Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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In 1998, Dr. Wilson’s terminally ill patient was within hours of death. He was in pain and suffocating. Wilson concluded that the only possible palliation was unconsciousness. As Wilson was injecting a drug, the patient’s heart stopped. The coroner classified the death as murder. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation summarily suspended Wilson’s medical license. The Department held a hearing in 2000. The coroner’s finding of homicide had been withdrawn; Wilson was not charged. His license was nonetheless suspended for five years. He sued in state and federal courts. Rather than staying proceedings, the federal court dismissed. Four times a state judge vacated the suspension. The Department reinstated its decision three times. Without a new hearing or explanation, the Department entered a new five-year suspension in 2007, and another in 2013. In 2014, the state court held that Wilson should not have been suspended for even one day. The Department did not reinstate Wilson’s license because he had not practiced during the last 17 years. In 2014 Wilson sought damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court held that the two-year statute of limitations had been running since 1998. The Seventh Circuit vacated. A federal challenge to a state administrative agency decision is not subject to an exhaustion-of-remedies rule but a claim never accrues until the plaintiff “has a complete and present cause of action”. The court noted the district court’s 1999 holding that Wilson could not litigate in federal court while state proceedings were ongoing; his section 1983 claim for damages did not accrue until 2014. View "Wilson v. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation" on Justia Law

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The Republican Party sued the Cook County Board of Election Commissioners, arguing that the Board must include on the ballot a candidate that the Party slated for the House of Representatives in the November 2016 election. The Board had never announced a plan to exclude the candidate. The district court entered an injunction compelling the Board to keep this candidate on the ballot. The Seventh Circuit remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Party’s dispute with two additional defendants, elected as ward committeemen, based on the Party’s refusal to seat them, is not a federal claim. The Party’s “anticipatory federal contention,” that ”if state law does not respect the Party’s eligibility rules, then Illinois violates the First Amendment,” was only a potential response to a potential contention by the committeemen that all elected ward committeemen must be seated on the Party’s central committee. The district judge did not consider the fact that public officials were not contesting the Party’s claims or the possibility that he was issuing an advisory opinion. If the committeemen had sued the Party, demanding membership on its central committee, their claim would have arisen under Illinois law. View "Cook County Republican Party v. Sapone" on Justia Law

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Boiron makes homeopathic products, including an over‐the‐counter remedy called Oscillo that retails for between $12 and $20. Oscillo is made by mixing one percent Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum (duck hearts and livers) with 99 percent water, repeating the dilution process 200 times, and then selling the result in pill form. The repeated dilutions render the finished product nothing more than a placebo. Boiron’s claim that Oscillo has a therapeutic effect on flu symptoms is “highly doubtful.” Conrad filed a class action against Boiron for deceptive marketing. About a year later Boiron offered Conrad $5,025, more than he could hope to win at trial. Conrad did not accept the money because it would moot his claim. The district court refused to certify Conrad’s proposed class and found his individual claim moot. The Seventh Circuit remanded; an unaccepted offer cannot moot a case. There are other measures available to address the problem (if it exists here) of “unreasonably and vexatiously” persisting in litigation, such as 28 U.S.C. 1927, but the district court did not decide whether they should be used. View "Conrad v. Boiron, Inc." on Justia Law

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Kolton deposited money into an interest-bearing bank account in Illinois. Years passed without activity in the account, so the bank transferred Kolton’s money to the state as the Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act requires. The Act is not an escheat statute; it gives Illinois custody, not ownership, of “presumed abandoned” property. Most such property gets invested, with any income that accrues earmarked for Illinois’s pensioners. Owners may file a claim for return of their property, but the Act limits the Treasurer to returning the amount received into custody. Kolton brought a purported class action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of the Takings Clause, which protects the time value of money just as much as it does money itself. The judge dismissed for want of subject-matter jurisdiction, stating that under the Supreme Court’s “Williamson” holding, a plaintiff usually must try to obtain compensation under state law before litigating a takings suit. Kolton filed neither a claim with the Treasurer nor a lawsuit in state court seeking just compensation. The Seventh Circuit vacated, noting that Section 1983 does not create a cause of action against the state and the Treasurer, personally, did not deprive Kolton of his money. Williamson was not concerned with jurisdiction. View "Kolton v. Frerichs" on Justia Law

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Husband and wife paid $83,475 for a new Volvo T8, plus $2,700 for a charging station. Volvo’s advertisements claimed that the T8’s battery range was 25 miles. In practice their T8 averaged a eight-10 miles of battery‐only driving. Husband filed suit, asserting a class of others similarly situated under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d), and received a letter from Volvo that offered “a full refund upon return of the vehicle if you are not satisfied with it for any reason” and to “arrange to pick up your vehicle.” The next day Volvo moved to dismiss husband’s suit on the theory that he lacked standing because only his wife was on the car’s title. Before the court ruled on the motion, his wife was added to the complaint. Volvo moved to dismiss, contending that she lacked standing because its letter had offered complete relief before she filed suit. The district judge agreed and dismissed. The Seventh Circuit reversed, seeing “no reason why the timing of the offer has such a powerful effect. Offers do not bind recipients until they are accepted. An unaccepted pre‐litigation offer does not deprive a plaintiff of her day in court. View "Laurens v. Volvo Cars of North America, LLC" on Justia Law

