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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The Swartzes acquired horses, goats, and a donkey on their Washington County, Indiana hobby farm. In 2013, the county’s animal control officer, Lee, contacted Dr. Lovejoy, an Indiana State Board of Animal Health veterinarian, for help evaluating a thin horse he observed on the Swartzes’ property. Lee and Lovejoy visited the Swartzes’ farm to evaluate the animals four times. Lovejoy reported a significant decline in the animals’ welfare and expressed concerns about the conditions in which they were kept. Lee sought, in a standard, ex parte proceeding, a finding of probable cause to seize the animals. The Superior Court of Washington County determined that there was probable cause to believe animal neglect or abandonment was occurring and entered an order to seize the animals (IC 35-46-3-6). The animals were seized and the state filed animal cruelty charges against the Swartzes. The court eventually ordered permanent placement of the animals for adoption. The state deferred prosecuting the Swartzes with a pretrial diversion agreement. The Swartzes filed a federal suit, alleging a conspiracy to deprive them of their property. The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court’s rulings (in favor of the defendants) and remanded for dismissal due to a lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. The Swartzes’ claims are inextricably intertwined with state court judgments, requiring dismissal under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. View "Swartz v. Heartland Equine Rescue" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin prisoner Brown cut himself severely while in restrictive housing. Brown sued the prison nurses, asserting that they had exhibited deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The Wisconsin Department of Justice and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin have a 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that covers 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuits by an incarcerated person, when those cases must undergo initial screening by the district court under 28 U.S.C. 1915A. In the MOU, the state DOJ gives “limited consent to the exercise of jurisdiction” by Magistrate Judges over several things, including, without qualification, the initial screening. Following its routine procedures and the MOU, the district court sent the case to Magistrate Duffin for initial screening. Brown consented (28 U.S.C. 636(c)) to the authority of the magistrate to resolve the entire case. Duffin found that Brown failed to state a claim, stating that “[t]his order and the judgment to follow are final” and appealable to the Seventh Circuit. Under Circuit precedent, a magistrate judge does not have the authority to enter a final judgment in a case when only one party has consented to the magistrate’s jurisdiction. Two defendants had not been served. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the state defendant may consent in advance to the magistrate’s jurisdiction to conduct the initial case screening and, if the plaintiff has also filed consent, the magistrate may enter final judgment dismissing the case with prejudice. View "Brown v. Doe" on Justia Law

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Dancel sued Groupon, an online seller of discount vouchers, alleging Groupon had used her photograph to promote a restaurant voucher. Groupon had collected the photograph from Dancel’s public Instagram account based on data linking it to the restaurant’s location. She sought damages under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act on behalf of a class of Illinois residents whose Instagram photographs have appeared on a Groupon offer. The parties litigated in state court until Dancel moved to certify a class of “[a]ll persons who maintained an Instagram Account and whose photograph ... was ... acquired and used on a groupon.com webpage for an Illinois business.” The class was not defined by its members’ residency. In response, Groupon filed a notice of removal. The Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1453, permits removal of a proposed class action to federal court if there is minimal diversity, meaning any member of the plaintiff class is a citizen of a state different from any defendant. Groupon, a citizen of Illinois and Delaware, did not identify any class member or his citizenship. Dancel argued that Groupon had waived its right to remove. The district court rejected Dancel’s waiver argument and denied remand but did not address minimal diversity or direct Groupon to cure its allegations. The parties then litigated class certification, which the court denied on predominance grounds. On appeal, Dancel revisited the removal issue. The Seventh Circuit ordered a limited remand for the district court to address limited diversity and secure its jurisdiction. View "Dancel v. Groupon, Inc." on Justia Law

