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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court entering judgment upon the jury's verdict in favor of Paul Reina on his claim that Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112(a), (b) and acted maliciously or in reckless disregard of Reina's rights, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion.Reina, who was deaf and legally blind, worked as a cart attendant for Walmart for almost twenty years. After providing Reina with a job coach, Walmart eventually ended Reina's employment. Reina filed an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued Walmart for violating the ADA. The jury concluded that Walmart violated the ADA by refusing Reina a reasonable accommodation in the form of a full-time job coach and acted maliciously or in reckless disregard of Reina's rights. The jury awarded Reina $200,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly denied Walmart's motion for judgment as a matter of law; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to issue an injunction against Walmart as proposed by the EEOC. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2004, six men robbed a marijuana dealer, Thomas, at gunpoint in his home. Two of the robbers shot Thomas, who died. One of those shooters also shot Landon, Thomas’s business partner. Landon survived. Reyes was convicted of Thomas’s murder, Landon’s attempted murder, and home invasion. The state’s evidence against Reyes included Landon’s identification of Reyes as the shooter after viewing a photo array. It took the police five attempts to extract that identification from Landon; several times, he seemed to confuse Reyes with another man who was not a suspect in the robbery. Reyes moved, unsuccessfully, to suppress the identification.After Reyes exhausted state-court review, he sought federal collateral relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254, arguing that the identification procedure was impermissibly suggestive and that Landon’s identification was too unreliable to pass constitutional muster. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his petition. While the identification procedure was unnecessarily suggestive, as noted by the state court, it did not taint the conviction. Error alone is not enough to entitle Reyes to relief. A section 2254 petitioner must also show prejudice. Reyes cannot because the jury that convicted him heard significant evidence of his guilt beyond the identification and had the opportunity to evaluate most of the evidence bearing on the reliability of the identification. View "Reyes v. Nurse" on Justia Law

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Famous was convicted in Wisconsin state court of four counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child and one count of exposing a child to harmful material and was sentenced to 168 years of confinement. In 2001, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court denied relief. Famous did not seek certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court. The one-year statute of limitations period under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) began to run on February 25, 2002, the date on which the time to file a petition expired. Famous filed his federal habeas petition on August 17, 2010.The district court dismissed it as untimely, rejecting Famous’s estoppel arguments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Famous failed to set forth sufficient information to raise statutory estoppel to the statute of limitations defense; he failed to provide even the information reasonably available to him. “Given the laconic nature of his submission,” the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Famous’s request to take further discovery on that issue. In rejecting the defense of equitable tolling, the court did not clearly err in concluding that, even excluding the period when his appellate attorney allegedly retained his file, Famous did not timely file his petition. A finding that Famous’s chronic mental illness did not impede a timely filing was supported by the record. View "Famous v. Fuchs" on Justia Law

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Lee‐Kendrick was charged with sexual assault of girls under the age of 16: his biological daughter; his girlfriend’s daughter, A.W.; and a friend. Lee‐Kendrick testified that the accusations arose only after he started taking away their cell phones and allowances. There was no physical evidence. The jury found him guilty. Lee‐ Kendrick unsuccessfully sought a new trial, arguing that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by not objecting to certain prejudicial cross‐examination.In post-conviction motions, Lee‐ Kendrick argued his postconviction counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to raise his trial counsel’s ineffectiveness in not calling as a witness A.W.'s friend, Keeler. Lee‐Kendrick cited a memorandum from a Wisconsin State Public Defender's investigator, recounting an interview in which Keeler said that A.W. told Keeler of her plan to get Lee‐Kendrick in trouble. The state trial court did not find Lee‐Kendrick’s claims procedurally barred for having not been raised on direct appeal but applied the “Strickland” standard to reject Lee‐Kendrick’s arguments. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed, going beyond his failure to raise the argument on appeal and reasoning that the attorney’s decision was not prejudicial because Keeler had no direct knowledge of the sexual assaults; Keeler’s testimony would have been inconsistent with the defense theory.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief. His claim concerning failure to call Keeler was denied on an adequate and independent state‐law ground and is procedurally defaulted. That default is not excused by cause and prejudice. View "Lee-Kendrick v. Eckstein" on Justia Law

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Greenpoint Tactical Income Fund and its affiliates and managers were the subjects of an FBI investigation into suspected fraud, particularly with respect to Greenpoint’s asset valuation practices. The investigation led to the issuance of a search warrant for plaintiffs’ properties and the seizure of some assets. Plaintiffs filed suit against Agent Pettigrew and Assistant United States Attorney Halverson, alleging violations of their Fourth Amendment rights by submitting a false and misleading affidavit in support of the search warrant. They sought damages. The district court dismissed the suit, concluding that plaintiffs were seeking to extend “Bivens” to a “new context” and that “special factors” counseled hesitation in doing so.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal on different grounds. Even assuming that Bivens can reach the Fourth Amendment violations alleged here, Halverson is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity and Agent Pettigrew is entitled to qualified immunity. There is no allegation that Halverson was interviewing witnesses himself, was actively involved in the investigation as it was unfolding, or personally vouched for the truth of the allegations in Pettigrew’s affidavit. A reasonable agent in Pettigrew’s position could believe the allegations amounted to probable cause. View "Greenpoint Tactical Income Fund LLC v. Pettigrew" on Justia Law

