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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Censke sought to bring a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) suit for injuries he says he suffered at the hands of Indiana federal prison guards. The FTCA required Censke to give notice in writing to the Bureau of Prisons within two years of the incident, 28 U.S.C. 2401(b), by sending form SF-95 to the regional office in which the injury happened. The Bureau considers claims filed when first received by any of its offices. Censke moved prisons six times in the two years following the alleged incident and lost access to his legal materials. He contends that the prison staff ignored his requests for an SF-95 form. When he got the form, he was in Kentucky. Censke asked the staff for the address of the Bureau’s North Central Regional Office. He says they refused to help. Nine days before the end of the limitations period, Censke placed his SF-95 form in the outgoing mail, addressed to the Bureau's Central Office in Washington, D.C. The Bureau stamped it as received at the North Central Regional Office on February 16, 2016—over two months after Censke put it in the mail. The Bureau denied the claim on the merits, without mentioning timeliness. Censke filed suit under the FTCA. The court concluded that the mailbox rules apply and rejected Censke’s arguments for equitable tolling and delayed accrual. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The prison-mailbox rule applies to administrative filings under the FTCA. View "Censke v. United States" on Justia Law

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Nationwide Credit sent Horia a letter seeking to collect a debt owed to Gottlieb Hospital. By return mail, Horia disputed the claim. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires a debt collector that notifies a credit agency about the debt to reveal whether the claim is disputed, 15 U.S.C. 1692e(8). Horia claims that Nationwide notified Experian about the debt but not about the dispute, injuring his credit rating and causing him mental distress. Horia previously complained about the same type of violation, based on a different letter that Nationwide sent, attempting to collect a different debt to a different creditor. The suit was settled. Days later Horia filed this second suit. Nationwide cited claim preclusion. The district court dismissed, ruling that Horia has split his claims impermissibly. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The doctrine of bar forecloses repeated suits on the same claim, even if a plaintiff advances a new legal theory or a different kind of injury but applies only to “the same claim.” Federal law defines a “claim” by looking for a single transaction, which usually means all losses arising from the same essential factual allegations. Horia has alleged two transactions. The two claimed debts are owed to different creditors. The wrongs differ—Nationwide could have given proper notice for one debt but not the other—and the injury differs. Each failure to notify could have caused additional harm to credit score or peace of mind. View "Horia v. Nationwide Credit & Collection, Inc." on Justia Law

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Amling began working in the horticulture industry in 1965 and continued in that career for the rest of his working life. At one point, Robert worked for National Greenhouse, whose products allegedly contained asbestos. National’s assets and liabilities were transferred to Harrow. In 1990, Harrow executed an asset‐purchase agreement with Nexus, transferring all of National’s assets and some of its liabilities to Nexus. Amling was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015. The Amlings sued Harrow, Nexus, and others in state court and, while that case was stayed, sought a declaratory judgment in federal court that under the terms of the 1990 agreement, Harrow, not Nexus or any other entity, is liable for National Greenhouse’s torts alleged in the Amlings’ state complaint. The district court dismissed the suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It is virtually certain that the state suit will answer the question presented by the federal suit: whether under the terms of the asset‐purchase agreement Harrow or Nexus could be liable for their injuries. That fact makes this a live controversy but simultaneously justifies the district court’s sound exercise of its discretion in deciding not to issue a declaratory judgment. View "Amling v. Harrow Industries, LLC" on Justia Law

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Planned Parenthood sued state officials in their official capacities, seeking to enjoin enforcement of Wisconsin abortion regulations. The Attorney General, as counsel for all defendants, answered the complaint, denying that the regulations were unconstitutional. The Wisconsin Legislature moved to intervene, both of right and with court permission, hoping to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. A recently-enacted state statute allows the legislature to intervene “as a matter of right” if a party challenges the constitutionality of a statute. It also asserted an interest based on Supreme Court precedent holding that legislators had standing to challenge actions that nullified the “effectiveness of their votes.” The district court denied the motion, finding that the Legislature lacked an interest that was unique to it; that its interest in the effectiveness of its votes would not be impaired even if the regulations were declared unconstitutional; and that the Attorney General had the duty to defend the statute and was presumed to be an adequate representative. The court expressed concerns about politicizing the case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding no abuse of discretion. While federal law does not mandate that a state speak in a single voice, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24 expresses a preference for it. The Legislature did not demonstrate that the Attorney General is an inadequate representative absent a showing he is acting in bad faith or with gross negligence. View "Wisconsin Legislature v. Kaul" on Justia Law

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McCurry worked at an Illinois warehouse owned by Mars, the candy maker, and operated by Kenco, a management firm. In 2015 Kenco lost its contract with Mars and laid off its Mars employees, including McCurry. A year later, she filed two “rambling” pro se complaints accusing Kenco, Mars, and several of her supervisors of discriminating against her based on her race, sex, age, and disability and claiming that Kenco and Mars conspired to violate her civil rights. The district court dismissed some of the claims. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the rest. McCurry’s response violated Local Rule 7.1(D)(2)(b)(6), under which the failure to properly respond to a numbered fact in an opponent’s statement of facts “will be deemed an admission of the fact.” Where McCurry did respond, she frequently simply stated that she “objected” to the statement without stating a basis for her objection. The judge accepted the defendants’ factual submissions as admitted and entered judgment in their favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. McCurry did not challenge the judge’s decision to enforce the local summary-judgment rule. As a result, the uncontested record contains no evidence to support a viable discrimination or conspiracy claim. The court called the appeal “utterly frivolous and McCurry’s monstrosity of an appellate brief” incoherent, and ordered her appellate lawyer to show cause why he should not be sanctioned or otherwise disciplined. View "McCurry v. Kenco Logistic Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Illinois requires medical-malpractice plaintiffs to file an affidavit stating that “there is a reasonable and meritorious cause” for litigation. The plaintiff needs a physician’s report, indicating that the physician has reviewed the plaintiff’s medical records and justifying the conclusion that “a reasonable and meritorious cause” exists. This requirement applies to malpractice litigation in federal court because it is a substantive condition of liability. The suit at issue is against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which says that the government is liable to the same extent as a private person, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1). The Seventh Circuit found the rule applicable. The court noted that a prisoner may have insuperable difficulty obtaining a favorable physician’s report before filing a complaint and concluded that a complaint in federal court cannot properly be dismissed because it lacks an affidavit and report under 5/2-622. Federal, not state, rules often apply to procedural matters—such as what ought to be attached to pleadings—in federal suits, whether they arise under federal or state law. In federal court, supporting documents come later. Illinois wants insubstantial medical-malpractice suits resolved swiftly. That goal can be achieved in federal court under summary-judgment practice. View "Young v. United States" on Justia Law

