Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
G.G. v. Salesforce.com, Inc.
G.G. ran away from home at age 13 and fell into the hands of a sex trafficker who used the now-defunct Backpage.com to advertise her. G.G. sued under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, 18 U.S.C. 1595, which allows sex trafficking victims to recover damages from those who trafficked them and from anyone who “knowingly benefits … from participation in a venture which that person knew or should have known has engaged in” sex trafficking. She alleges that Salesforce should have known that Backpage.com was engaged in sex trafficking of minors. Salesforce had a close business relationship with Backpage—providing advice and custom-tailored software — and “knowingly benefited from its participation.”The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case, rejecting arguments that a “venture” must be primarily a sex-trafficking venture; that a participant must have had constructive knowledge of the specific victim; that “participation in a venture” requires direct participation in a “common undertaking or enterprise involving risk and potential profit”; and that to knowingly benefit requires that the sex trafficker provide the participant with a benefit because of the participant’s facilitation of a sex-trafficking venture and that the participant must have known that this was the reason for the benefit. Those theories seek to impose restrictions on the civil remedy that are inconsistent with the statutory language. View "G.G. v. Salesforce.com, Inc." on Justia Law
Bost v. Democratic Party of Illinois
Federal law establishes “[t]he Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November in every even-numbered year” as “the day for the election,” 2 U.S.C. 7. Illinois law allows mail-in ballots postmarked on or by Election Day to be counted if received up to two weeks after Election Day. The plaintiffs, State Congressman Bost, and two voters and former presidential electors, argued that this extended ballot counting violates federal law and filed suit against the State Board of Elections to enjoin the practice.Within a month, the Democratic Party of Illinois (DPI) filed a motion to intervene as a defendant under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24 in defense of the law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of DPI’s motion. DPI failed to point to any reason that the state’s representation of its interests “may be” inadequate, and the district court’s focus on public time and resources over DPI’s individual interests was not an abuse of its discretion. The court allowed DPI to proceed as amicus curiae if it decided to do so. View "Bost v. Democratic Party of Illinois" on Justia Law
North v. Ubiquity, Inc.
In 2006 Ubiquity, a California-based company, contracted with North’s Illinois firm, Associates. North executed the contract in Arizona, where he lived, on behalf of Associates. Ubiquity promised to transfer 1.5% of its outstanding shares to Associates as a “commencement fee.” Ubiquity terminated the agreement two months after signing the contract and never transferred its shares. In 2013, when Ubiquity went public, North demanded specific performance, then sued Ubiquity for breach of contract in Arizona state court. The Arizona court denied Ubiquity’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.North, worried about reversal on appeal, filed an identical breach-of-contract claim in the Northern District of Illinois in 2016. Ubiquity failed to appear. The district court entered a default judgment ($7 million). Ubiquity successfully moved to vacate the default judgment and dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court explained that Ubiquity’s only connection to Illinois was that it had contracted with an Illinois entity and that North, by his own admissions, had negotiated, executed, and promised to perform in Arizona. North filed an appeal but obtained a stay while his Arizona litigation proceeded. That stay remained in effect until 2023; by then North’s contract claim was time-barred in every relevant jurisdiction.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although the district court ought to have considered transferring the case to the Central District of California (28 U.S.C. 1631) North’s own representations would have fatally undermined his transfer request. View "North v. Ubiquity, Inc." on Justia Law
Parton v. Cook Medical, LLC