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Brown, a prisoner in the Illinois River Correctional Center, experienced abdominal pain. A few days later, the prison’s nurse practitioner prescribed some pain medicine. Brown returned to his cell, but the pain became more severe. Brown was taken to the prison’s ’infirmary, where the prison’s nurses and doctor treated him over three-and-a-half days. Despite the treatment, the symptoms worsened, and Brown was transported to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with appendicitis, which required surgery to remove his appendix. Brown sued, alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The prison medical staff did not act with deliberate indifference toward Brown’s serious medical condition. Brown may have received subpar care in the prison’s infirmary but medical malpractice is not a constitutional violation. › Brown has presented no direct or circumstantial evidence that the physician “actually knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of harm.” View "Brown v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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St. Vincent Hospital adopted a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Employees had until November 12, 2021 to get vaccinated unless they received a medical or religious exemption. In reviewing exemption requests, St. Vincent considered the employee’s position and amount of contact with others, the current health and safety risk posed by COVID, and the cost and effectiveness of other safety protocols. Dr. Halczenko treated gravely ill children, including those suffering from or at risk of organ failure.St. Vincent denied Halczenko’s request for religious accommodation on the ground that “providing an exemption to a Pediatric Intensivist working with acutely ill pediatric patients poses more than a de minim[i]s burden to the hospital because the vaccine provides an additional level of protection in mitigating the risk associated with COVID.” Halczenko and four other St. Vincent employees filed an EEOC complaint. The others—a nurse practitioner and three nurses, including two in the pediatric ICU—were granted religious accommodations. St. Vincent terminated Halczenko’s employment. Halczenko attributes his lack of success in finding new work to his non-compete agreement with St. Vincent, his preference not to move his family, and the limited demand for an unvaccinated physician in his specialty. In a purported class action, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of preliminary relief, concluding that Halczenko had shown neither irreparable harm nor an inadequate remedy at law. View "Halczenko v. Ascension Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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Police arrested demonstrators in Rockford, Illinois, seven on Friday and one on Saturday. Winnebago County does not hold bail hearings over the weekend. All eight waited until Monday at 1:30 p.m. to receive a bail hearing, seven were then released either on their own recognizance or on bond. The charges against three have been dismissed; the court sentenced three to probation or conditional discharge. The Friday detainees were held for about 68 hours. The Saturday detainee was held for slightly over 48 hours. Three missed work; one lost her job; one could not seek medical attention for an open wound and bruised ribs while in jail; one endured three days of solitary confinement and was not allowed to take her prescription medication; and one was denied medical attention for a concussion and a bleeding head wound.The detainees filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 198,3 against the Chief Judge and the Sheriff, in their official capacities, and Winnebago County, arguing that the County violated the Fourth Amendment by denying them a bail hearing within 48 hours after detention even though a probable-cause determination had been made within that period. The district court denied a class-certification motion and dismissed the suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Precedent dictates that only a probable-cause determination must be held within 48 hours; as a matter of first impression, the court held that the Fourth Amendment does not require a bail hearing within 48 hours after arrest. View "Mitchell v. Doherty" on Justia Law

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Each of the plaintiffs has been convicted of multiple sex offenses involving children. Wisconsin law requires some sex offenders to wear GPS tracking devices for life, even after they have completed post-confinement supervision, WIS. STAT. 301.48. The tracking device is attached to an ankle bracelet. The tracking data is not monitored in real-time; officials review it about every 24 hours to determine if an offender has been near a school, a playground, or another place that might raise a concern. The plaintiffs alleged that the statute violates their rights under the Fourth Amendment and sought a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction, noting that it addressed section 301.48 in 2016 and upheld a provision that imposes lifetime monitoring on sex offenders who have been released from post-prison civil commitment. Applying the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness standard, the government’s interest in deterring recidivism by dangerous offenders outweighs the offenders’ diminished expectation of privacy. Any differences between the 2016 plaintiff and these plaintiffs are too immaterial to make the earlier holding inapplicable. View "Braam v. Carr" on Justia Law

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An FBI informant provided a cell phone number for Lewis, a distributor in a drug-trafficking operation. The government obtained a tracking order under the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2703(d). Cell-site location information (CSLI) from Lewis’s cell phone provider showed that his phone was within a 1,099-meter radius of Greenwood, Indiana. From there, officers searched parking lots and hotels where a deal might take place. Officers eventually saw a woman resembling Lewis’s wife enter a room at a hotel, drop off a duffel bag, and drive away in a car registered in Lewis’s name. After a drug-sniffing dog alerted at the room, officers obtained a search warrant. The team executed the warrant the same day. Inside the room, officers found Lewis, $2 million in cash, and 19.8 kilograms of cocaine.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Lewis’s conviction for possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. The court rejected his arguments that the dog sniff violated his reasonable expectation of privacy or, in the alternative, that the application for the section 2703(d) order lacked probable cause. Lewis lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the hotel's exterior hallway, where the dog sniff occurred. Regardless of whether the government’s use of real-time CSLI amounted to a search, the good-faith exception applies. View "United States v. Lewis" on Justia Law