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Lewis, a Wisconsin prisoner, filed suit, alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. The Seventh Circuit vacated summary judgment, finding that a reasonable jury could find that a nurse and a correctional officer acted with deliberate indifference by delaying medical attention for Lewis’s painful back condition. The court suggested that, on remand, the district court should consider whether to reinstate Lewis’s state-law medical malpractice claim against the nurse. On remand, Lewis went to trial, represented by recruited counsel. The jury found for the defendants. Lewis immediately moved, pro se, to set aside the verdict and for a new trial. The district court, construing Lewis’s motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), denied his motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that there is a rational basis for the jury’s decision and that the district court committed no error warranting further proceedings. The court rejected arguments that Lewis received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the trial was unfair. View "Lewis v. McLean" on Justia Law

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Groves, an accountant, allegedly organized, sold, and promoted abusive tax shelters related to distressed Chinese debts in 2005. The IRS assessed a tax penalty against him ten years later. Groves argued that the catch‐all five-year statute of limitations for civil penalties, 28 U.S.C. 2462, applied. The district court struck Groves’s statute‐of‐limitations defense and denied Groves’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and certified the orders for interlocutory review; 28 U.S.C. 1292(b) also required him to seek permission from the Seventh Circuit within ten days. He attempted to obtain that permission on August 18th, the tenth day after the certification order, by emailing an application to appeal. A paralegal mistyped the email address. The email was not delivered. An automated message noting the failure, sent to the paralegal within minutes, landed in a spam folder. The paralegal discovered that notification on Sunday, August 20th, and emailed the application to the correct address. On August 21st, Groves asked the district court to recertify its orders to restart the ten-day clock. The court entered an identical second order. Groves refiled his application the next day. The Seventh Circuit ultimately dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Recent Supreme Court cases have emphasized that federal courts have no authority to read equitable exceptions into fixed filing deadlines. District courts cannot extend the ten‐day window by simply reentering or recertifying their orders. View "Groves v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Atwood pleaded guilty to federal drug crimes. The presentencing report calculated a Guidelines range of 188-235 months. Judge Bruce sentenced Atwood to 210 months’ imprisonment, citing the 3553(a) factors and stating, "if I have made a mistake in the guideline calculations … my sentence would still be the same.” It later became known that while Atwood’s case was pending, Judge Bruce engaged in extensive ex parte communication with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about other cases. Bruce had been a federal prosecutor at that Office before his appointment to the judiciary. A newspaper exposed that communication and published emails. Judge Bruce was removed from cases involving the Office. The ex parte communications never explicitly mentioned Atwood’s case. The Seventh Circuit Judicial Council found no evidence that Bruce’s improper communications actually affected his decision in any case but stated that his actions violated the Code of Conduct. Bruce remained unassigned to any case involving the Office until September 2019. The Seventh Circuit vacated Atwood’s sentence and remanded for resentencing by a different judge. The federal recusal statute, 28 U.S.C. 455(a), requires a judge to recuse himself from any proceeding in which his impartiality may reasonably be questioned. The disclosure of the ex parte correspondence invited doubt about Bruce's impartiality in proceedings involving the Office. Because of the judge’s broad discretion in sentencing, Bruce’s failure to recuse himself was not harmless error. View "United States v. Atwood" on Justia Law

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States may provide certain home-based services through Medicaid's Home and Community Based Waiver program, 42 U.S.C. 1396n(c). Illinois operates a waiver under which it contracts with non-profit organizations (ISCs) to provide case management services for adults with developmental disabilities receiving home- and community-based services as part of Medicaid. Illinois awarded 17 ISC contracts through a non-competitive, annual renewal process. The plaintiffs had received contracts for at least 25 years. In 2018, the state announced a new competitive bidding process to begin on July 1, 2019. The plaintiffs submitted bids but learned in January that their contracts would not be renewed. They sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of Medicaid’s free-choice-of-provider provision, 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(23). On June 5, 2019, with new contracts to go into effect in less than 30 days, they sought a preliminary injunction. The district court denied their motion on June 25, reasoning that ISCs were not “qualified providers” under the statute. The plaintiffs appealed that same day. Four days later, they sought emergency injunctive relief pending appeal, which the Seventh Circuit denied. Months later, at oral argument, plaintiffs’ counsel acknowledged that vacating the new contracts would be too disruptive. The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal. With the plaintiffs no longer challenging the denial of their preliminary injunction, it is unnecessary to address the meaning of “qualified providers” or determine what kinds of services the plaintiffs provide. The passage of time has rendered the issue moot. View "Western Illinois Service Coordination v. Illinois Department of Human Services" on Justia Law