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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Lewis left her car parked on an Alsip street during a snowstorm. She was fined $50 for violating an ordinance that prohibits parking on any “primary snow route” if more than one inch has fallen within 12 hours and requires all primary snow routes to be identified by signs; a three-inch limit applies to “all other public streets not designated as primary snow routes.” The street where Lewis had parked was not posted as a primary snow route.Lewis could have challenged the fine in state court but instead filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Alsip violated the Due Process Clause by failing to erect signs on every block of every street telling drivers when snow requires them to remove their vehicles. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Due Process Clause requires governmental bodies to make laws available to the public, not to ensure that everyone knows all rules. The statute or regulation itself is adequate notice if it is clear. Drivers know that many traffic rules are not set out on signs but still must be obeyed. View "Lewis v. Village of Alsip" on Justia Law

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Merrill pressured 12-13-year-old girls to take and send him sexually explicit photographs of themselves. Merrill was indicted for producing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a); receiving child pornography, section 2252A(a)(2)(A); and possessing child pornography, section 2252A(a)(5)(B). He pleaded guilty to one count each of producing and possessing with respect to one girl. At his plea hearing, Merrill confirmed that he remembered: “soliciting photographs and possessing the types of photographs that are set forth in the plea agreement.” Before the scheduled sentencing hearing, new counsel appeared for Merrill and moved to withdraw his guilty pleas, asserting that his former attorneys “never explained what the elements of the production charge were or what the government was required to prove to establish his guilt.”At an evidentiary hearing. Merrill’s former lawyers testified to having explained to Merrill the differences among the three charges and how the evidence established each element of the production charge; each told Merrill that he could be convicted of production based on proof that he had asked the minors to take and send the sexually explicit photographs and that the minors did so at his request.The district judge denied Merrill’s motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Merrill’s attorneys’ advice was sound, and in any event, he has not shown prejudice from the supposedly erroneous advice. View "United States v. Merrill" on Justia Law

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Rasho, on behalf of a class of mentally ill inmates in Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) custody, sued IDOC officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for failing to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care. The parties reached a settlement requiring IDOC to meet certain benchmarks across several areas of treatment. A year later IDOC had failed to substantially comply with portions of the agreement. Under the agreement, the plaintiffs needed to prove that the breach itself caused an Eighth Amendment violation. The judge held that they made that showing in five areas of treatment, noting that IDOC’s deficiencies were primarily attributable to chronic, severe staff shortages. Because IDOC knew about its staffing problem for several years, the judge concluded that IDOC was deliberately indifferent to the risk of harm. He entered a permanent injunction requiring IDOC to hire and maintain a specific number of staff members and other specific measures on a mandatory timetable.The Seventh Circuit reversed. IDOC officials took reasonable steps to cure the identified deficiencies, particularly understaffing, which is inconsistent with the finding of deliberate indifference. Even if those steps were not fully successful, the reasonable efforts indicated that IDOC did not recklessly disregard the risks. The court’s order also exceeds remedial limitations under the Prison Litigation Reform Act; prospective corrections remedies must be “narrowly drawn, extend[] no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and [be] the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right,” 18 U.S.C. 3626(a)(1)(A). View "Rasho v. Jeffreys" on Justia Law

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Two churches sued Illinois Governor Pritzker after he issued an executive order that limited to 10 the number of people who could attend a religious service during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court declined to enjoin enforcement. By the time the appeal reached the Seventh Circuit, Pritzker had rescinded the order. The court held that the case was not moot but that the order did not violate the Free Exercise Clause. The churches nonetheless requested that the district court issue an injunction, citing recent Supreme Court decisions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the request. The court noted that the Governor will likely consider recent legal developments in crafting any new order in response to the recent surge. The court further noted that Pritzker is entitled to qualified immunity and that an award of damages is not available. View "Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker" on Justia Law

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Simpson unsuccessfully applied to work as a Correctional Officer at the Cook County Department of Corrections four times in 2014-2017. Simpson believed the hiring practices underlying those rejections violated his rights—and those of other unsuccessful Black applicants—under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1). Invoking disparate treatment and disparate impact theories, Simpson’s class action complaint alleged that, through the use of a five-step hiring process for correctional officers, the Department both intended to discriminate against Black applicants and succeeded in producing that result. The district court denied Simpson’s motion for class certification, finding that none of his proposed classes—a general class of all unsuccessful applicants and five subclasses of candidates dismissed at each step of the hiring process—satisfied Rule 23(a)(2)’s requirement that they present “questions of law or fact common to the class.”The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court’s analysis apparently merged Simpson’s disparate impact claims with his disparate treatment claims for intentional discrimination. While disparate treatment claims may require a more searching commonality inquiry, disparate impact claims most often will not: the common questions are whether the challenged policy has in fact disparately impacted the plaintiff class and, if so, whether that disparate impact is justified by business necessity. The court did not clearly delineate its reasoning for declining to certify three of Simpson’s disparate impact subclasses. View "Simpson v. Dart" on Justia Law

