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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Harnishfeger published a book under a pseudonym, Conversations with Monsters: Chilling, Depraved and Deviant Phone Sex Conversations, concerning her time as a phone‐sex operator. A month later, Harnishfeger began a one‐year stint with the Indiana Army National Guard as a member of the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, a federal anti-poverty program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). When Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor discovered Conversations and identified Harnishfeger as its author, she demanded that CNCS remove Harnishfeger. CNCS complied and ultimately cut her from the program. Harnishfeger filed suit alleging First Amendment and Administrative Procedure Act violations. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The book is protected speech; it was written and published before Harnishfeger began her VISTA service. Its content is unrelated to CNCS, VISTA, and the Guard. It was written for a general audience, concerning personal experiences and is a matter of public concern. A jury could find that Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor infringed her free-speech rights by removing her from her placement because of it. The supervisor’s actions were under color of state law, so 42 U.S.C. 1983 offers a remedy, and she was not entitled to qualified immunity. There is no basis, however, for holding CNCS or its employees liable. Harnishfeger failed to show a triable issue on any federal defendant’s personal participation in a constitutional violation. View "Harnishfeger v. United States" on Justia Law

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Centralia’s “Rude Boyz” gang threatened a boy who witnessed a gang-related shooting. The threats were investigated by Peebles, who had arrested many Boyz and was the “go-to guy” for gang intelligence. As Peebles and Sergeant James arrested the gang members on open warrants, Barnes drove by. According to Peebles, Barnes parked and yelled epithets. Law enforcement knew that Barnes had gang connections and that the Rude Boyz used Barnes’s home. Barnes posted on Facebook: “This thirsty b**** Mike out here on the same on [sic] bulls***.” Barnes later posted: “But this b**** don’t believe that what goes around come[s] around and when you got kids of your own.” A police secretary saw the posts and texted Peebles, who felt that these were credible threats against him and his family. Sergeant James arrested Barnes for intimidation. Weeks later the state dropped those charges. Barnes sued Peebles for unlawful seizure and malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the city had an express policy or widespread practice that motivated her arrest and prosecution. Peebles and James testified Peebles made his complaint against Barnes as a private citizen. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. With no evidence Peebles acted under color of state law in his role as a witness in Barnes’s arrest and prosecution, Barnes cannot prove Peebles violated Barnes’s rights against unlawful seizure and malicious prosecution. Barnes’s submitted no evidence to support her contention that Centralia failed to train its officers in handling profanity and that her profanity was the cause of her arrest. View "Barnes v. City of Centralia" on Justia Law

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Frederickson lived in Joliet. He was homeless, had a sex crime conviction, and was subject to the Illinois Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA). He has to register every week in the jurisdiction in which he resides. Joliet requires that a person moving to a new jurisdiction register with the new jurisdiction, and “register out” of the old jurisdiction within three days. For Frederickson's first four years in Joliet, Frederickson complied. In 2007 Detective Landeros took over Joliet’s SORA registrations. The relationship became so contentious that Frederickson began bringing witnesses to his registrations. Landeros arrested Frederickson several times. In January 2011, Frederickson informed Landeros that he was leaving Joliet. Landeros threatened to arrest Frederickson (on unclear grounds) if Frederickson relocated. Frederickson moved to Bolingbrook on February 8. On February 9, Frederickson registered in Bolingbrook. Landeros believed that Frederickson had to “register out” of Joliet. To update Illinois’s Law Enforcement Agency Data System database, Bolingbrook needed Frederickson’s LEADS file. Only one law enforcement agency can “own” a LEADS file and only the agency that owns the file can update it. Joliet refused to transfer Frederickson’s LEADS file. Landeros indicated that Frederickson was not actually residing in Bolingbrook. Several additional problems followed and Frederickson was convicted of failing to register on March 3. 2011. In Frederickson's civil rights suit, the Seventh Circuit affirmed a finding that Frederickson had adequately alleged that Landeros had singled Frederickson out for unfavorable treatment, was motivated solely by personal animus, and lacked a rational basis for his actions. The court denied Landeros’s motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Frederickson’s equal protection right to police protection uncorrupted by personal animus was clearly established. View "Frederickson v. Landeros" on Justia Law

