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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Bowman, a prisoner at the Western Illinois Correctional Center, reported abuse by prison guards in a grievance he filed within the prison. The prison denied the complaint. The state’s Administrative Review Board affirmed. Bowman then filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983,. As trial was fast approaching, the defendant correctional officers filed a motion, alleging that his case, which had been pending for nearly three years, should be dismissed on summary judgment for his failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The defendants had already filed an unsuccessful summary judgment motion and the second motion came nearly two years after the deadline the court had set for any motion based on a failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The defendants offered no reason for the late second motion. Defense counsel indicated that she had learned only recently that Bowman (who was proceeding pro se) did not name the defendants or allege a failure to intervene in his grievance, so he failed to exhaust his remedies. The district court allowed the motion. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Nothing in the record supported the district court’s allowing the second summary judgment motion without making the “excusable neglect” finding required by FRCP 6(b)(1)(B). View "Bowman v. Korte" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Cartwright sued his former employer, alleging discrimination based on his race and sex under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; discrimination based on race, 42 U.S.C. 1981; and age discrimination, 29 U.S.C. 623. The judge appointed counsel for the limited purpose of settlement negotiations. The parties did not reach an agreement. The attorney was relieved of the limited representation. Cartwright failed to respond to discovery requests and filed many motions. The judge recruited a lawyer to represent him pro bono but later permitted the attorney to withdraw. The judge recruited another pro bono lawyer. After 14 months and more than 530 hours of work, the third attorney moved to withdraw citing substantial, irreconcilable disagreements with Cartwright. The judge granted the defendants partial summary judgment. Cartwright responded with multiple motions, accusing the judge of bias. The defendants moved to dismiss the case with prejudice for failure to prosecute. The judge recruited another pro bono attorney, then denied the motion as moot. Counsel later was allowed to withdraw. After four years and repeated warnings, the judge dismissed the case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reminding "judges that they need not and should not recruit volunteer lawyers for civil claimants who won’t cooperate ... Pro bono representation of indigent civil litigants is a venerable tradition ... courts must be careful stewards of this limited resource.” View "Cartwright v. Silver Cross Hospital" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Seaway Bank sued J&A to collect on loans secured by a mortgage on Chicago property. In 2013, the court entered a judgment of foreclosure. The court approved the sale of the mortgaged property and entered a $116,381 deficiency judgment against the guarantor. In 2017, Illinois regulators closed Seaway. The FDIC was appointed as receiver, set a claims bar date, and published notice. J&A filed no timely claims. Months later, J&A filed a Petition to Quash Service in the 2012 state-court lawsuit. J&A argued that once relief was granted, it was entitled to the property. The FDIC removed the proceeding to federal court and moved to stay the proceedings to allow J&A to exhaust the mandatory claims process under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act, 12 U.S.C. 1821(d). The court granted the stay; J&A did not submit any claims by the submission deadline. The FDIC moved to dismiss for failure to exhaust the Act's claims process. J&A asserted that the jurisdiction-stripping provision applied only to claims seeking payment from a failed bank and that J&A did not seek payment but only to quash service and vacate void orders; only if the court granted that non-monetary relief could they pursue “possessory relief,” so that the FDIC’s motion was not ripe because they were not yet seeking the return of the property or monetary relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. The district court lacked jurisdiction over the Petition because J&A failed to exhaust administrative remedies. View "Seaway Bank & Trust Co. v. J&A Series I, LLC, Series C" on Justia Law

