Articles Posted in Civil Rights

by
In 1998, Dr. Wilson’s terminally ill patient was within hours of death. He was in pain and suffocating. Wilson concluded that the only possible palliation was unconsciousness. As Wilson was injecting a drug, the patient’s heart stopped. The coroner classified the death as murder. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation summarily suspended Wilson’s medical license. The Department held a hearing in 2000. The coroner’s finding of homicide had been withdrawn; Wilson was not charged. His license was nonetheless suspended for five years. He sued in state and federal courts. Rather than staying proceedings, the federal court dismissed. Four times a state judge vacated the suspension. The Department reinstated its decision three times. Without a new hearing or explanation, the Department entered a new five-year suspension in 2007, and another in 2013. In 2014, the state court held that Wilson should not have been suspended for even one day. The Department did not reinstate Wilson’s license because he had not practiced during the last 17 years. In 2014 Wilson sought damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court held that the two-year statute of limitations had been running since 1998. The Seventh Circuit vacated. A federal challenge to a state administrative agency decision is not subject to an exhaustion-of-remedies rule but a claim never accrues until the plaintiff “has a complete and present cause of action”. The court noted the district court’s 1999 holding that Wilson could not litigate in federal court while state proceedings were ongoing; his section 1983 claim for damages did not accrue until 2014. View "Wilson v. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation" on Justia Law

by
At 1:10 p.m. on March 12, 2009, Mordi, a Nigerian student at Southern Illinois University, and a passenger were traveling on Interstate 57. An Illinois state police car, driven by Trooper Zeigler, signaled for Mordi to pull over. Mordi complied. Zeigler approached and asked why the license plate was inside the windshield and stated that the car’s hood was not closed all the way. Zeigler asked Mordi about an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in a misdemeanor marijuana case. After issuing a warning citation, Zeigler asked Mordi if he could search the car; Mordi said no. About 20 minutes into the stop, Zeigler radioed for a drug‐sniffing dog, which arrived 10 minutes later and alerted. The officers found crack cocaine in Mordi’s bag in the back seat. Mordi pleaded guilty to possessing with intent to distribute the cocaine and is serving a 120‐month sentence. In 2012, Mordi filed suit, pro se, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court screened Mordi’s complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915A and dismissed all claims except those against three officers, which relied on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The Seventh Circuit held the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on those claims. The district court dismissed all claims against all parties and denied a motion to reconsider its section 1915A order. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Mordi’s Fourth Amendment claims that the officers engaged in impermissible racial profiling and unlawfully prolonged the stop may proceed. View "Mordi v. Zeigler" on Justia Law

by
The University of Indiana South Bend employed Professor Grant, an African-American, in 1999. In 2008, several students complained to University administration that Grant inappropriately canceled classes, used obscene language in class, dismissed two students from his course without following proper procedure, and had permitted a nonemployee to grade student work and access academic records. During an investigation, Grant filed affirmative action complaints against the investigators. Students went to the South Bend Tribune with their concerns. The investigation uncovered discrepancies in Grant’s work history. The University dismissed then-tenured Professor Grant in 2011 for “serious misconduct” based on misrepresentations in his curriculum vitae. The district court rejected all of Grant’s 26 claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Grant’s claims that the University: discriminated against him on the basis of race; retaliated against him for his complaints against two University officials; denied him due process of law; defamed him in the South Bend Tribune; and breached a contract created by the University’s handbook. View "Grant v. Trustees of Indiana University" on Justia Law

by
While Governor Scott Walker was making controversial changes to Wisconsin’s public union laws, Archer drafted the law and advocated its passage. At the same time, the Milwaukee County State’s Attorney’s Office was investigating allegations of misconduct against Archer and several of the governor’s close associates, concerning missing charitable funds, using Wisconsin’s unique “John Doe” procedure, which permits the prosecutor, under the supervision and direction of a judge, to conduct a secret investigation, Wis. Stat. 968.26. Archer alleges that she was targeted because of her work on the union bill and her affiliation with Governor Walker. Although Archer was never charged with wrongdoing, she filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against prosecutors and members of the investigative team. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, citing qualified immunity. The warrant was valid and Archer stated no claim about the execution of the search; officers may detain the occupants of a location to be searched when they execute a valid warrant if they have a valid reason for doing so. There is no clearly established rule of law under which an official pursuing a lawful investigation, based on probable cause, has been found liable under the First Amendment. View "Archer v. Chisholm" on Justia Law

by
In November 2012, Freedom hired Reed, an African-American, as a Broker Liaison, reporting to Bidstrup and Sperry (both white). The regular hours for the Downers Grove office were 8 a.m.-5 p.m.. Some employees worked other schedules with permission or to accommodate accounts in other time zones. Freedom’s attendance policy stated that seven absences, late arrivals, or early departures in a 12-month period could trigger disciplinary action, including termination. In January 2013, Bidstrup sent an email to all employees, reiterating that policy; days later she verbally warned Reed about violating the policy. Days later, Bidstrup issued a written warning after Reed arrived at 9:30 a.m. From February 14-April 1, Reed was absent at least eight days. From March 6-April 10, he clocked in late 11 times. On April 9, Bidstrup sent another reminder email. Reed continued to violate the attendance policy. Other employees complained about covering Reed’s work, Reed unsuccessfully applied for an Underwriter position and was denied opportunities to work from home. In 2013, a decline in business prompted a reduction in force across the country. Reed was terminated because of his attendance and disciplinary history; he had less seniority than others in the office. The remaining Liaisons were eventually terminated; no replacements were hired. The office closed in 2014. Reed sued under the Illinois Human Rights Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Freedom. Reed had no evidence that he was treated less favorably than similarly situated non-African-Americans, failed to show that the denials of his request to work from home and of promotion were adverse employment actions, and could not prove hostile work environment. View "Reed v. Freedom Mortgage Corp." on Justia Law