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Jack and Angela Howser decided that Angela’s estranged daughter, Jade, was failing to provide a suitable home for Jade’s four-year-old daughter, E.W. After unsuccessfully attempting to blackmail Jade, they enlisted the local police, the sheriff’s office, the county prosecutor, and a private investigator to help them. The group agreed that they would arrest Jade while Jade’s husband (Josh) was out of the house so that the Howsers could take the child. After midnight on Sunday night, a caravan of the sheriff, a deputy, the Howsers, and the private investigator set out for Jade’s home to arrest her for writing Angela a $200 check that had bounced. Once Jade was in handcuffs, an officer gave Jack the all-clear to come inside. The sheriff did not allow Jade to designate a custodian for E.W. or obtain her consent to giving E.W. to the Howsers. Jade sued the Howsers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for conspiring with state officials to violate her due process right to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of her child. A jury returned a verdict in her favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding sufficient evidence to support the verdict and upholding the magistrate judge’s pretrial decision to exclude unfavorable information about Jade and Josh. The court upheld an award of $970,000 in damages. View "Green v. Howser" on Justia Law

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Burger worked in the Macon County Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office, starting in 2010. Scott was the elected State’s Attorney and his deputy was Assistant SA Kroncke. Burger alleges that Kroncke had authority to hire and fire employees, including Burger. After Burger had been working at the Office for about five years, she married. Her husband had been convicted of a felony drug offense in Wyoming in 2009. The same year she married, Burger told Scott that she believed Kroncke had violated state and federal laws and employee-handbook provisions, by disclosing confidential information and by discriminating against and harassing employees. Scott told Kroncke. Kroncke started treating Burger poorly: excluding Burger from meetings and other communications, bypassing Burger in the chain of command, and calling Burger demeaning names. Burger complained to human-resource personnel. Months later Burger was told that her employment was being terminated because of her association with her husband, who had been convicted of a crime. Burger sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, The district court affirmed the dismissal of the case. Under “Monell,” local governments may be liable for violating individuals’ rights guaranteed by federal law but are responsible only for “their own illegal acts.” Local governments are not responsible for others’ acts falling outside an official local-government policy. In this case, the alleged illegal conduct was directed by an officer of the state, not Macon County. View "Burger v. County of Macon" on Justia Law

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Mooney, an Illinois public-school teacher, is not a member of IEA, the union that serves as the exclusive representative of her employee unit in collective bargaining with the school district. The District deducted from her paycheck and sent to the union a fair-share fee that contributed to the costs incurred by the union. The Illinois Public Relations Act and 1977 Supreme Court precedent, Abood, authorized the arrangement. In its 2018 Janus decision, the Supreme Court overruled Abood, holding that compulsory fair share fee arrangements violate the First Amendment rights of persons who would prefer not to associate with the union. State employers in Illinois ceased deducting fair-share fees from the paychecks of nonmembers of public-sector unions. Mooney filed a putative class action (42 U.S.C. 1983) for the fees that had previously been deducted from her pay. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Mooney’s claims, joining the consensus across the country. Unions that collected fair-share fees prior to Janus, in accordance with state law and Abood, are entitled to assert a good-faith defense to section 1983 liability. The court rejected Mooney’s argument that she was not seeking damages and that an equitable demand for restitution cannot be defeated on good-faith grounds. The gravamen of Mooney’s complaint is that her First Amendment rights were violated by the fair-share requirement; her claim lies in law rather than equity. View "Mooney v. Illinois Education Association" on Justia Law

