Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Arun Gopalratnam purchased an HP laptop computer that contained a DynaPack battery pack with Samsung lithium-ion battery cells. Months later, the Menomonee Falls Fire Department responded to a major fire in a basement bedroom of the Gopalratnam’s home. After the fire was extinguished, firefighters discovered Arun deceased on the floor of the room. Am autopsy classified smoke inhalation as the cause of death, with no evidence of pre-fire injury or disease, and no drugs or alcohol in Arun’s system. Special Agent Martinez concluded that the fire originated in the basement bedroom where Arun’s body was located. Martinez excluded multiple potential sources of the blaze (electrical and gas meters, electrical distribution panels, gas-fueled furnaces, electrical plugs, light switch, and ceiling light fixture) but could not ascertain the fire’s ultimate cause. He did not eliminate a possible mattress fire. The remains of Arun’s HP laptop, cell phone, and the laptop battery cells, were in the debris. In the Gopalratnams’ suit, alleging negligence, strict products liability, and breach of warranty, the plaintiffs claimed that a defective battery cell in Arun’s laptop caused the fire. The district court granted motions to exclude plaintiffs’ expert witnesses on causation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court applied the proper legal standard: The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert. The experts failed to account for other possible explanations. View "Gopalratnam v. ABC Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In 2007, Perry pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines, based on his prior convictions for attempted murder and attempted armed robbery. The career offender Guideline, U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a), used a definition of a “crime of violence” that included a “residual clause” that mirrored the “violent felony” definition in the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B). In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the ACCA residual clause as unconstitutionally vague. Perry challenged his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. In 2017, however, the Supreme Court rejected such challenges because the Guidelines are only advisory. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Perry’s argument that the law of the Seventh Circuit did not make the Guidelines sufficiently advisory in 2007. Courts are free to reject the Guidelines based on sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). Once the Supreme Court declared the Guidelines advisory, they remained advisory notwithstanding some erroneous applications in the district and circuit courts. Appellate courts cannot change constitutional law established by the holdings of the Supreme Court. If Perry believed he was sentenced under a mandatory guidelines regime contrary to Supreme Court precedent, he could have appealed. View "Perry v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Morgan Stanely in a civil rights action. Plaintiff alleged that she was terminated on the basis of her sex and that Morgan Stanley allowed her coworkers to create a hostile work environment. The court held that plaintiff was not entitled to a trial on her discrimination claim because she presented no evidence that her sex influenced the decision to terminate her and she presented no evidence of discrimination based on the cat's paw theory. The court also held that plaintiff was not entitled to a trial on her hostile work environment claim because the statute of limitations restricted the allegations that the court could consider as part of her claim and the remaining conduct did not create a hostile work environment. View "Milligan-Grimstad v. Morgan Stanley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Jewish inmates at prisons operated by the Indiana Department of Corrections, were transferred from one DOC facility to another (Wabash Valley) in order to maintain a kosher diet. Plaintiffs allege that Liebel, the DOC Director of Religious and Volunteer Services, violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by failing to delay that transfer until the new facility offered opportunities for Jewish group worship and study. At the time of the transfer, the DOC was unable to recruit Jewish volunteers to Wabash Valley to lead worship or train inmate leaders. In their suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court granted Liebel summary judgment, citing qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that Liebel did not violate clearly established law. Plaintiffs cited no case holding that the Free Exercise Clause provides prisoners the right to group worship when outside volunteers were unavailable to lead or train inmates or holding that a prison official violates the Free Exercise Clause by transferring inmates to a facility that does not provide congregate worship and study, or by failing to delay a transfer until the new facility provides congregate worship and study. View "Kemp v. Liebel" on Justia Law

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Brothers Daniel and John operated companies that offered remodeling services in Chicago. Through subcontractors, they performed legitimate work for clients who paid in cash, but they padded their profits by duping elderly, unsophisticated homeowners into refinancing their homes to pay substantial sums for work they never intended to finish. The Circuit Court of Cook County permanently enjoined both John and a company the brothers owned from engaging in home-repair in Chicago; the brothers circumvented the injunction by creating a new company and installing an employee as its nominal president. They falsified contracts to hide their fraudulent activity. The brothers were convicted of wire fraud and each was sentenced to 168 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed their sentences in 2014. They filed separate pro se collateral challenges under 28 U.S.C. 2255, each contending that their attorneys were constitutionally ineffective. The district judge denied both section 2255 motions without holding an evidentiary hearing. The Seventh Circuit granted Daniel a certificate of appealability, then rejected his claims that his attorneys rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to raise a “Batson” objection to the exclusion of potential jurors based on race and hire an expert witness to testify about the amount of loss attributable to Daniel for purposes of the Sentencing Guidelines. View "Sullivan v. United States" on Justia Law

