Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Alamo worked for the Chicago Fire Department. He alleges that in 2009, after a transfer, other firefighters began harassing him, calling him “spic” and “f--king Puerto Rican,” and stealing Alamo’s food. Alamo also alleges that the number of times he was assigned to work at different locations was excessive when compared to assignments given to non-Latino colleagues. His supervisor, Lieutenant Bliss, did not remedy the behavior. At one point, Alamo called 911 about a “chest bump” incident but did not press charges because of pressure from the Chief. The next day, Alamo experienced chest pain, dizziness, and a migraine. A physician diagnosed him with a work-related chest contusion, work-related stress, and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder and ordered medical leave. The Medical Section Chief stated the Department would not pay for treatment. After Alamo had been on medical leave for six months, he obtained written authorization to return to work without restrictions, but the Department required additional documentation. Alamo filed a charge with the EEOC. The Department continued to request additional records. Alamo filed suit under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, and against Bliss, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit reversed dismissal of his hostile work environment, disparate treatment, and retaliation claims. The complaint describes an investigation into his fitness to work that was so onerous that it could not be completed in four months and sufficiently alleged retaliation. View "Alamo v. Bliss" on Justia Law

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Facing the possibility of two life sentences, Schneider pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his minor daughter, 18 U.S.C. 2243(a)(1). The court warned Schneider five times that it could impose a sentence as high as 15 years’ imprisonment and that if the guidelines range turned out to be “closer to five years or above,” that, alone, would not be a reason for Schneider to withdraw his guilty plea. Schneider said he understood; the district court accepted his plea. After a change in appointed lawyers, Schneider unsuccessfully moved to withdraw his plea following the release of the PSR, which recommended that Schneider receive a five-level upward adjustment as a “repeat and dangerous sex offender against minors,” U.S.S.G. 4B1.5. The district court sentenced him below the guidelines range to 96 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that his plea was involuntary. Schneider filed a collateral challenge, arguing that his trial lawyer was ineffective for advising him that he met the statutory elements of the offense of sexual abuse of a minor and for not explaining that his prior conduct could be considered during sentencing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of relief, noting Schneider’s efforts to get his daughter to recant, and the testimony of his first attorney about his statements to Schneider. The district court’s findings on direct appeal are the law of the case; Schneider’s claims are implausible. View "Schneider v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owned and lived on a 400-acre estate and horse farm in Barrington Hills, Illinois, leasing the horse farm, “Horizon Farms,” to their company, Royalty Farms, LLC, which managed the farm’s operations. Their mortgage was foreclosed in 2013. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County bought the property at the foreclosure sale. Royalty Farms was not a party to the foreclosure proceeding, but the court entered a Dispossession Order, directing Plaintiff to vacate the property. The Forest Preserve District apparently tolerated the continued presence of several horses while plaintiff continued visiting the property daily to care for them. After nine months Plaintiff was arrested and prosecuted for criminal trespass. She was acquitted because the judge could not conclusively determine that she had been told not to enter the property. A year later she filed suit, claiming false arrest and malicious prosecution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Regardless of whether Plaintiff entered the property as an employee of Royalty Farms, there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for criminal trespass; she acknowledged receiving an emailed warning and defying it and she was aware of the court order. View "Squires-Cannon v. Forest Preserve District of Cook County" on Justia Law

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In 1992, Oaks was indicted in Illinois for the murder of his girlfriend’s three‐year‐old son. Oaks had no income or assets. His family provided $2,000 to retain an attorney, who asked for state funds for expert witnesses: an investigator, a forensic pathologist, a mitigation expert, and a psychiatrist. The court denied the request. The lawyer withdrew, asserting that the ruling made him unable to represent his client “in good conscience.” The court appointed a public defender. Oaks was convicted and sentenced to death. Oaks did not raise the choice of counsel in his direct appeal. Oaks first raised that issue in a pro se post‐conviction petition filed in state court and asserted that his appellate counsel had been ineffective in failing to raise the issue on direct appeal. The court appointed post‐conviction counsel, who filed an amended petition that did not raise either the choice of counsel claim or the appellate counsel claim. The trial court then dismissed the petition as moot and lacking merit. Oaks filed a federal habeas petition, raising the choice of counsel issue and ineffective assistance of appellate counsel issues. The district court denied the petition. The court held and the Seventh Circuit affirmed that those claims had been procedurally defaulted and lacked merit. View "Oaks v. Pfister" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Pittman, a pretrial detainee in the Madison County, Illinois, jail, hanged himself in his cell. He did not die, but he sustained brain damage that has left him in a vegetative state, cared for entirely by his mother with no government benefits. Pittman left a suicide note in which he said that he was killing himself because the guards were “fucking” with him by not letting him see crisis counselors. In a suit under the Eighth Amendment, the district court granted defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed as to two guards. A jury then returned a verdict in favor of both defendants. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Another inmate, Banovz, stated that in the five days preceding Pittman’s suicide attempt, the guards ignored Pittman’s requests to see the crisis staff. Three hours after the suicide attempt a county detective obtained a 25-minute interview with Banovz about the attempt, which was captured on video. The video was not admitted at trial, even though Banovz’s testimony was the lynchpin of the plaintiff’s case and the defendants had stipulated to the showing of the video. While Banovz testified at trial, the passage of seven years had dimmed his recollection and his demeanor at trial was notably different from his demeanor in the video. The court stated it had “no assurance that Pittman’s claim was fairly tried.” View "Pittman v. Madison County" on Justia Law