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) centralized cases arising out of alleged defects in Cook’s inferior vena cava (IVC) filters, 28 U.S.C. 1407(a). Many plaintiffs in the MDL claim that Cook’s filters cause pain and suffering, disabilities, emotional injuries, lost earnings, increased medical bills, and in some cases death. To help manage the litigation, the district court adopted direct filing and case categorization procedures. Parton and Sykes were each implanted with a Cook IVC filter. Years later, CT scans revealed that their filters had perforated their IVC walls. They experienced no pain or other symptoms, but they pursued product liability claims against Cook. The direct-filing procedure did not require Parton or Sykes to file a standard complaint; each filed a short-form complaint, which incorporated allegations from a master complaint that ostensibly applied to all direct-filing plaintiffs.The district court granted Cook summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of federal subject-matter jurisdiction. Jurisdiction in these cases is based solely on diversity of citizenship, which requires the amount in controversy in each case to exceed $75,000, 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Parton and Sykes allege the proper amount in controversy, but the nature of their alleged injuries indicates that no more than $75,000 is at stake in either case. They have not suffered the injuries alleged in the master complaint; the allegations in their short-form complaints were inadequate. View "Parton v. Cook Medical, LLC" on Justia Law
St. Vincent Medical Group, Inc. v. United States Department of Justice
Ascension Medical Group sought to depose a DEA agent and a federal prosecutor in state court litigation. Their testimony would help Ascension prove that one of its doctors failed to disclose that he was under federal investigation, in violation of his employment agreement. The Department of Justice refused to make either employee available for depositions. Ascension sued to compel their testimony. The district court determined that the Department’s refusal was reasonable and entered judgment in its favor.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Under 5 U.S.C. 301, each federal agency has promulgated “Touhy regulations,” governing when it will disclose information or make its employees available for depositions. The Department of Justice’s Touhy regulations are at 28 C.F.R. 16.21. Unless the Department unreasonably applied its Touhy regulations, a federal court is powerless to compel its participation in state court discovery. Because the Department reasonably applied its Touhy regulations to the particulars of Ascension’s request, its refusal was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The court noted that if the doctor denies that he was under investigation, Ascension can point to the DEA proffer letter he signed acknowledging that he was “a subject of a federal investigation.” View "St. Vincent Medical Group, Inc. v. United States Department of Justice" on Justia Law
Illinois Department of Corrections v. Alvin Boone
In November 2021, the Illinois General Assembly passed Public Act 102-667, which added a provision to the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act. The new provision purported to be a “declaration of existing law” that “shall not be construed as a new enactment.” The underlying lawsuit relates to COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by several Illinois state agencies. In October 2021, the plaintiffs, who work for these agencies, sued their employers and Governor J.B. Pritzker in Illinois state court, asserting the vaccine mandates were unlawful. The defendants then removed the case to federal court. In response to similar lawsuits, Illinois passed Public Act 102-667 on November 8, 2021. The district court determined that the new provision, by its terms, did not change and instead merely clarified existing law. The defendants then moved under 28 U.S.C. Section 1292(b) to certify the following question for interlocutory appeal: Whether, given [the district] court’s correct determination that Section 13.5 is a declaration of existing law that did not change the HCRCA, [the district] court cannot grant Plaintiffs any meaningful relief. The district court certified this exact question for appeal. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ challenges to Public Act 102-667 for lack of standing. The district court is free on remand to issue a proper final judgment pursuant to Rules 54(a) and 58(a), which would cover all the claims in the plaintiffs’ amended complaint. Plaintiffs could then invoke 28 U.S.C. Section 1291 and notice an appeal on any issues not resolved by this interlocutory appeal. View "Illinois Department of Corrections v. Alvin Boone" on Justia Law
Brad Martin v. Actavis Inc.