by
Around 8:30 p.m., Milwaukee officers responded to a complaint by a store employee that a Mercury Grand Marquis drove around the store’s parking lot five times. Officer Newport believed this was consistent with preparation for a robbery. He knew that this store had been robbed recently, with firearms. The store closed at 9 p.m. and would soon be empty. Newport observed a Mercury Marquis about 30 feet from the store's entrance, parked next to a Chevrolet Malibu, driven by Green. Newport claims, and Green disputes, that Lindsey, the Marquis driver, stood next to the Malibu's front passenger door, leaned inside, and stood back up. Newport suspected that Lindsey had concealed a weapon. The officers told the men to put up their hands and directed Green to exit the vehicle. Newport claims, and Green disputes, that Green exited with his right arm kept tight to his body while his left swung freely and that after asking Green to raise his arms, Green raised only his left arm. Newport grabbed Green’s wrist but Green resisted. Newport proceeded to pat him down and discovered a handgun in Green’s waistband. Green sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1988. The court ruled that the investigatory stop violated a clearly established constitutional right, and denied qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Newport had a plausible reason to suspect that Green was armed and dangerous. View "Green v. Newport" on Justia Law

by
Kolton deposited money into an interest-bearing bank account in Illinois. Years passed without activity in the account, so the bank transferred Kolton’s money to the state as the Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act requires. The Act is not an escheat statute; it gives Illinois custody, not ownership, of “presumed abandoned” property. Most such property gets invested, with any income that accrues earmarked for Illinois’s pensioners. Owners may file a claim for return of their property, but the Act limits the Treasurer to returning the amount received into custody. Kolton brought a purported class action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of the Takings Clause, which protects the time value of money just as much as it does money itself. The judge dismissed for want of subject-matter jurisdiction, stating that under the Supreme Court’s “Williamson” holding, a plaintiff usually must try to obtain compensation under state law before litigating a takings suit. Kolton filed neither a claim with the Treasurer nor a lawsuit in state court seeking just compensation. The Seventh Circuit vacated, noting that Section 1983 does not create a cause of action against the state and the Treasurer, personally, did not deprive Kolton of his money. Williamson was not concerned with jurisdiction. View "Kolton v. Frerichs" on Justia Law

by
Streckenbach, an inmate of Wisconsin's Redgranite Correctional Institution, left two boxes of personal property for his son to pick up. Under the prison’s policy, property on deposit had to be collected within 30 days. If that did not occur, the prison’s staff was to ship the property to someone the inmate had designated; if the inmate’s account did not have enough money to cover shipping costs, the property was to be destroyed. The policy warned inmates that they were responsible for ensuring that their accounts had enough money on the 30th day. Streckenbach’s son did not retrieve the boxes within the allotted time. VanDensen, the sergeant in charge of the mailroom, calculated a shipping cost of about $9.50, $2 more than Streckenbach had available. VanDensen had the property destroyed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Streckenbach’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which Streckenback claimed that VanDensen violated his due process rights by destroying his property without notice. He claimed that the policy, promulgated in 2013, had not been communicated to the prisoners. VanDensen was not responsible for giving notice. VanDensen only carried out the policy. Negligent bureaucratic errors do not violate the Due Process Clause. View "Streckenbach v. Van Densen" on Justia Law

by
An Indiana county may subsidize private dispute resolution in domestic-relations cases. Under Marion County's Plan, a party to a domestic-relations suit may request subsidized mediation, or the court may order it of its own accord. King asked the Marion Circuit Court to refer his case to mediation and authorize a subsidy. The court ordered both. King, who is deaf, also requested an American Sign Language interpreter. The judge denied that request. In court King would have had an interpreter at no cost to him. King proceeded through mediation, employing his stepfather as his interpreter. King then sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that, by refusing to provide him with a free interpreter in mediation, the court “by reason of [his] disability … denied [him] the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity,” 42 U.S.C. 12132. The district court awarded him $10,380. The Seventh Circuit reversed without addressing the merits. The Marion Circuit Court is a division of the state. Indiana has asserted sovereign immunity. Congress cannot authorize federal litigation against the states to enforce statutory rights under grants of power other than the Fourteenth Amendment, such as the Commerce Clause; to the extent that statutory rules are unnecessary to prevent constitutional violations, they do not overcome sovereign immunity. View "King v. Marion County Circuit Court" on Justia Law

by
Doornbos was leaving a Chicago train station when a plainclothes police officer confronted him, grabbed him, and with the help of other plainclothes officers, forced him to the ground. Doornbos was acquitted of resisting arrest. He sued the officers and the city for excessive force and malicious prosecution, claiming that Officer Williamson failed to identify himself as an officer and then used excessive force. Williamson claims that he properly identified himself and that Doornbos fled when Williamson attempted to stop and frisk him. The Seventh Circuit vacated a verdict in favor of the defendants. The court properly admitted evidence that Dornbos had marijuana in his pocket. Although the marijuana was unknown to the officers at the time, it arguably tended to corroborate their account of Doornbos’s behavior. The jury instructions on Terry stops, however, were inadequate. Over Doornbos’s objection, the court instructed the jury only on investigatory stops but not frisks. Williamson’s testimony indicated that he was starting a frisk when he first approached Doornbos and that he did not have reasonable suspicion that Doornbos was armed and dangerous. Doornbos was entitled to have the jury know that the attempted frisk, which produced the use of force, was unjustified. In addition, the jury asked whether plainclothes officers must identify themselves when conducting a stop. The judge said no. In all but the most unusual circumstances, where identification would itself make the situation more dangerous, plainclothes officers must identify themselves when initiating a stop. These errors were not harmless. View "Doornbos v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law