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Rose bought $120,000 of products on credit from Caudill and did not pay. Before a district court ruled for Caudill, Rose gave 440 acres of land to his son Matt, then filed for bankruptcy. Caudill began an adversary proceeding, asking the judge to pull the land into the estate under 11 U.S.C. 548. The bankruptcy trustee's similar request was settled for payment of $100,000. The bankruptcy judge approved that settlement over Caudill’s objection. To get a discharge, Rose reaffirmed his debt to Caudill. He promised to pay $100,000, with an immediate $15,000; failure to pay entitles Caudill to a judgment for $300,000. Rose paid the $15,000 but nothing more. Caudill might have sought to rescind the discharge, but filed a new suit based on the reaffirmation agreement, obtaining a $285,000 default judgment. Rose failed to pay. Caudill commenced supplemental proceedings, contending that, under Indiana law, it can execute on the land that was fraudulently conveyed to Matt. Rose and Matt did not deny that the transfer was a fraudulent conveyance but argued that the settlement of the Trustee’s claim precluded further action to collect Rose’s debts from the value of the land. The district court and Seventh Circuit rejected that argument, observing that issue preclusion depends on an actual decision, by a judge, that is necessary to the earlier litigation. Whether the transfer of the land was a fraudulent conveyance was not actually litigated; the Trustee’s claim was settled. View "Caudill Seed & Warehouse Co. v. Rose" on Justia Law

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Walker, classified as a sexually violent person, has lived in the Rushville Treatment & Detention Center since 2007 when he finished serving a sentence in an Illinois prison. Walker's treatment team assigned him a “decision-making model,” which is an exercise or treatment tool in which the detainee examines his thought processes associated with a particular decision; Walker believed the assignment was retaliation for his exercise of his First Amendment rights. He brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. At trial, Walker represented himself, but he received help from standby counsel recruited by the court. Walker took an active role in managing his case; he testified, questioned witnesses, introduced exhibits into evidence, and objected to defense counsel’s questions at several points. The jury found for the defendants on all counts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting a claim that the district court’s jury instructions on the First Amendment retaliation claim were erroneous. Walker failed to object to the instructions, and he cannot clear the high bar for showing a plain error. Walker also waived an argument that the court erred in admitting privileged and prejudicial treatment records into evidence. View "Walker v. Groot" on Justia Law

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From 1978-1997, Mathias worked for Caterpillar in York, Pennsylvania. In 1997 he experienced serious health issues; the Social Security Administration declared him disabled. Caterpillar covered his health insurance as an employee on long-term disability, billing him for his portion of the premium. In 2012 Mathias retired retroactively, effective October 2009. Caterpillar failed to change Mathias’s status and did not realize its mistake until 2013 when it notified Mathias that he owed $9,500 in past-due premiums, the difference between the rate for a long-term disabled employee and the rate for a retired employee. When Mathias did not pay, Caterpillar terminated his benefits. Mathias sued in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plan documents require suit in the Central District of Illinois, so Caterpillar moved to transfer the case under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a). Mathias argued that the forum-selection clause was invalid in light of ERISA’s venue provision, 29 U.S.C. 1132(e)(2). The district court rejected that argument, relying primarily on Sixth Circuit precedent, holding that forum-selection clauses in ERISA plans are enforceable and not inconsistent with the text of ERISA’s venue provision. The case was transferred. Mathias petitioned for mandamus relief in the Seventh Circuit, which affirmed, holding that ERISA’s venue provision does not invalidate a forum-selection clause contained in plan documents. View "Mathias v. Mihm" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure, ERISA

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In 2012, Koehn filed a pro se complaint against his former employers. A magistrate held a settlement conference and appointed counsel for Koehn. The parties did not settle. Koehn obtained new counsel. The court held a telephonic status hearing and inquired about settlement negotiations. Defense counsel explained that he was new to the case and that, based on conversations with Defendants’ prior counsel, he believed that Defendants’ insurer had proposed a settlement of about $150,000. Koehn’s counsel stated that she had never heard that figure and that, given that information, a settlement conference might be productive. Defense counsel agreed and the court scheduled a conference. At that conference, Defendants offered less than $75,000, which Koehn had rejected in 2015. Koehn rejected the offer again. When the conference ended, the court stated: “At the conclusion of the jury trial, counsel for the Plaintiff may submit a request for attorney’s fees and costs associated with the unnecessary settlement conference held based upon defense counsel’s representations.” Koehn lost at trial but requested $3,744 in fees and $552.85 in costs associated with the 2016 conference. The district court granted Koehn’s motion; FRCP 16 allows the imposition of sanctions where a party’s failure to timely and candidly communicate a change in settlement posture results in an unnecessary settlement conference. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Defendants did not participate in the settlement conference in good faith. View "Koehn v. Tobias" on Justia Law

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South Bend’s Police Department records some of the desk phones supplied to officers. Bishop’s phone was added to those being recorded, at his request. In 2010, Richmond took Bishop’s former office. Richmond kept his phone number, so the Line was switched to a vacant office. Young then moved to that office, not knowing that the phone was recorded. In 2011 the recording system crashed. While listening to recordings to make sure that restoration had been done correctly, DaPaepe heard Young say things that she thought inappropriate. DaPaepe gave Chief Boykins tapes of calls. Boykins used the information to make threats. Federal and state investigations ended without charges. Boykins was demoted. The City’s Common Council demanded the tapes, issued a subpoena to the city’s executives, and sought state court enforcement. The city, believing that releasing the tapes would violate wiretap statutes, 18 U.S.C. 2510–22, sought a declaratory judgment. The district court ruled that it had subject-matter jurisdiction although the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. 2201, normally cannot be used to present a federal defense to state litigation. Before the Common Council moved to dismiss, five individual defendants in the city’s suit had become plaintiffs, seeking damages based on federal statutes. The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court's holding without addressing the merits, noting that the suit began as a claim by the city's executive branch against the legislative branch, that the damages issues have settled, and that the issue of the Council’s access to the tapes is in state court. View "City of South Bend v. South Bend Common Council" on Justia Law