Plaintiff was taking a testosterone replacement therapy drug (“TRT”) called Androderm when he suffered a heart attack. The resulting lawsuits against TRT-producing pharmaceutical companies were consolidated as multidistrict litigation (“MDL”), and Plaintiff filed his lawsuit as part of that MDL. When Defendant Actavis, the company that produces Androderm, reached a global settlement with most of the MDL plaintiffs, Plaintiff opted to take his case to trial. Plaintiff’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that Actavis had intentionally withheld evidence to protect its defense strategy against Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s attorney received the last documents in a months-overdue discovery production for another Androderm case in the MDL on which he was also lead counsel. These documents included a previously undisclosed letter from the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) requiring Actavis to conduct a trial to study a potential causal link between Androderm and high blood pressure. The district court denied the motion, holding that the evidence did not warrant a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the FDA letter would probably not have resulted in a verdict in Plaintiff’s favor. The court explained that even if the high blood pressure evidence had been more important to the trial, the considerations highlighted in Marcus make clear that the FDA study would not have made a new outcome probable. Removing Actavis’s blood pressure argument would leave seven alternative causes for Plaintiff’s heart attack. And the significance of Plaintiff’s blood pressure had already been undercut throughout trial. Taken together, the introduction of the FDA letter simply would not make a different outcome probable. View "Brad Martin v. Actavis Inc." on Justia Law
Deborah Johnson v. Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation
Plaintiff initially brought this product liability action in state court against Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation (“Orton”). She alleged that her late husband, Bruce Johnson, contracted mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos contained in vermiculite packaging material used by Orton. Orton removed the action to federal court, and, in due course, the district court granted summary judgment for Orton. It held that, under applicable Illinois state law, Orton did not owe a duty to Mr. Johnson. The Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded this case. The court explained that the district court should not have granted summary judgment on the issue of Orton’s duty in the period after September 1981. Orton had actual knowledge during that time period that the W.R. Grace vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos, and there is a genuine issue of triable fact as to Orton’s continued use of W.R. Grace vermiculite after receiving the Data Sheet. Further, the court reasoned that the district court, because it concluded that Orton did not owe a duty to Mr. Johnson, did not reach the question of whether Ms. Johnson can establish causation. The court wrote it declined to consider the issue of causation in the first instance. View "Deborah Johnson v. Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation" on Justia Law
Deborah Brumit v Granite City, Illinois
After the Supreme Court held in HUD v. Rucker, 535 U.S. 125 (2002), that a public housing authority may enforce a term in a tenant’s lease allowing eviction if a member of the household or guest commits a crime (even without the tenant’s knowledge), some cities enacted ordinances extending that approach to private leases. Granite City, Illinois, required private landlords to evict tenants not as a condition of receiving a subsidy but as a matter of regulatory compulsion. Plaintiffs permitted their adult daughter to stay in their leased home occasionally, and one night they welcomed their daughter and her boyfriend into their house briefly. After they left, they were arrested for stealing a van. The City served a “Notice of Violation.” A hearing officer directed Plaintiffs’ landlord to begin eviction proceedings. The landlord dragged his feet long enough for them to file suit under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. A district court entered a temporary restraining order, which it later converted to a preliminary injunction. In January 2022, Plaintiffs gave up their lease voluntarily and moved out of Granite City. The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of a justiciable controversy. Plaintiffs contend that if they prevail on the merits, they will be entitled to nominal damages. The court explained Plaintiffs’ potential problem is that their complaint did not allege a “completed” violation of their rights, so they have failed to identify a concrete injury that could be redressed by nominal damages. View "Deborah Brumit v Granite City, Illinois" on Justia Law
Estate of Soad Wattar v. Horace Fox, Jr.
The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that all assets held by the Soad Wattar Revocable Living Trust—including the Wattar family home—were part of the bankruptcy estate of Richard Sharif. Sharif was the son of Soad Wattar, now de‐ ceased. As the sole trustee of the Wattar trust. Sharif’s sisters, Haifa and Ragda Sharifeh, soon launched an effort to keep the trust proceeds out of their brother’s bankruptcy estate. At issue in these appeals are the bankruptcy court’s rulings on three motions: (1) Haifa’s 2015 motion to vacate the court’s decision that all trust assets belonged to the bankruptcy estate; (2) the sisters’ joint 2016 motion for leave to sue the Chapter 7 trustee assigned to Sharif’s bankruptcy for purported due process violations; and (3) Ragda’s motion seeking both reimbursement of money she allegedly spent on the family home and the proceeds from Wattar’s life insurance policy, which the court had found to be an asset of the trust and therefore part of the bankruptcy estate. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that even if Haifa were really the executor, she simply waited too long to assert the estate’s rights. In the bankruptcy and district courts, the trustee raised the equitable defense of laches, which cuts off the right to sue when (1) the plaintiff has inexcusably delayed bringing suit and (2) that delay harmed the defendant. Next, the court held that the bankruptcy court correctly concluded that the motion did not set forth a prima facie case for a right to relief against the trustee. View "Estate of Soad Wattar v. Horace Fox, Jr." on Justia Law