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Burgess left the apartment he shared with Howard, texting threats to kill her and burn down the apartment. That night, Burgess set a fire that destroyed the building and all of Howard’s and her children’s belongings. Burgess fled and eluded law enforcement for four months, during which Burgess walked into a Metro store, displayed a semi-automatic handgun, and told the clerk he was not “playing.” The clerk opened the register and Burgess stole $650. Metro had a security camera; a citizen identified Burgess and told Milwaukee Police. Burgess was arrested at his sister’s house; police recovered a handgun and the clothing Burgess wore during the Metro robbery.The government presented evidence Burgess had contacted Howard extensively while in custody, discouraging her from cooperating and encouraging her to change her story. A magistrate entered a no-contact order. Burgess nonetheless consistently and repeatedly contacted Howard. Burgess unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence obtained during his arrest, arguing MPD lacked probable cause to believe he was inside his sister’s house, then pled guilty The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 174-month sentence and the application a 2-level adjustment for obstruction of justice based on Burgess’s perjurious testimony at his suppression hearing and on his violations of a no-contact order. The factual findings upon which the district court relied established by a preponderance of the evidence that Burgess’s violations of the no-contact order amounted to obstruction. View "United States v. Burgess" on Justia Law

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Allen County Officers received an arrest warrant for Gosnell. An anonymous tip indicated that Gosnell was staying at a Fort Wayne motel. The motel manager stated that Gosnell was staying in a room with Jones. Jones had arrests dating back to the 1990s and was listed as a “known resister,” “convicted felon,” and “substance abuser.” At the room, the officers knocked and called out Jones’s street name, stating: “It’s police. We’re not here for you.” Jones said, “She’s not here.” The officers asked Jones to open the door. He requested some time. Both officers estimate that 30-60 seconds elapsed between the first knock and when Jones opened the door. In conversational tones, they reiterated that they were not there for Jones, showed him the warrant, and explained that they would like to “verify” Gosnell was not there. Jones eventually said, “fine,” and moved away from the door. The officers lifted the beds and found a firearm.Jones pled guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) after the denial of his motion to suppress. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Jones has not shown that he was seized prior to the search. In light of the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in Jones’s position would have felt free to decline the officers’ request to open the door. Jones voluntarily consented to a search of his motel room. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Around midnight, four people were in Shaffers' car, with Shaffers in the driver’s seat, smoking and listening to music while parked. Chicago Police Officers Streeper and Bruno heard loud music coming from the car and smelled marijuana. They blocked Shaffers' car with their car, then approached, identified themselves, and instructed the occupants to put their hands up. Streeper testified that Shaffers initially failed to comply and made “furtive movements with his hands below the [driver’s] seat.” Shaffers fled. Streeper recovered a gun from the floorboard between the driver’s seat and the console. Months later, Shaffers was arrested while appearing in state court for a traffic infraction.Shaffers was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Denying Shaffers’ motion to suppress, the court concluded that the officers’ approach was a seizure because Shaffers could not move his car and a reasonable person would not have felt free to leave but that the seizure was permissible under "Terry" because the officers had reasonable suspicion. After a mistrial, obstruction of justice charges were added based on Shaffers’ attempts to influence witness testimony. The Seventh Circuit upheld his convictions, rejecting arguments that the gun should have been suppressed; that Shaffers’ Confrontation Clause rights were violated by admitting a witness’s grand jury testimony, that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction; and that his prior aggravated assault conviction was improperly considered a “crime of violence” at sentencing. View "United States v. Shaffers" on Justia Law

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An eyewitness testified that Turner arrived at Krystal's residence, pulled a handgun from his pants, and fatally shot Krystal. Turner claimed that Krystal grabbed his handgun, which accidentally fired during the ensuing scuffle. Turner admitted that he frequently kept a loaded firearm in his car for protection. The prosecutor asked whether he knew it was illegal to have a loaded gun in his car in Chicago and whether he thought he was “entitled to just break the law.” Turner replied that keeping a loaded gun in his car was not illegal, or if it was, he was unaware of that law.Convicted of first-degree murder, Turner appealed, unsuccessfully arguing that the cross-examination about the legality of his gun possession violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms. After exhausting state postconviction remedies, Turner sought federal habeas relief (28 U.S.C. 2254), reprising his Second Amendment argument. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The state court addressed Turner’s claim on the merits and its decision was not “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established [f]ederal law.” The evidence of Turner’s firearm possession was relevant even if his firearm possession was constitutionally protected. Any attempt by the prosecutor to draw an improper character-propensity inference is not a constitutional problem, but a state law evidentiary problem. View "Turner v. Brannon-Dortch" on Justia Law

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Gilbreath was convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a child for repeatedly molesting his step-granddaughter, S.L., beginning when she was nine years old. Gilbreath argued that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when his attorney failed to investigate S.L.’s claims that she disclosed the assaults to others in the household; impeach S.L.’s testimony denying her motive to lie with her prior statements discussing her behavioral problems and Gilbreath’s interference with her dating life; impeach S.L. with inconsistencies between her various statements; present testimony from family members corroborating Gilbreath’s version of events and establishing S.L.’s character for dishonesty; and present evidence regarding S.L.’s motive to lie. The district court granted his petition for habeas corpus relief.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The attorney’s explanation of his pre-trial decisions and his strategy as the case unfolded was worthy of being “required reading in every law school trial practice class.” His defense was that S.L. fabricated the allegations; fully aware that a young accuser in a sexual abuse case can be perceived sympathetically by the jury, he sought to demonstrate not that she was a liar but that she was not a reliable witness. Gilbreath failed to demonstrate that the state court’s rejection of a claim of deficient performance was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence. View "Gilbreath v. Winkleski" on Justia Law