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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Scholz was honorably discharged following her 2006-2008 Army tour of duty in Iraq but the mental and physical toll of her service continued. Scholz required a range of medical treatments. Scholz sought two courses of inpatient mental health treatment at the Tomah VA Medical Center in 2011. Later, while receiving outpatient mental health treatment through the Tomah VAMC, she consulted surgeons at the Zablocki VA Medical Center about elective breast reduction surgery. An unrelated psychological assessment performed at Zablocki VAMC raised concerns about Scholz’s mental health. Zablocki VAMC surgeons performed elective breast reduction surgery in 2012, igniting multiple complications. Scholz continued to receive outpatient mental health treatment, including prescription medications, from various VA providers through late 2018.Scholz has two lawsuits pending against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671–2680. The government argued that the second suit on the same, or essentially the same, operative facts, was precluded on claim-splitting grounds. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Scholz’s theory amounts to “arbitrarily splitting the treatment timeline.” In both suits, she mentions her treatment for mental health issues, her breast reduction surgery, the unsafe prescribing of medications, and improper record handling. Both suits arise out of Scholz’s treatment at various VA locations in 2011-2018 and mention the same alleged incidents. View "Scholz v. United States" on Justia Law

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Sarter drowned after a vessel capsized in Lake Superior. His employer Roen, which owned the vessel, asked the court to limit its liability to $25,000, its interest in the vessel, under 46 U.S.C. 30505(a) (Limitations Act). It also asked for exoneration from all liability, citing the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims, 4F. A federal court has exclusive jurisdiction of Limitation Act claims, 28 U.S.C. 1333(1), “saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.” After a vessel’s owner seeks Limitation Act protection, a plaintiff often files a concession that the federal court’s decision about the owner’s maximum liability will control even if a state court sets a higher figure in a Saving-to-Suitors action. Sarter's spouse made a Limitations Act concession but declined to make a concession concerning total exoneration. The district court declined to enjoin Sarter's state suit.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No federal statute entitles a vessel owner to have a federal judge determine exoneration. Under the common law of admiralty, when there is one claimant, or when the total demanded by multiple claimants does not exceed the value set by the Limitation Act, a federal court may permit substantive claims to proceed in state court. When multiple state court claims exceed the likely value of the vessel the federal judge may retain all aspects of the litigation and decide whether the owner is entitled to exoneration. In other situations, it is enough for the federal court to set the maximum amount of recovery that a state court may allow. Sarter is the only plaintiff. The district court can set a maximum level of liability based on section 30505(a). View "Roen Salvage Co. v. Sarter" on Justia Law

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Vargas received extensive medical care from the Veterans Administration. In his suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2671–80, he argued that a VA nurse was negligent in failing to order additional tests after receiving the results of urinalysis in October 2015. More testing, Vargas contended, would have revealed that he suffered from a urinary tract infection; failure to diagnose that infection led to a heart attack, which led to extended hospitalization, which led to pain and inflammation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of his claims, upholding the district judge’s decision to allow testimony from a board-certified urologist. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert evidence in suits under the FTCA. The district judge was entitled to consider the urologist’s view that the applicable standard of care did not require follow-up testing to look for a urinary tract infection. If even a board-certified urologist would not have seen anything in the test result calling for further lab work, then a nurse practitioner’s identical decision cannot be negligent. Illinois does not hold nurses to the higher standard of specialists. View "Love v. United States" on Justia Law

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Reed unsuccessfully applied for a job at PF, then filed an EEOC age discrimination charge. EEOC found the charge unsupported. Reed sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The court returned Reed’s complaint, unfiled, as barred by a 2012 litigation-bar order based on Reed’s history of frivolous suits. The order provided that the court would entertain an application to lift it after two years. The EEOC’s right-to-sue letter had started a 90-day filing period. On day 46, Reed asked the court to vacate the bar order, alleging that Judge Randa, who entered the order, had been biased. A previous assertion that Judge Randa was biased had been rejected. Judge Adelman invited Reed to file an affidavit detailing his finances but the order was sent to an outdated address and was not received until after the 90-day period had expired. Two days later, Reed filed an affidavit of indigence. The judge vacated the filing bar, but denied Reed’s request for equitable tolling and dismissed the PF suit as untimely.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the bar order was of Reed’s own making, that Reed first defied the order then advanced only a frivolous argument, and that Reed could have filed suit in state court. Indigent persons are not entitled to file an endless string of frivolous suits. Reed paid nothing for seven years and forfeited the privilege of litigating in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. 1915. View "Reed v. PF of Milwaukee Midtown, LLC" on Justia Law

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Turnage, claiming that on September 21, 2016, he fell from an upper bunk at Cook County Jail and suffered a broken ankle, sought damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12132, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794(a). He argued that the Jail knew that he has seizures but failed to enforce his lower-bunk permit (which had been issued to reduce his risk of falling).Federal law requires prisoners to pursue administrative remedies, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a), prescribed by the institution. The Jail requires prisoners to file grievances within 15 days of an “incident, problem, or event” and to appeal any adverse decision. Turnage filed a grievance on September 27 and filed an immediate appeal after that grievance was denied. The district court dismissed his suit, observing that Turnage could have filed a grievance when he was forced to take an upper bunk.The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal. Turnage encountered a “problem” on August 30 but he experienced an “incident” on September 21; these were separate occasions for grievances. A grievance that is timely with respect to an injury satisfies section 1997e(a) when the suit seeks damages for that injury. View "Turnage v. Dart" on Justia Law