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From 1906 -1970, the companies manufactured industrial materials at an East Chicago, Indiana Superfund Site. In the 1970s, the East Chicago Housing Authority constructed “West Calumet,” a low-income residential building, on that site. In 2017, former West Calumet tenants sued the companies based on the tenants’ exposure to hazardous substances. Defendant Atlantic Richfield removed the case to federal court, asserting a government contractor defense because its predecessor, ISR, operated during World War II. ISR sold lead and zinc to entities who were under contract with the government to produce the goods for the military. ISR itself held five Army contracts. The materials made by ISR were critical wartime commodities that had to be manufactured according to detailed federal specifications. Other regulations effectively prevented ISR from selling to distributors for civilian applications. Defendant DuPont asserted that the government directed it to build a facility for the government and then lease it from the government to produce Freon-12 and hydrochloric acid solely for the government. The district court remanded, finding that most of the Companies’ government business occurred outside the relevant time frame. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Atlantic Richfield worked "hand-in-hand with the federal government to achieve a task that furthers an end of the federal government.” The Companies’ wartime production was a small but significant portion of their relevant conduct; the federal interest in the matter supports removal. Atlantic Richfield set forth sufficient facts regarding its government contractor defense. View "Baker v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law

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O’Neal was convicted of aggravated battery of a police officer after an altercation during a traffic stop. While incarcerated and while his appeal was pending, O’Neal filed a pro se lawsuit that asserted 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against the officers. Under "Heck," O’Neal’s section 1983 suit was barred unless his conviction was reversed or expunged. Heck-barred suits are usually stayed or dismissed without prejudice, but after O’Neal failed to comply with briefing deadlines, the court ordered O’Neal to show cause why his case should not be dismissed. O’Neal didn’t respond. The court dismissed his claims with prejudice for failure to prosecute. Months later, O’Neal’s conviction was overturned on appeal. Ten months later, O’Neal returned to court, with counsel, with a “Motion to Reinstate the Case and for Leave to File an Amended Complaint" under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15. His motion nowhere mentioned Rule 60(b), the mechanism for obtaining relief from judgment. The defendants' response, maintained that O’Neal was not entitled to Rule 60(b) relief. O’Neal’s reply brief attempted to articulate why Rule 60(b) relief was warranted. The court denied O’Neal’s Rule 15 motion, explaining that he could not file an amended complaint in a terminated case, and held that the Rule 60(b) argument was waived. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. O’Neal waived any argument under Rule 60(b) and, because the case was terminated on the merits, the court was right to deny his Rule 15 motion. View "O'Neal v. Reilly" on Justia Law

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Burton injured his knee in 2009 while incarcerated. He repeatedly sought medical attention. Burton’s knee was not treated until 13 months later when Dr. Ghosh recommended a consultation with an orthopedic specialist. Burton had surgery more than 18 months after his injury. Burton’s discharge orders and his follow-up visit called for physical therapy and pain medication. Burton did not receive pain medication nor physical therapy for several months despite repeated letters and a formal grievance. Because of these delays, Burton claims, he has significant, permanent damage to his knee. In 2011, Burton filed suit alleging deliberate indifference to serious medical needs and retaliation. After several procedural missteps that resulted in dismissal, recruited counsel filed a new complaint. In 2018, after discovery was complete, and after newly‐recruited lawyers took Burton's case, Burton was allowed to file an amended complaint. The amendments were minor. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, raising the new affirmative defense of res judicata, arguing that the dismissal of Burton’s first suit with prejudice in 2012 precluded the second, that they had become aware of Burton’s earlier dismissed case only days earlier, and that the amended complaint permitted new affirmative defenses. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The FRCP 8(c) and 15 standards for amending pleadings govern the raising of new affirmative defenses even when an amended complaint is filed. A district court is not required to allow any and all new defenses in response to any amendment, without regard for the substance of the amendment and its relationship to the new defenses. Here, the late amendment to the complaint was minor and did not authorize a new res judicata defense that had been waived or forfeited years earlier. View "Burton v. Ghosh" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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A medical supply company sent faxes to thousands of medical providers to solicit prescriptions to sell medical equipment to the providers’ patients. One provider received numerous faxes and filed a class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227. The supply company failed to appear. A default judgment entered against the company as to liability but not damages. Later the supplier’s CEO was granted summary judgment. Concerned with inconsistency, the district court vacated the default judgment against the company and entered judgment for both the executive and the company. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to the executive. Because the good cause standard was not applied in vacating the default judgment against the company, and inconsistent judgments between the individual and corporate defendants do not present a problem, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings on the claim against the company. Judgments against these two defendants would not necessarily be inconsistent and the district court mistakenly believed that the plaintiff sought to “essentially” hold the CEO vicariously liable as an officer of the supplier, which would require uniformity in judgments. The plaintiff alleged joint and several liability, which is critically different from vicarious liability. View "Arwa Chiropractic, P.C. v. Med-Care Diabetic & Medical Supplies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Quincy’s Prevagen® dietary supplement is sold at stores and online. Quincy registered its Prevagen® trademark in 2007. Ellishbooks, which was not authorized to sell Prevagen®, sold supplements identified as Prevagen® on Amazon.com, including items that were in altered or damaged packaging; lacked the appropriate purchase codes or other markings that identify the authorized retail seller; and contained tags from retail stores. Quincy sued under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114. Ellishbooks did not respond. The court entered default judgment. Ellishbooks identified no circumstances capable of establishing good cause for default. The district court entered a $480,968.13 judgment in favor of Quincy, plus costs, and permanently enjoined Ellishbooks from infringing upon the PREVAGEN® trademark and selling stolen products bearing the PREVAGEN® trademark. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and subsequently awarded Rule 38 sanctions. Ellishbooks’ appellate arguments had virtually no likelihood of success and its conduct during the course of the appeal was marked by several failures to timely respond and significant deficiencies in its filings. These shortcomings cannot be attributed entirely to counsel’s lack of experience in litigating federal appeals. A review of the dockets suggests that Ellishbooks has attempted to draw out the proceedings as long as possible while knowing that it had no viable substantive defense. View "Quincy Bioscience, LLC v. Ellishbooks" on Justia Law

