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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Shaffer sued corrections officials, alleging that an officer attacked him and that others refused to treat his injuries. The court directed Shaffer to notify the court and the defendants if he were released, stating that it would not independently investigate his whereabouts and that failure to notify the court of any address changes could result in a dismissal. Shaffer conducted discovery and flooded the court with filings until he was released on parole 13 months later. The defendants, having had mail returned as undeliverable, moved for an order to show cause why the case should not be dismissed. The case languished for five months. On the deadline for the close of discovery, a defendant filed another motion. A month passed without any response, so the court dismissed Shaffer's case under FRCP 41(b) for failure to prosecute. Shaffer’s parole was revoked. Shaffer filed a notice of his new address, with requests for appointment of counsel and a status hearing 47 days after the entry of judgment. Shaffer asserted that his notices to opposing counsel and the court about his release must have gotten lost in the mail and that prison officials had not forwarded his mail. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Shaffer’s motion. Shaffer’s allegation that he tried to notify the court was self-serving and not credible; it was not plausible that the postal service lost multiple, separate mailings. Shaffer had not established that his failure to update the parties stemmed from mistake or excusable neglect. View "Shaffer v. Lashbrook" on Justia Law

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Samantha died from a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner concluded Samantha committed suicide. Samantha’s parents, the Harers' claim Samantha’s boyfriend, Flores—a Crest Hill, Illinois police officer—murdered Samantha during an argument at her home in neighboring Channahon. The Harers sued Flores for wrongful death and other torts and Crest Hill for its alleged unconstitutional practice of concealing officers’ misconduct, which the Harers allege emboldened Flores to kill Samantha. The Harers also sued Channahon and police officers, asserting these defendants denied the Harers their constitutional right of access to court when they engaged in a cover-up to protect Flores. The Channahon defendants moved to dismiss the access claim, arguing they did not prevent the Harers from initiating a wrongful death lawsuit against Flores within the statute of limitations. The court denied the motion, holding that the Channahon defendants still frustrated their judicial access by delaying the Harers’ suit and costing them money; clearly-established law prohibited the officers’ conduct, so qualified immunity did not shield the officers. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The backward-looking access-to-court claim is untenable because the underlying tort claims are timely, facially plausible, and still pending; their access claim is not ripe for review. Post-filing conduct generally cannot serve as a basis for an access-to-court claim. View "Harer v. Casey" on Justia Law

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O’Neal was convicted of aggravated battery of a police officer after an altercation during a traffic stop. While incarcerated and while his appeal was pending, O’Neal filed a pro se lawsuit that asserted 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against the officers. Under "Heck," O’Neal’s section 1983 suit was barred unless his conviction was reversed or expunged. Heck-barred suits are usually stayed or dismissed without prejudice, but after O’Neal failed to comply with briefing deadlines, the court ordered O’Neal to show cause why his case should not be dismissed. O’Neal didn’t respond. The court dismissed his claims with prejudice for failure to prosecute. Months later, O’Neal’s conviction was overturned on appeal. Ten months later, O’Neal returned to court, with counsel, with a “Motion to Reinstate the Case and for Leave to File an Amended Complaint" under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15. His motion nowhere mentioned Rule 60(b), the mechanism for obtaining relief from judgment. The defendants' response, maintained that O’Neal was not entitled to Rule 60(b) relief. O’Neal’s reply brief attempted to articulate why Rule 60(b) relief was warranted. The court denied O’Neal’s Rule 15 motion, explaining that he could not file an amended complaint in a terminated case, and held that the Rule 60(b) argument was waived. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. O’Neal waived any argument under Rule 60(b) and, because the case was terminated on the merits, the court was right to deny his Rule 15 motion. View "O'Neal v. Reilly" on Justia Law

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Bartholomew County, Indiana officials believe that Cary committed suicide. His son, Logan, believes that Cary was murdered by his wife and her sons. Contending that the Sheriff and his deputies have lost or destroyed evidence that would help Cary’s estate pursue claims against the putative murderers, Logan filed a civil-rights suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1985, and 1986. Logan purported to represent his father’s estate, but except for a brief time he has not been its administrator. The estate would not pursue litigation, but assigned Logan “[w]hatever interest the Estate of Cary A. Owsley has in the federal lawsuit.” The district court dismissed Logan’s suit for lack of standing, stating that Logan has not suffered any personal injury. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Logan asserts injury and seeks damages. Decedents’ relatives may have damages claims against tortfeasors. Logan also has the benefit of the assignment from the estate. Federal law permits assignees to sue on assignors’ claims. The district judge’s belief that the claim is not worth anything concerns the merits rather than subject-matter jurisdiction. The first issue on remand should be to decide whether an access-to-courts claim, the only thing covered by the assignment, can be based on an assertion that the defendants concealed or destroyed evidence that could have been relevant in state court. View "Owsley v. Gorbett" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin inmate McCaa, pro se, claimed that prison officials violated Eighth Amendment rights by responding with deliberate indifference to his threats to commit suicide or to harm himself in other ways. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. In 2018, the Seventh Circuit ruled that in denying a fourth motion for recruitment of counsel, the district court had not addressed sufficiently McCaa’s ability to present his case himself in light of McCaa’s transfer to a different prison where he said he could not locate witnesses or obtain other discovery, as well as the effects of his fifth-grade reading level and serious mental illness. On remand, the district court considered the issue and reached the same decision to not attempt to recruit counsel. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting the district judge’s "detailed and persuasive opinion." He complied with the remand mandate and did not abuse his discretion. The court noted that, on remand, McCaa did not renew his own efforts to obtain counsel; he was able to “send and receive correspondence, make copies, write motions and briefs, and perform legal research;” his reply in support of his renewed motion for counsel was impressive; and he had recently obtained a GED and now reads at a ninth-grade level. View "McCaa v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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Hildreth, an inmate at an Illinois maximum-security prison, suffers from Parkinson’s disease. He takes a prescription medication, Mirapex, to manage his symptoms. As a specialty prescription, Mirapex was not kept in stock at the prison; it was filled by an outside pharmacy. The prison allows Hildreth to keep a monthly supply of Mirapex in his cell. To refill his prescription, Hildreth must submit a sticker within seven days of the end of the prescription. Hildreth usually receives his refill when he has three to five days of pills left. On three occasions Hildreth received his refill a few days late, causing him to experience withdrawal symptoms. His symptoms also render his handwriting illegible, so Hildreth uses a typewriter to draft documents. He requested to keep that typewriter in his cell, which the prison denied because it was considered contraband. The prison provided Hildreth with an assistant to help him draft documents and increased access to the library where he can use a typewriter. With those accommodations, Hildreth has not missed any court deadlines. Hildreth sued Wexford Health and jail administrators under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Hildreth has not shown medication delays were a widespread practice or custom at the prison; he received reasonable accommodations for his Parkinson’s disease, . View "Hildreth v. Butler" on Justia Law