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In 2019 the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin issued a permit authorizing two transmission companies and an electric cooperative to build and operate a $500 million, 100-mile power line. Environmental groups filed lawsuits in both federal and state courts, alleging that two of the three commissioners had disqualifying conflicts of interest and should have recused themselves.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the commissioners’ motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity. The commissioners were sued in their official capacities, so sovereign immunity blocks this suit in its entirety unless it falls within the Ex parte Young exception, which authorizes a federal suit against state officials for the purpose of obtaining prospective relief against an ongoing violation of federal law. The environmental groups seek an order enjoining the permit’s enforcement, prospective relief; they contend that the violation is ongoing as long as the permit remains in force and effect and the commissioners have the power to enforce, modify, or rescind it. Ex parte Young applies.The court, sua sponte, remanded with instructions to stay the case pending resolution of the state proceedings. Both cases raise materially identical due-process recusal claims. The case implicates serious state interests regarding the operation of Wisconsin administrative law and judicial review. Litigating the same questions in both court systems is duplicative and wasteful; comity and the sound administration of judicial resources warrant abstention. View "Driftless Area Land Conservancy v. Valcq" on Justia Law

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Railey clocked in and out of work at the Sunset Food Mart by placing her hand on a biometric scanner. She brought a class action in state court in 2019 alleging violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Two years into litigation, Sunset removed the case to federal court, alleging that Railey’s claims were completely preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act. Sunset explained the timing of the removal by pointing to an interrogatory response it received from Railey in October 2020 in which she confirmed her membership in a labor union.The district court found Sunset’s removal untimely. Citing the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1453(c)(1), the Seventh Circuit affirmed the remand to state court. A Class Action Fairness Act exception for “home-state controversies” directs that district courts “shall decline to exercise jurisdiction” over a class action in which “two-thirds or more of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate, and the primary defendants, are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed,” 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(4)(B). Railey brought a putative class action on behalf of Illinois citizens against a small Illinois grocery chain under Illinois law. Sunset missed its preemption-based removal window. View "Railey v. Sunset Food Mart, Inc." on Justia Law

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On October 28, 2016, Jones, was a passenger in an Uber car owned by Langwith and driven by Waterhouse. That car was struck by a vehicle owned and driven by Ramos, a New Jersey resident. Jones, injured in the accident, filed suit in New Jersey two days before the statute of limitations was due to run. After the plaintiff’s attorney failed to effect service of the summons and complaint on any of the defendants within 90 days, the court issued a Notice of Call for Dismissal. Jones then moved to change venue to Indiana, asserting that the Uber driver, a citizen of Indiana, was not subject to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey. The court granted that motion and directed Jones to serve a copy of the venue order on the defendants within five days. His counsel served the venue order on the defendants but still did not serve the summons and complaint. Three months later, Waterhouse moved for dismissal. Nine days later, new counsel for Jones entered an appearance in the Indiana court and began serving the summons and complaint on all of the defendants. The summons and complaint were served on all of the defendants, 238-244 days after the filing of the complaint. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The Indiana district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that there was no good cause for the delay and declining to grant an extension. View "Jones v. Ramos" on Justia Law

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Big Shoulders sued the railroads (SLRG), with federal jurisdiction ostensibly based on diversity of citizenship, and requested that the district court appoint a receiver to handle SLRG’s assets. That court did so, which brought the case to the attention of several creditors. One of them, Sandton, intervened and challenged the appointment of the receiver and the district court’s jurisdiction. Sandton alleged that Big Shoulders failed to join necessary parties who, if added, would destroy diversity of citizenship. Meanwhile, other creditors (Petitioning Creditors) filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition on behalf of SLRG in federal bankruptcy court in Colorado. The receiver objected. Because the judicially approved receivership agreement contained an anti-litigation injunction, the district court initially concluded that the bankruptcy petition was void. On reconsideration, however, the district court determined that it did not have the authority to enjoin the bankruptcy. The bankruptcy continued. After Big Shoulders refused to continue to fund the receivership, the district court approved its termination.The Seventh Circuit consolidated several appeals, each of which involved questions of standing or mootness. The court concluded that those justiciability questions required the dismissal of all but Sandton’s appeal. As for Sandton’s argument that diversity jurisdiction is lacking, the court remanded to the district court for an application in the first instance of the “nerve center test” to determine if SLRG and Mt. Hood are citizens of Illinois. View "Sandton Rail Company LLC v. San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, Inc." on Justia Law

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PRA hired Wadsworth and, in its offer letter, described a signing bonus: $3,750 payable after 30 days of employment, followed by another $3,750 after 180 days of employment. If Wadsworth voluntarily ended her employment or PRA fired her for cause within 18 months, she was obligated to repay the full bonus. Wadsworth collected both signing payments, but after she completed one year of employment, PRA fired her. Kross, a debt-collection agency, attempted to recover the bonus payments. Kross mailed Wadsworth a collection letter and a Kross employee called Wadsworth by telephone four times. Wadsworth sued Kross claiming that its letter and phone calls violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, by failing to provide complete written notice of her statutory rights within five days of the initial communication and because the caller never identified herself as a debt collector.The district court entered summary judgment for Wadsworth. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The alleged violations did not cause Wadsworth any concrete harm and allege nothing more than “bare procedural violation[s],” which Article III precludes courts from adjudicating. View "Wadsworth v. Kross, Lieberman & Stone, Inc" on Justia Law