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Halbach disappeared in 2005. Her family contacted police. Officers focused on Avery Auto Salvage in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, the last place she was known to have visited. Avery, who lived on the property, had called Auto Trader magazine, for whom Halbach worked, to request that she photograph a minivan that he wished to sell. The police suspected that Avery’s 16‐year‐old nephew, Dassey, who also lived on the property, might have information about Halbach and called Dassey into the police station. After many hours of interrogation over several days, Dassey confessed that he, with Avery, had raped and murdered Halbach and burned her body. Before trial, Dassey recanted. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After unsuccessful state appeals and post‐conviction proceedings, Dassey sought federal habeas relief, claiming that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel and that his confession was not voluntary. The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed the district court in granting relief. On rehearing, en banc, the Seventh Circuit reversed, citing the deferential standards of 28 U.S.C. 2254(d). The state courts’ finding that Dassey’s confession was voluntary was not beyond fair debate, but was reasonable. View "Dassey v. Dittmann" on Justia Law

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In July 2013, Brown was sentenced to 300 days’ imprisonment for violating the terms of his probation. The Illinois circuit court specifically stated that Brown should be released in September 2013, after accounting for good‐time credit. In August 2013, Cook County Jail personnel informed Brown that he would not be released until March. In September 2013, Brown filed a state court petition for a writ of habeas corpus, but jail staff allegedly failed to transport him to court. On December 16, 2013, the petition was finally heard. The court determined Brown should have been released in September and immediately released him on a $50,000 bond. In January 2014, the court released the bond. Brown filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, alleging violations of the Fourth and Eighth Amendments based on false imprisonment and inhumane conditions and a violation of Illinois state law based on false imprisonment. The district court granted the defendants judgment on the pleadings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Because Brown was released from prison more than two years before he filed his claim, the suit was time-barred. The court rejected Brown's claim that the time he spent released on bond was a continuation of the false imprisonment View "Brown v. Dart" on Justia Law

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Robinson, an Illinois inmate, alleged (42 U.S.C. 1983) that Pontiac Correctional Center guards beat him and taunted him with racial slurs as punishment for filing grievances. The district court dismissed, reasoning that some of Robinson’s allegations about the altercation conflicted with his disciplinary conviction for assaulting the guards. The court recognized that Robinson’s suit would not be barred if he argued that the guards used more force than was reasonably necessary to subdue him, but concluded that Robinson “plead[ed] himself out of court” by insisting that he did nothing to provoke the beating. The Seventh Circuit vacated, holding that the district court abused its discretion in declining to recruit counsel for Robinson. Though there is no automatic right to recruitment of counsel in civil cases, a pro se litigant’s requests for counsel are entitled to careful consideration. The district court found that Robinson made reasonable efforts to obtain counsel. Robinson stated that he has only an eighth-grade education and stays “heavily medicated” with psychotropic drugs but the district court did not address or conclude that it disbelieved Robinson’s explanation that another inmate helped him draft the documents that the court looked to for evidence of his capacity to litigate. View "Robinson v. Scrogum" on Justia Law

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After being asked to leave a party, Adorno shot a gun into the crowd. During voir dire, the judge stated: Illinois does not define reasonable doubt, but any of you who may have sat on a civil jury there’s a preponderance of the evidence, reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof in our country and in our [s]tate. Those of you who may have sat on civil cases, preponderance of the evidence, if you look at this like a scale, all you have to do is tilt it. So the definition of preponderance of the evidence is, it’s more likely than not that the event occurred. Again, Illinois doesn’t define reasonable doubt. That’s up for you to decide in words, but in analogy to the scale thing, you would have to tip it like this. Adorno was convicted of attempted murder. On appeal, Adorno argued that the impromptu statement invited the jury to convict on less than the reasonable-doubt burden of proof. The Illinois Court of Appeals rejected the claim without reference to federal law. Adorno sought federal habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Seventh Circuit reversed a grant of relief. Even if the “Richter presumption” that the state court adjudicated the federal claim does not apply and de novo review is applied, Adorno’s claim fails. There is no reasonable likelihood that the jury convicted him on less than the reasonable-doubt standard. View "Adorno v. Melvin" on Justia Law

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The Cosgriffs reside in South Beloit, Roscoe Township, Winnebago County, Illinois. They installed a $50,000 pool at their home. When township employees came to the home to reassess its property value after the pool addition, one of the Cosgriffs’ dogs bit one of the employees. That employee and Roscoe Township sued the Cosgriffs. The Cosgriffs started a petition campaign encouraging taxpayers to notify the township that its employees should not trespass on private property. The Cosgriffs’ next property assessment was significantly higher than their last. The Cosgriffs challenged the increased assessment before the Winnebago County Board of Review, which ruled in favor of the Cosgriffs and substantially reduced the assessment. The Cosgriffs then sued Winnebago County and individual defendants, alleging that the defendants acted unconstitutionally when they increased the Cosgriffs’ property assessment because the Cosgriffs spoke out against township employees trespassing on private property. The district court dismissed the Cosgriffs’ 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, reasoning that comity principles barred federal courts from hearing these claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Because the Cosgriffs challenge the administration of a local tax system under section 1983, their claims fall outside the scope of the statute. Available state remedies are plain, adequate, and complete. View "Cosgriff v. Winnebago County" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights, Tax Law