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In September 2011 Chicago Police Officers stopped and searched the plaintiffs without justification and took them to Homan Square, which was later exposed as a den of police misconduct. The officers interrogated them for several hours, omitting Miranda warnings and ignoring repeated requests for an attorney. The plaintiffs were denied food, water, and access to a bathroom. The officers tried to coerce false confessions and threatened to file false charges against the plaintiffs if they told anyone about their mistreatment. Fearing for their safety, the plaintiffs did not seek legal redress. In early 2015 a newspaper ran an exposé on Homan Square. In March the plaintiffs sued the city and the officers. The 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit was dismissed under the two-year statute of limitations. A minute order issued on March 31, 2016. The judge issued her opinion on January 31, 2018, with a Rule 58 judgment. A week later, the plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal and docketing statement. By operation of Federal Rule 4(a)(7)(A), the time to file a notice of appeal expired 180 days after the minute order. The Seventh Circuit declined to dismiss an appeal but affirmed the dismissal. The defendants’ Rule 4(a) objection was untimely under Circuit Rule 3(c)(1) but the suit was untimely. Precedent forecloses the plaintiffs’ equitable estoppel theory. View "Vergara v. Chicago" on Justia Law

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The district court certified a class of about 250 African-American financial advisers who alleged that the Bank treated them less favorably than equivalent advisers of other races. A settlement agreement included a payment of $19.5 million for the benefit of class members who do not opt-out, plus changes in the Bank’s operations and a fund to cover the costs of those changes. The order certifying the class cited Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2) with respect to the operational changes and Rule 23(b)(3) with respect to the proposed payments. Members are entitled to opt-out of Rule 23(b)(3) classes and pursue their claims individually but they cannot opt-out of Rule 23(b)(2) classes because relief is indivisible. The notice to class members explained this and that anyone who opted out of the (b)(3) relief would still receive the benefit of the (b)(2) changes while retaining a right to sue individually. The 11 opt-outs asked the court to create a subclass for them. The judge declined: 11 is too few to be a subclass and the 11 voluntarily opted out. The judge did not consider the opt-out's objections to the (b)(2) relief; in order to object, a member had to remain in the class for all purposes. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal. The objectors were not aggrieved by the decisions they appealed. Their positions would not change if the district judge had made certain findings, if the allocation of settlement funds were different, or if the language in the notice were different. View "Braxton v. Senegal" on Justia Law

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In March 2009 Truitt joined the Moorish Science Temple of America, which calls itself a sovereign “ecclesiastical government” and teaches that neither the states nor the federal government have authority over its members. Members purport to hold something akin to diplomatic immunity. In late 2009, Truitt filed seven nearly identical tax returns, each falsely claiming that she was entitled to a $300,000 refund. The IRS identified six returns as fraudulent, but for unknown reasons, approved one and sent her a check for the full amount. Within weeks the IRS demanded that she return the funds. She did not respond but spent the money on jewelry, a condominium, tickets to sporting events, and an investment. Truitt was convicted of making false claims against the United States, 18 U.S.C. 287 and theft of government funds, 18 U.S.C. 641. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Truitt’s challenge the exclusion of her expert witness, psychologist Dr. Fogel, who proposed to testify that Truitt was a member of a “charismatic group”—a cult-like organization that indoctrinates its members. Truitt argued that she lacked the requisite mens rea for the crimes. The judge properly excluded the testimony under “Daubert” and Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 704(b), reasonably concluding that Fogel lacked the relevant expertise and his methods were not reliable. View "United States v. Truitt" on Justia Law

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Trek, a Wisconsin bicycle manufacturer, had agreements with Taiwanese companies. Trek purchases bicycles from Giant, sells them under its own brand name, and purchases bicycle parts from Formula. The purchase orders required Giant and Formula to have Trek named as an additional insured in their products-liability insurance policies with Zurich and Taian, Taiwanese insurers. Those policies agreed to indemnify the insured and its listed vendors, including Trek, for judgments, expenses, and legal costs incurred “worldwide,” allowed the insurer to control the litigation or settlement of a covered claim but did not require it to do so; included a Taiwanese choice of law provision; and required disputes to be resolved by arbitration in Taiwan. Giessler rented Trek bicycle in Texas. The front-wheel detached from the bicycle's frame, Giessler fell, and the resulting injuries rendered him a quadriplegic. Although Giant had manufactured the bicycle and Formula had manufactured the front-wheel release, neither was a party to Giessler’s lawsuit. Trek’s insurer, Lexington, defended Trek and attempted to notify the Taiwanese companies of Giessler’s lawsuit. The case settled. Lexington paid Giessler on Trek’s behalf. Lexington unsuccessfully sought reimbursement from Zurich and Taian then sued them in Wisconsin. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction. Lexington failed to demonstrate that either insurer made any purposeful contact with Wisconsin before, during, or after the formation of the insurance contracts. They did not solicit Trek’s business or target the Wisconsin market. They negotiated and drafted these contracts in Taiwan with Taiwanese companies. The insurers may be liable to Trek and included worldwide coverage provisions but that does not establish Wisconsin's jurisdiction. View "Lexington Insurance Co. v. Hotai Insurance Co., Ltd." on Justia Law

