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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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On August 17, 2004, Randall opened fire on Copeland’s vehicle while Copeland drove by. Copeland’s car was struck by gunfire. No one was injured. Armfield and Nelson were present. Later that evening, Randall spotted Copeland again. Armfield and Nelson armed themselves. They tracked down Copeland. As Copeland approached an intersection, Randall gave the signal. Armfield and Nelson sprang from their car and fired into Copeland's vehicle, killing him.The state charged the three with first-degree murder. Two separate trials occurred simultaneously before the same judge, with the juries and defendants shuffling in and out depending on the evidence presented. During deliberations, the Armfield/Randall jury requested a transcript of certain witnesses’ testimony. The court, by mistake, tendered a transcript containing the prosecutor’s opening statements from Nelson’s case. The Armfield/Randall jury had not heard this version, in which the prosecutor referenced a videotaped statement from Nelson that purported to implicate all three defendants in the murder. In Armfield's trial, the state leaned primarily on two witnesses. The jury convicted Armfield of first-degree murder. Illinois courts rejected Armfield’s appellate argument that disclosing the reference to Nelson’s confession deprived him of a fair trial and a collateral attack, arguing that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. Armfield’s Confrontation Clause claim failed because the state’s strong case against him renders any constitutional error harmless. Armfield cannot show trial counsel’s shortcomings resulted in prejudice. View "Armfield v. Nicklaus" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Higgs, Haynes, and Gloria picked up three women. They ultimately drove the women to the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, federal land. Haynes shot and killed the women with Higgs's gun. Higgs and Haynes were charged with three counts of each: first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree murder committed in the perpetration of kidnapping, kidnapping resulting in death, and using a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.The court imposed concurrent life sentences on Haynes. Higgs’s jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts and recommended a death sentence for each murder and kidnapping count under the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act. The court imposed nine death sentences, with 45 consecutive years for the 924(c) convictions. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Higgs unsuccessfully pursued post-conviction relief.In 2016 Higgs unsuccessfully asked the Fourth Circuit for permission to file a new 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, seeking to invalidate his section 924(c) convictions based on the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Davis” holding that 924(c)(3)(B), providing enhanced penalties for using a firearm during a “crime of violence,” is unconstitutionally vague.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a subsequent petition in the jurisdiction in which Higgs is incarcerated. Higgs cannot satisfy the 28 U.S.C. 2255(e) savings clause and therefore may not pursue habeas relief under section 2241. There is nothing structurally inadequate or ineffective about using section 2255 to bring a Davis-based claim. View "Higgs v. Watson" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs challenged Indiana’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) as it applies to offenders who have relocated to Indiana from other states. A 2006 SORA amendment applied the statute’s requirements to any “person who is required to register as a sex offender in any jurisdiction.” Indiana does not require any person to register if the offense occurred prior to SORA, provided that person remains a resident of Indiana. Persons with pre-SORA convictions who relocate to Indiana from another state where registration was required must register in Indiana, even if Indiana would not have required them to register had they committed their offenses in Indiana and never left.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that this application of SORA violates the plaintiffs’ right to travel. The amendment relies exclusively upon another state’s decision to require an offender to register and is necessarily using an offender’s travel as the trigger for its registration requirement. Indiana has created two classes of otherwise similarly-situated citizens based on whether they previously lived (or were otherwise present) in a state that required them to register. The distinction is purposeful; it expressly looks to what obligations have been imposed on a person elsewhere to determine what obligations he will now have in Indiana. The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits this differential treatment. View "Hope v. Commissioner of Indiana Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Kellogg testified that when the Indiana Academy hired her as a teacher in 2006, its director, Dr. Williams, told her that she “didn’t need any more [starting salary, $32,000], because he knew [her] husband worked.” In 2017, Kellogg complained to the Dean of Ball State’s Teacher’s College, which oversees the Academy, that she received less pay than her similarly-situated male colleagues. The Dean responded that “[t]he issue [wa]s salary compression, which means those who [we]re hired after [Kellogg] began at a higher salary.” The Dean also noted that Kellogg’s salary increased by 36.45% during her time at the Academy while her colleagues’ salaries increased by less. In Kellogg’s 2018 lawsuit, the district court granted the Academy summary judgment, reasoning that there were undisputed gender-neutral explanations for Kellogg’s pay.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Williams’s statement contradicts the Academy’s explanations for Kellogg’s pay and puts them in dispute. It does not matter that Williams uttered the statement long ago, outside the statute of limitations period. Under the paycheck accrual rule, Williams’s statement can establish liability because it affected paychecks that Kellogg received within the limitations window. Kellogg can rely on Williams’s statement to put the Academy’s explanations in dispute. View "Kellogg v. Ball State University" on Justia Law

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Two days after Wisconsin certified the results of its 2020 election, the President invoked the Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution and sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Governor, Secretary of State, and several local officials. The district court concluded that the President’s challenges lacked merit, as he objected only to the administration of the election, yet the Electors Clause only addresses the authority of the State’s Legislature to prescribe the manner of appointing its presidential electors. The court concluded that the President’s claims would fail even under a broader, alternative reading of the Electors Clause that extended to a state’s conduct of the presidential election.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wisconsin lawfully appointed its electors in the manner directed by its Legislature. The President’s claim also fails because of the unreasonable delay that accompanied the challenges the President now wishes to advance against Wisconsin’s election procedures. The Supreme Court has indicated that federal courts should avoid announcing or requiring changes in election law and procedures close in time to voting. The President had a full opportunity before the election to pursue challenges to Wisconsin law underlying his present claims; he cannot now—after the election results have been certified as final— seek to bring those challenges. View "Trump v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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Hill filed suit in state court, asking a judge to compel Young, his prison’s warden, to mail two complaints that Hill wanted to file in federal court. The defendants removed Hill’s suit to federal court. The district judge dismissed the complaint, observing that its records showed that the two complaints at issue had been filed.At Hill’s request, the Seventh Circuit vacated language from the judgment: “This dismissal shall count as one of [Hill’s] allotted ‘strikes’ under" 28 U.S.C. 1915(g). This statute provides: In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal ... under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained ... brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed" as frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.Section 1915(g) requires prepayment of the docket fees only if the plaintiff has thrice “brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States” decided on one of the listed grounds. Hill did not “bring” this suit in a court of the United States. Defendants brought it to federal court under 28 U.S.C. 1441(a). This suit does not count as a “strike.” While the comment is dicta and is not binding in future litigation, it aggrieves Hill by drawing a future judge’s attention to this suit. View "Hill v. Madison County" on Justia Law

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In 2014-2016, Onamuti, a Nigerian citizen, led an identity-theft ring responsible for filing almost 1,500 tax returns and netting $5 million in illicit refunds. Charged with 11 counts of presenting false claims, 18 U.S.C. 287, nine counts of identity theft, section 1028(a)(7), two counts of aggravated identity theft, section 1028A, and conspiracy to defraud the government, section 371, Onamuti pleaded guilty to one count each of false claims, identity theft, and aggravated identity theft. Onamuti expressly acknowledged that, while his plea “may have consequences” for his immigration status, he wanted to accept responsibility. He certified that he had read the agreement, discussed it with his attorney, and understood its terms. Onamuti also “expressly waive[d]” the right to appeal “on any ground” except a claim alleging the ineffective assistance of counsel. During his plea colloquy, Onamuti confirmed under oath that, by pleading guilty, he “may very well be deported” and that he was waiving his appellate rights. The district court sentenced him to 204 months’ imprisonment.Onamuti sought to withdraw his plea, arguing that his lawyer failed to advise him that his convictions would subject him to mandatory deportation. The district court denied the motion without an evidentiary hearing. The Seventh Circuit dismissed his appeal without addressing the merits. Onamuti is bound by the waiver of appeal. The court noted that “almost invariably, defendants are better served by pursuing such claims on collateral review under 28 U.S.C. 2254 or 2255.” View "United States v. Onamuti" on Justia Law

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Knudtson worked for Trempealeau County for over 45 years. She eventually became a paralegal/office manager in the District Attorney’s Office. When his friend, the Jackson County District Attorney, died, McMahon, the Trempealeau County District Attorney, closed his office for a day and encouraged his staff to attend the funeral. Knudtson refused to attend because she wanted to complete work at the office. McMahon offered Knudtson three choices: work from home, attend the funeral, or take a vacation day. The disagreement became a bitter dispute. The County placed Knudtson on paid leave. Knudtson declined another position at the same pay grade. The County had no other available position and terminated her employment.Knudtson filed suit, citing the Establishment Clause because the funeral took place at a church and involved a religious service. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Knudtson acknowledged that when she stated that she did not want to attend the funeral, she did not know that it would be a religious service; her decision not to attend had nothing to do with its religious nature. Organizing a delegation from a public office to attend a funeral normally raises no implication that the government, or any officials, endorse the deceased person's religion. View "Knudtson v. Trempealeau County" on Justia Law

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The Cook County Jail houses primarily people who have not yet been convicted. Under the jail’s “paper triage” policy, a detainee who has dental pain and wants treatment must submit a health service request form (HSRF). Staff review the HSRF and categorize it as “routine,” “priority,” or “urgent.” The detainee is referred to a dentist for treatment in three to 30 days, depending on the categorization. Most detainees do not receive a face-to-face assessment from a nurse or higher-level practitioner before they see a dentist. An assessment could identify bona fide complaints of dental pain or reveal serious medical issues and would allow a nurse to dispense over-the-counter pain medication.McFields, a former detainee, filed a putative class action, alleging that detainees suffered gratuitous pain as a result of the paper triage policy. They alleged that the standard of care for processing a health service request requires a face-to-face assessment within 48 hours and that the jail’s policy is objectively unreasonable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification, noting that each detainee presents a different situation that involved a different type of pain, took place at a different time, and involved different medical professionals and prison staff. McFields failed to satisfy the commonality and typicality requirements of Rule 23. Individual issues predominate over common questions. View "McFields v. Dart" on Justia Law

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Williams, a Chicago school social worker, suffers from depression, anxiety, and chronic sinusitis. For the 2013–14 school year, Williams received an evaluation score that placed him in the “developing” category, and was given a Professional Development Plan. Social workers' hours depend on the school they are serving on a particular day. The Board denied Williams's first accommodation request, for consistent work hours. During the 2014–15 school year, Williams was cited for interrupting a teacher, failing to read a student’s individual educational plan before a meeting, speaking inappropriately about his personal life, making personal calls during school hours, and failing to report to work. Williams was twice denied titles that may be awarded to “proficient” social workers. Williams filed a discrimination charge and another accommodation request, seeking a consistent start time, a reduced caseload, and assignment to a single school. The Board denied these requests but assigned him to schools with 7:45 a.m. start times. Williams's third accommodation request sought a private office, dedicated equipment, and exemption from evaluations. The Board supplied Williams with HEPA filters, computer monitors, and access to a private meeting space; it denied his other requests. Williams was not selected for special assessment teams because he did not have the “proficient” rating and was not bilingual. He filed his second charge of discrimination.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 42 U.S.C. 12101, and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, rejecting claims that the Board discriminated against Williams because of his disability and gender, failed to accommodate his disability, and retaliated against him for filing discrimination claims. View "Williams v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law