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Simpson fell off an upper bunk while incarcerated in the Bartholomew County Jail for a drunken driving conviction. Simpson was intoxicated when he reported to the jail to serve his weekend stay. Officers placed him in a holding cell. After they thought he was sober, they assigned him to an upper bunk, although he was obese. While sleeping, Simpson went into convulsions and fell off the bunk on to the concrete floor. He died from his injuries. His estate sued, arguing that the conditions under which the jail kept Simpson and the care he received were inadequate under the Eighth Amendment. The district court found insufficient evidence to show the defendants were aware of, but disregarded, a risk to Simpson’s health and safety and granted them summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The defendants tailored their care for Simpson to account for his intoxication, even asking Simpson if he was experiencing any withdrawal symptoms. Simpson said no. The deputies believed he was sober when they moved him. Had they known about Simpson’s alcoholism and the risk posed by withdrawal, they might have taken additional steps to protect him. Without any indication that they knew of a serious risk, they cannot be held liable under section 1983 for either the conditions of confinement or the medical treatment they provided. View "Estate of Simpson v. Gorbett" on Justia Law

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Proctor, an Illinois prisoner who was confined for seven years at Hill Correctional Center, suffers from chronic abdominal pain and spasms in his colon. He sued medical providers working at Hill for Wexford Health Sources, the contractor providing healthcare to Illinois prisoners, and corrections officials, claiming that they violated the Eighth Amendment by not ordering a colonoscopy and endoscopy to diagnose his persistent abdominal pain. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A jury could not reasonably find that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to Proctor’s medical condition. Proctor’s abdominal pain and colon spasms were investigated thoroughly, and that investigation substantiated only a diagnosis of IBS. Over the course of treating him, the medical professionals routinely performed physical exams and ordered X‐rays, an ultrasound, bloodwork, stool cultures, and other tests, but the results were consistently normal. The decision whether further diagnostic testing— like a colonoscopy—was necessary is “a classic example of a matter for medical judgment. View "Proctor v. Sood" on Justia Law

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Awaiting trial on state charges for armed robbery and unlawful restraint, Hudson's public defender advised that he faced a sentence of six-60 years. He rejected a plea deal that offered 16 years. Hudson was convicted. At sentencing, it was discovered that his criminal history including convictions for murder, armed robbery, burglary, felony theft, and felony drug possession. Hudson received a mandatory natural life sentence without the possibility of parole. After exhausting state appeals, Hudson filed a federal habeas action, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court issued the writ, ordering the state to reoffer Hudson the original plea deal. Hudson accepted a plea deal for attempted armed robbery, to avoid a mandatory life sentence. The judge declined to rule, stating that she had no jurisdiction because “orders from the Appellate Court … suggested all issues addressed by this Court were correct, and … nothing from the Federal Court that suggests otherwise.” The original sentence had not been vacated; the new agreement was contrary to Illinois law, in suggesting that Hudson plead guilty to an offense that he was not convicted of. The judge stated that she would have rejected the plea deal even if she were considering it for the first time, considering Hudson’s criminal history. Hudson’s state court appeal remains pending. Hudson filed a federal “motion to enforce” that sought his immediate release. The district judge denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. State prosecutors complied with the original writ, but a state judge refused to accept the deal. Hudson received all the relief he sought in his first habeas action. View "Hudson v. Lashbrook" on Justia Law

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Chicago Police Department violated Title VII by harassing Officer Sommerfield based on his national origin, German, and religion, Jewish. Sommerfield alleged that his complaints led to retaliation. He filed another EEOC charge alleging retaliation. The agency again found reasonable cause. After years of litigation in his subsequent 42 U.S.C. 1981, 1983 suit, a jury awarded Sommerfield $30,000, rejecting his retaliation claim. Sommerfield’s lawyer requested $1.5 million in attorney’s fees, which the district court reduced to $430,000. The attorney claimed to have worked 3,742 hours at an hourly rate of $395; the judge reduced the hours to 2,878 and the rate to $300, which yielded a lodestar of $863,000. The judge took into account the modest degree of success Sommerfield had achieved and halved the lodestar. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the district court’s decisions to grant partial summary judgment for the city by confining the discrimination counts to the question whether a fellow officer’s statements had created a hostile work environment; eliminating two counts for lack of any evidence that would permit a finding that Sommerfield’s injury resulted from an express policy, a widespread practice, or a policymaker’s final action; and restricting the retaliation claim period. View "Sommerfield v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Vidmar, Manney, and Gomez were discharged from the Milwaukee Police Department, for cause, by Police Chief Flynn. Their benefits and pay stopped immediately. They appealed their terminations to the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, which rejected their appeals. They were permanently discharged. The former officers claimed that their employment did not end when they were discharged by the chief because they were entitled to employment until the conclusion of their appeals. They alleged that they were denied constitutional due process and wages. The district court rejected their claims and granted judgment on the pleadings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Under Wisconsin law, the former officers had no property interest in employment once they were discharged for cause by Chief Flynn. They were provided a full and adequate appellate process, and their discharges were upheld in accordance with Wisconsin law. They were not entitled to wages for the period of time between their discharge and the conclusion of their appeal under Wisconsin law as they were not employed during that time. View "Milwaukee Police Association v. Flynn" on Justia Law