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James, a pretrial detainee at the St. Clair County Jail, was assaulted by another inmate and suffered severe facial injuries. James filed a pro se civil-rights lawsuit against Hale, the jail infirmary's administrator, accusing her of inadequately treating his medical needs. He later acquired counsel. Significant discovery followed, including the production of jail infirmary and outside medical records that contradicted allegations in his complaint. James obtained leave to file an amended complaint, but the factual section simply repeated the allegations in the original version. In a subsequent deposition, James contradicted those factual assertions. When Hale moved for summary judgment, James responded by swearing out an affidavit incorporating by reference the allegations in the amended complaint. The magistrate disregarded the affidavit and an affidavit submitted by James’s mother and recommended that the court grant the motion. The district judge excluded the affidavits under the sham-affidavit rule and entered summary judgment for Hale. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. James’s affidavit was a sham and an improper attempt to convert the complaint's allegations into sworn testimony to avert summary judgment. The exclusion of his mother’s affidavit was harmless error because she added nothing of substance. The constitutional claim lacks factual support, so summary judgment in Hale’s favor was proper. View "James v. Hale" on Justia Law

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H.A.L., in the business of trading securities, set up a brokerage account with Advantage in Chicago. H.A.L.’s trading losses led Advantage to issue margin calls, which H.A.L. failed to meet. Advantage then liquidated H.A.L.’s account, leaving a negative balance of more than $75,000. When H.A.L. failed to pay, Advantage sued. H.A.L. responded with an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 for the entire amount, plus attorney fees and costs. Advantage accepted and judgment was entered. H.A.L. did not pay the judgment but instead filed suit against the CEO of Advantage claiming damages of more than $25 million arising from the same transactions. The Advantage CEO invoked the defense of res judicata. The district court agreed and dismissed this case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and imposed sanctions under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38, calling the appeal “an exercise in unacceptable gamesmanship, without a reasonable and good-faith basis.” H.A.L.’s sole argument to the district court—that federal law applied and Rule 68 judgments could not support res judicata—was doomed by unanimous federal precedent. It was built on the flawed premise that state law was irrelevant. Illinois gives consent judgments claim-preclusive effect if preclusion otherwise applies. View "H.A.L. NY Holdings, LLC v. Guinan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure