Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Lombardo, a long-time member of the Chicago Outfit, the lineal descendant of Al Capone’s gang, is serving a life sentence on his convictions for racketeering, murder, and obstruction of justice. After the Seventh Circuit affirmed his convictions and sentence on direct appeal, he retained a new attorney to argue that ineffective assistance of counsel. His new attorney misunderstood when the one-year limitations period for motions under 28 U.S.C. 2255 began running and filed Lombardo’s motion too late. The attorney represented that he miscalculated the deadline due to his mistaken belief that the statute of limitations began running only when the Supreme Court denied a petition for rehearing, not when it denied a petition for certiorari and that this error was “based on misinformation provided by a trusted paralegal.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. An attorney’s miscalculation of a statute of limitations does not justify equitably tolling the limitations period for a motion under section 2255, even if the result is to bar a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. View "Lombardo v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Barnett was charged with felony battery. At the time, Indiana courts established an “omnibus date” for substantive amendments to charges. The court set Barnett’s omnibus date so the last day for substantive amendment was December 8, 2002. In February 2003 the prosecutor added felony burglary, felony intimidation, and habitual offender charges. No one caught the error. Barnett was convicted and sentenced to 80 years’ imprisonment. Barnett’s appellate lawyer also overlooked this problem. Barnett later unsuccessfully pursued the issue in state post-conviction proceedings and in a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254. After the district court denied his habeas petition, the Seventh Circuit granted another Indiana petitioner habeas relief on the same theory. The Seventh Circuit remanded Barnett’s case. The district court’s order on remand stated “[w]ithin 120 days of this Order, the State must either release the Petitioner or grant him leave to file a new direct appeal.” When the state had done nothing within 120 days, Barnett sought immediate release. Indiana responded that it had misunderstood the order as requiring its courts to grant a new appeal upon Barnett’s request. The state simultaneously filed a request for appeal on Barnett’s behalf and asked the court to extend the release date. The district court granted that request. The court denied a motion to amend because the Indiana Court of Appeals had granted leave for Barnett to file a new appeal. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; the district court was entitled to extend the state’s deadline. View "Barnett v. Neal" on Justia Law

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Owens, an Illinois state prisoner, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that nearly two dozen prison employees deliberately ignored his medical needs and retaliated against him for filing grievances and lawsuits. He is primarily dissatisfied with the adequacy of the toothpaste, mail supplies, and laundry detergent he received at three different prisons over a six-year period. The district court narrowed the list of defendants at screening, 28 U.S.C. 1915A, and later granted summary judgment for the remaining defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. “This lawsuit is not the first one in which Owens has tossed into a single complaint a mishmash of unrelated allegations against unrelated defendants.” Owens engaged in “nearly constant” litigation during 2009 and 2010. View "Owens v. Godinez" on Justia Law

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Nicholson has been a Peoria police officer since 1991. In 2003, she became the Asset Forfeiture investigator. Five years later, Nicholson had serious issues with fellow officer Wilson, whom she accused of using department equipment to place her under surveillance. The department conducted an investigation, after which Wilson was suspended for 20 days Nicholson then filed an EEOC charge of discrimination, followed by a lawsuit, which was settled. A new Rotation Policy, implemented in 2012, provided that all specialty assignments, including the Asset Forfeiture investigator position, were subject to three-year rotations. Nicholson sought reappointment. According to the panel that interviewed her, Nicholson “[i]nterviewed very poorly, seemed angry [and] controlling.” She began her interview by refusing to answer questions until she read aloud a nine-page manifesto. The panel selected another officer. After failing to retain the Asset Forfeiture position and having not applied to any other position, Nicholson was reassigned to patrol by default. Nicholson filed another EEOC charge, alleging that sex discrimination and unlawful retaliation. She then filed suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendants, stating that Nicholson did not present enough evidence to survive summary judgment on either claim and that her motion to recuse the judge was frivolous. View "Nicholson v. City of Peoria" on Justia Law

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Ferrill was hired as Edgewood Elementary School's principal for an initial two-year term with an automatic third-year rollover unless the Board of Education opted out. Ferrill is black; the district serves predominantly white suburbs on the southern edge of Milwaukee County. While she was principal, Edgewood's staff had exceedingly low morale. Ferrill had multiple performance complaints. Staff described her as confrontational, inconsistent, and quick to claim racism. The superintendent hired a consultant to improve Ferrill’s performance. The consultant recommended termination. The Board opted out of the rollover, at the superintendent's recommendation. Ferrill found a new job, which the Board treated as a functional resignation. She sued, alleging racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and 42 U.S.C. 1981, and retaliation under Title VII and the First Amendment. The district judge granted the Board summary judgment on some claims. A jury rejected others after less than 30 minutes of deliberation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Ferrill’s shortcomings were well documented and confirmed by an independent consultant, so she did not establish that she was meeting legitimate performance expectations and thus did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The retaliation claim failed for lack of evidence connecting the Board’s decision to activity protected by Title VII. View "Ferrill v. Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District" on Justia Law

