking Ware—that he had been to the crime scene—and found no circumstances giving rise to an inference that the prosecution engaged in racial discrimination. View "Brown v. Jones" on Justia Law

by
For several years Miller provided Dix with living space in her basement, without payment of rent. Miller told Dix to move out so she could sell the house. He refused; Miller called the police. Officers told Miller that she could not evict Dix without a court order. Miller called the police again the next day. Officers arrived, allegedly knowing that there had been no domestic disturbance. They prevented Dix from entering the house while Miller hauled Dix’s things outside. Dix protested and yelled insults. Officers threatened to arrest him for disorderly conduct. Eventually, Dix left and got a moving van. When he returned, the officers allowed him inside to retrieve his property but refused him access to certain rooms and took his keys.Dix a pro se suit, with 12 causes of action against nine defendants. The district court struck the pleading citing “redundant, impertinent, and scandalous allegations.” Dix amended his complaint. adding seven causes of action and five defendants, including Fourth Amendment claims against the officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. With respect to the Fourth Amendment claims, the court noted that Dix was free to leave at any time and that Miller maintained complete possession and control over her home but had granted Dix a revocable license. When a license is revoked, the licensee becomes a trespasser. A seizure of property occurs when there is meaningful interference with an individual’s possessory interests; here there was none. Even if there were a seizure, it was reasonable. View "Dix v. Edelman Financial Services, LLC" on Justia Law

by
For about three years, Nulf, an Illinois licensed loan originator, and two co-defendants participated in a mortgage-fraud scheme, causing approximately $2.2 million in losses. Nulf was charged with bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344, and making a false statement to a financial institution, 18 U.S.C. 1014. Each crime carries a 30-year maximum prison term. The government filed a superseding information charging Nulf with a single count of making a false statement to HUD, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. 18 U.S.C. 1012. Nulf pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor; the government agreed to dismiss the felony charges. The one-year statutory maximum was the recommended sentence. The plea agreement included an appeal waiver. Sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment, Nulf claims that the judge interfered with her allocution, wrongly denied credit for acceptance of responsibility, and committed other sentencing mistakes, amounting to a miscarriage of justice, making the appeal waiver unenforceable.The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal, stating that it has not announced a general “miscarriage of justice” exception to the enforcement of appeal waivers. A narrow set of extraordinary circumstances can justify displacing an otherwise valid appeal waiver. Nulf’s case is far from extraordinary, so the appeal waiver is enforceable unless the underlying guilty plea was invalid. Nulf does not claim that her plea was unknowing or involuntary. View "United States v. Nulf" on Justia Law

by
Glispie pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), reserving the right to challenge his anticipated designation as an armed career criminal based on his prior Illinois convictions for residential burglary. The district court concluded that residential burglary in Illinois is no broader than “generic burglary” and that it qualified as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii); it sentenced Glispie to 180 months.. The Seventh Circuit certified a question to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which responded that the limited-authority doctrine applies to the Illinois residential burglary statute. Under that doctrine, one who enters a public building with the intent to commit a crime automatically satisfies the unlawful entry requirement of the Illinois burglary statute with respect to a business burglary.The Seventh Circuit then vacated Glispie’s sentence. Because the "limited entry" doctrine applies to residential burglary, a conviction for Illinois residential burglary is broader than generic burglary and cannot qualify as an aggravated felony for purposes of the ACCA. View "United States v. Glispie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Indiana counts an absentee ballot only if it is received by noon on Election Day. In September 2020, a district court found that rule unconstitutional, reasoning that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, which has led to more use of mail-in voting, creates a risk that ballots mailed close to Election Day will not be received on time.The Seventh Circuit reversed an injunction requiring the state to count all absentee ballots received by November 13, 2020. Difficulties attributable to the virus do not require changes in electoral rules. If it is possible to vote in person, the rules for absentee ballots are constitutionally valid if they are supported by a rational basis and do not discriminate based on a forbidden characteristic. It is rational to require absentee votes to be received by Election Day, just as in-person voting ends on Election Day. Counting the votes, and announcing the results, as soon as possible after the polls close serves a civic interest. People can protect themselves by using early in-person voting or posting their ballots early. Those who act at the last minute assume risks even without a pandemic. Federal judges should avoid changing electoral rules close to an election. In September, COVID-19 was not a last-minute event; the district court acted too close to the election. View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

by
Degroot defaulted on a debt owed to Capital. AllianceOne sent Degroot a letter, stating: The amount of your debt is $425.86 ... interest and fees are no longer being added. Degroot understood that Capital had “charged-off” his account, meaning that his debt would no longer accrue interest or other fees for any reason. Capital subsequently transferred the account to CSI. CSI's 2019 letter stated: BALANCE DUE: $425.86 and “NEW INFORMATION ON YOUR ACCOUNT,” indicating that Capital had placed the account with CSI for collections, with an itemized summary of Degroot’s balance. After offering to resolve the debt, with disclosures required by certain states, concluded by stating “no interest will be added to your account balance through the course of” CSI collection effortsDegroot filed a purported class action, alleging that CSI’s letter misleadingly implied that Capital would begin to add interest and fees to previously charged-off debts if consumers failed to resolve their debts with CSI and that he was “confused.” Degroot asserted that CSI violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. 15 U.S.C. 1692. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The 2019 letter accurately disclosed the amount of the debt and did not imply fees or interest would be added in the future. Even if CSI’s letter did imply that fees and interest could begin to accrue if the debt remained outstanding, the statement was not misleading given that Wisconsin law provided for the assessment of fees and interest on “static” debts in certain circumstances. View "Degroot v. Client Services, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law
by
A district judge extended Wisconsin’s deadline for online and mail-in registration by one week; extended the deadline for delivery of absentee ballots by mail by allowing for online delivery and access by October 29; and extended the deadline for the receipt of mailed ballots from Election Day to November 9, if the ballots are postmarked on or before November 3. On September 29, the Seventh Circuit denied motions for a stay in these appeals, reasoning that Wisconsin’s legislative branch was not authorized to represent the state’s interest in defending its statutes. Subsequently, the court certified the question to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, which responded that the state legislature is authorized to represent Wisconsin’s interest in the validity of state laws.The Seventh Circuit then stayed the district court order pending appeal. A federal court should not change the rules so close to an election and political rather than judicial officials are entitled to decide when a pandemic justifies changes to otherwise-valid rules. The district court entered its injunction six weeks before the election and less than four weeks before the first deadline that it altered. Voters have had many months to register or obtain absentee ballots and to cast ballots while preserving social distancing. The district court did not find that any person who wants to avoid voting in person on Election Day would be unable to cast a ballot in Wisconsin by planning ahead. Voters who wait until the last minute face problems regardless of the pandemic. View "Wisconsin State Legislature v. Bostelmann" on Justia Law