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Cobb, an Indiana prisoner, brought a state-court negligence action against Aramark for failing to clean up a spill in the kitchen at the Pendleton Correctional Facility on December 15, 2014, causing him to slip and fracture his ankle. Cobb claims, and the counselor affirmed, that on December 9, 2016, he handed his notarized complaint to a prison counselor, who delivered this complaint to the mailroom on the same day. The complaint was not actually mailed until December 19. Aramark removed the case to federal court, then asserted that the complaint was untimely under Indiana’s two-year limitations period; the district court agreed. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court misinterpreted Indiana’s prison mailbox rule. The complaint should be deemed “filed” under the prison mailbox rule on the date he handed it to his counselor for mailing. The Indiana Supreme Court has held that a court shall deem a court filing timely if a pro se prisoner litigant submits the filing to prison officials for mailing on or before its due date, and the prisoner “provide[s] reasonable, legitimate, and verifiable documentation supporting a claim that a document was timely submitted to prison officials for mailing.” View "Cobb v. Aramark Correctional Services LLC" on Justia Law

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Green was walking through the parking lot of a Chicago gas station. An unmarked police vehicle turned into the lot. Green began to run as the vehicle approached, arousing the suspicion of the four officers inside. One officer chased him on foot and saw him drop and pick up a handgun. Green fled into a residential neighborhood, where another officer caught up with him in the backyard of a home. The officer claims Green began to raise a gun in his direction; the officer fired five shots, wounding Green in the hand and chest. Green denied that he had a gun at any time on the night in question. Green was on probation for a felony drug conviction. A state judge revoked his probation, finding that Green possessed a gun during this encounter. Green sued the officers and the city under 42 U.S.C. 1983. A Fourth Amendment excessive‐force claim against the officer who shot him was submitted to the jury, which returned a verdict for the officer. Green argued that the district judge improperly instructed the jury that the state court’s gun‐possession finding was conclusive. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Green’s excessive‐force claim was premised on his contention that he was unarmed during this encounter but the state judge found that he had a gun; that finding has preclusive effect. View "Green v. Junious" on Justia Law

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For two years, Alliance was unable to obtain a license from the Indiana State Department of Health to open a South Bend clinic to provide medication abortion care. After two unsuccessful applications, a statutory amendment, and a “moving target of wide-ranging requests for information,” Alliance concluded that its attempts were futile and sought a preliminary injunction. The district court granted preliminary relief, holding that Alliance has shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its claim that Indiana’s requirement of licensure for clinics that provide only medication abortions (induced exclusively by taking pills), as applied to Alliance's clinic, violates the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clauses. The Seventh Circuit held that the district court’s broad condemnation of Indiana’s licensing scheme runs contrary to Supreme Court precedent. While this litigation is pending, the state may, for the most part, administer that system. The court expressed concerns about the handling of Alliance’s application. Indiana may use licensing as a legitimate means of vetting and monitoring providers, but, to the extent that Indiana is using its licensing scheme to prevent the South Bend clinic from opening simply to block access to pre-viability abortions, it is acting unconstitutionally. The district court must modify the injunction to instruct Indiana to treat the Alliance’s South Bend facility as though it were provisionally licensed. View "Whole Woman's Health Alliance v. Hill" on Justia Law