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Janus was employed by an Illinois agency. A collective bargaining agreement designated AFSCME as the exclusive representative of Janus’s employee unit. Janus exercised his right not to join the union. He objected to withholding $44.58 from his paycheck each month to compensate AFSCME. The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act established an exclusive representation scheme and authorized collective bargaining agreements that included a fair‐share fee provision to compensate the union for costs incurred in collective bargaining and representing employees, including non-members. Lower courts rejected Janus’s argument that the Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood decision, which upheld “fair share” schemes was wrongly decided. The Supreme Court overruled Abood in 2018, holding that requiring nonmembers to pay fair‐share fees and “subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern” violated the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit subsequently rejected Janus’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim for damages equivalent to the fair share fees he had paid. The case presented a First Amendment issue, not one under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. The Court’s analysis focused on whether requiring a union to continue to represent those who do not pay a fair‐share fee would be sufficiently inequitable to establish a compelling interest, not whether requiring nonmembers to contribute to the unions would be inequitable. Nor did the Court hold that Janus has an unqualified constitutional right to accept the benefits of union representation without paying. Its focus was on freedom of expression. The Court also did not specify whether its decision should apply retroactively. The statute on which defendants relied was considered constitutional for 41 years. View "Janus v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees" on Justia Law

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Knight, a Wisconsin prisoner, sought treatment for a knee injury. Dr. Grossman, who worked at a hospital that provided medical services to state prisoners, diagnosed Knight with a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament and performed reconstruction surgery. A few years later, Knight reinjured his knee and returned for treatment. Dr. Grossman examined Knight, ordered x-rays, and, without consulting an MRI, diagnosed him with a torn ACL revision. Dr. Grossman offered Knight the option of undergoing a revision procedure to repair the tear. During surgery, he determined that Knight did not have a tear but had degenerative joint disease or arthritis. Not knowing when Knight would be available for surgery again, Grossman performed an alternate procedure, which he had not discussed with Knight. Knight did not learn of the change in course until his follow-up visit. In Knight’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Dr. Grossman. The court stated that prisoners retain a liberty interest in refusing forced medical treatment while incarcerated, with an implied right to the information necessary to make an informed decision about treatment. Knight did not establish a violation of that right because no reasonable jury could find that Dr. Grossman acted with deliberate indifference to Knight’s knee condition or to his right to refuse treatment. View "Knight v. Grossman" on Justia Law

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Lewis, a Wisconsin prisoner, filed suit, alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. The Seventh Circuit vacated summary judgment, finding that a reasonable jury could find that a nurse and a correctional officer acted with deliberate indifference by delaying medical attention for Lewis’s painful back condition. The court suggested that, on remand, the district court should consider whether to reinstate Lewis’s state-law medical malpractice claim against the nurse. On remand, Lewis went to trial, represented by recruited counsel. The jury found for the defendants. Lewis immediately moved, pro se, to set aside the verdict and for a new trial. The district court, construing Lewis’s motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), denied his motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that there is a rational basis for the jury’s decision and that the district court committed no error warranting further proceedings. The court rejected arguments that Lewis received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the trial was unfair. View "Lewis v. McLean" on Justia Law

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Daza worked for the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) as a geologist for 23 years. In 2011, Daza expressed concerns that another employee was denied promotion because of his political affiliation. In 2013, Daza complained about a commissioner’s misuse of political office. About a month later Daza received his first reprimand, for refusing to answer calls after hours. In 2014, he again complained about the treatment of another employee. A supervisor complained about Daza’s “professionalism.” Daza had multiple disagreements with supervisors and was ultimately terminated “because his behavior consistently defied INDOT culture and expectations.” Daza filed suit, alleging that his firing was unlawful. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants, rejecting claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 that alleged violation of Daza’s First Amendment rights by discriminating and retaliating against him for his political activities and affiliation. Daza presented a long string of facts occurring over four years but presented no evidence that his alleged political activities or affiliation motivated his firing. The evidence actually shows that management had taken issue with Daza’s conduct for years, and the decision to fire him was made after his offensive comments during a training session. View "Daza v. Indiana" on Justia Law