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Ijbara owned a strip mall in Oak Lawn, Illinois, but defaulted on his mortgage payments, precipitating a foreclosure. He blamed Oak Lawn officials for waging a campaign of regulatory harassment that included frivolous inspections and citations for nonexistent or trumped-up building-code violations, which cost him money and scared off prospective tenants. In December 2013, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that this abuse of power violated his right to equal protection of the law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the suit as time-barred. Ijbara’s claim accrued when the foreclosure action was filed, or at the very latest, when the judge presiding in that action appointed a receiver to take control of the mall on April 22, 2011. Ijbara’s suit, filed almost three years later, missed the two-year limitations deadline. The court rejected an argument that his claim did not accrue until the state court entered final judgment in the foreclosure action. “Ijbara confuses the eventual consequences of a constitutional violation with the constitutional injury that starts the limitations clock. Ijbara was well aware of his injury and its cause long before the entry of final judgment in the foreclosure proceeding.” View "Amin Ijbara Equity Corp v. Village of Oak Lawn" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Jackson was convicted and Kelly pleaded guilty to cocaine-related charges. The Seventh Circuit remanded Jackson's 360-month sentence for consideration under the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) based on the Supreme Court’s 2012 "Dorsey" holding. With a new Guidelines range of 262-327 months, the court sentenced Jackson to 200 months’ imprisonment. Jackson then filed a pro se 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Jackson testified that his attorney, Ratcliffe, advised that the only way to preserve an FSA claim was to go to trial. Kelly testified that he told Jackson that he could take a plea agreement and preserve his right to argue that the FSA on appeal and that Jackson wanted to discuss this information with Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe testified that “Jackson never told [him] that he wanted to explore plea agreements.” A magistrate recommended granting Jackson’s petition, finding that Jackson established deficient performance and prejudice. The credibility assessment came out in Jackson’s favor. The district court nonetheless denied Jackson’s petition, stating that Jackson was unable to establish prejudice and rejecting the magistrate’s credibility determinations. The Seventh Circuit vacated. A district court may not reject a magistrate’s credibility findings, based on a witness’s live testimony, without first holding a de novo evidentiary hearing. View "Jackson v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a class action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the practices of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and the Consolidated City of Indianapolis and Marion County caused them to be detained in jail awaiting release for an unreasonably long period of time, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted certification for two proposed subclasses but denied it as to three. Plaintiffs appealed, under FRCP 23(f), the denial of certification of classes consisting of individuals who, from December 2012 to the present, were held in confinement after legal authority for those detentions ceased, due to the Sheriff’s practices of operating under a standard of allowing up to 72 hours to release prisoners who are ordered released and of employing a computer system inadequate for the purposes intended with respect to timely release of prisoners. The Seventh Circuit allowed the interlocutory appeal and reversed. The district court believed that detentions of less than 48 hours would be presumptively reasonable, and those that extended beyond 48 hours would be presumptively unreasonable, subjecting class members to different burdens of proof. The court erred in applying the 48-hour presumption in the context of a class composed of persons for whom legal authority for detention has ceased, whether by acquittal, release on bond, completion of the sentence, or otherwise. View "Driver v. Marion County Sheriff's Department" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of two prisoner cases for failure to prosecute. Dupree had sued Illinois prison staff under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for allegedly prolonging his incarceration. Proceedings were protracted, primarily because Dupree, who had been in and out of jail, dropped out of contact with the court and the lawyer the court had recruited on his behalf. Schneider’s suit also claimed that the defendants detained him for too long. The Seventh Circuit considered Schneider’s case twice before. Schneider tried repeatedly to disqualify the defendants’ counsel, filed an interlocutory appeal, neglected to prepare his case for trial, failed to attend a witness’s deposition, did not respond to defense counsel’s communications, and failed to submit a witness list, exhibit list, proposed jury instructions, proposed voir dire questions, or his objections to the defendants’ pretrial submissions. His subsequently-recruited attorney stated that she had been unable to convince Schneider to attend any meetings and had not heard from him in months. At one point, Schneider “literally threw” a motion to recuse the judge at the courtroom deputy and told the judge “you’re recused” then “abruptly left.” The Seventh Circuit stated that the district courts showed more patience than necessary before dismissing the suits. View "Dupree v. Hardy" on Justia Law

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ATF confidential informant Potts recruited Mayfield for an armed robbery of a fictional cocaine stash house and introduced Mayfield to undercover Agent Gomez, posing as a disgruntled drug courier. Gomez instructed Mayfield to recruit others. They met again. Mayfield brought Kindle; Kindle brought Ward. Gomez explained the plan and asked whether it was too much for them to handle. Ward responded that his concern was the number of guards at the stash house. He was not concerned with whether the guards were armed because, he asserted, they would enter with guns drawn. The next day, Ward drove the men from Mayfield's apartment to meet Gomez. They followed Gomez to a storage facility. Gomez again asked for any hesitations. Ward announced that he did not “come all the way from Milwaukee for nothin’.” ATF agents then arrested the men, searched Ward's van, and recovered masks, guns and ammunition, bulletproof vests, gloves, and a duffle bag. The court granted a motion in limine, precluding the defendants from presenting entrapment defenses. Ward did not testify. The court sentenced him to 270 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and later affirmed the denial of Ward’s pro se 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition without holding an evidentiary hearing. The courts rejected Ward’s claim that his counsel was ineffective for failing to pursue an entrapment defense. Ward did not indicate any evidence to support the requisite inducement or lack of predisposition necessary to support that defense. View "Ward v. United States" on Justia Law