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Two female Polk County Jail inmates endured repeated sexual assaults by correctional officer Christensen. The County’s written policy prohibited sexual contact between inmates and guards but failed to address the prevention and detection of such conduct. The County did not provide meaningful training on the topic. Near the beginning of the relevant period, the County learned that another guard made predatory sexual advances toward a different female inmate. The County imposed minor discipline on the guard but made no institutional response—no review of its policy, no training, and no communication with inmates on how to report such abuse. In a civil rights suit, the jury returned verdicts for the inmates. A Seventh Circuit panel overturned the verdict against Polk County, determining that the evidence failed to meet the “Monell” standard for municipal liability. On rehearing, en banc, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the verdicts against both Christensen and Polk County. While the standard for municipal liability is demanding, the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict. The evidence did not require the jury to accept as inevitable that Christensen’s conduct was unpreventable, undetectable, and incapable of giving rise to Monell liability. Nor was the jury compelled to conclude that the sexual abuse had only one cause. The law allowed the jury to consider the evidence in its entirety, use its common sense, and draw inferences to decide for itself. View "J.K.J. v. Christensen" on Justia Law

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Hoglund and Mallot's daughter, A.H., was born in 1998. A.H. twice told her mother her father was molesting her. Mallot went to the police after Hoglund admitted he committed adultery. Detective Holliday interviewed A.H. in 2006. She said her father had her perform oral sex on him. Dr. Butler examined A.H. Hoglund denied the allegations but made strange and incriminating statements. Indiana charged him with child molesting. A.H. met with Counselor Shestak in 2007 and Dr. Mayle in 2009. At trial in 2010, A.H. testified; Butler, Shestak, and Mayle relayed what A.H. told them and essentially said they believed her. A jury found Hoglund guilty. After exhausting state proceedings, Hoglund filed a federal habeas corpus petition, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to object properly to hearsay when the prosecutor asked the experts to say what A.H. said. The prosecutor invoked the medical exception under Indiana Rule of Evidence 803(4); defense counsel failed to assert the lack of a foundation that A.H. thought she was speaking to the experts for diagnosis or treatment. He also claimed the admission of the experts’ vouching violated due process. Indiana precedent at that time allowed limited, indirect vouching. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Defense counsel was deficient but did not prejudice Hoglund. Even without the objectionable hearsay, the case against Hoglund was strong. The vouching did not produce a significant likelihood an innocent person was convicted. View "Hoglund v. Neal" on Justia Law

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James, a pretrial detainee at the St. Clair County Jail, was assaulted by another inmate and suffered severe facial injuries. James filed a pro se civil-rights lawsuit against Hale, the jail infirmary's administrator, accusing her of inadequately treating his medical needs. He later acquired counsel. Significant discovery followed, including the production of jail infirmary and outside medical records that contradicted allegations in his complaint. James obtained leave to file an amended complaint, but the factual section simply repeated the allegations in the original version. In a subsequent deposition, James contradicted those factual assertions. When Hale moved for summary judgment, James responded by swearing out an affidavit incorporating by reference the allegations in the amended complaint. The magistrate disregarded the affidavit and an affidavit submitted by James’s mother and recommended that the court grant the motion. The district judge excluded the affidavits under the sham-affidavit rule and entered summary judgment for Hale. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. James’s affidavit was a sham and an improper attempt to convert the complaint's allegations into sworn testimony to avert summary judgment. The exclusion of his mother’s affidavit was harmless error because she added nothing of substance. The constitutional claim lacks factual support, so summary judgment in Hale’s favor was proper. View "James v. Hale" on Justia Law

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Fredrickson, in pre-trial federal custody, unsuccessfully sought release under the Bail Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. 3142 asserting that conditions existed to ensure that he would not be a flight risk or a threat to the public. Five months later Fredrickson filed a pro se notice of appeal, which was dismissed as untimely. Fredrickson then sought habeas corpus relief, 28 U.S.C. 2241, alleging that the court wrongly denied him release on bond and that he was denied effective assistance by counsel who allowed his bail hearing to be delayed and then failed to appeal. He also challenged the determination that his notice of appeal was untimely, arguing that the Bail Reform Act permits him to appeal his detention at any time. The district court dismissed the petition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that in January 2020 Fredrickson was convicted of sexual exploitation of a child. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 2020; he faces a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment. The district court appropriately refused to entertain the request for pretrial release in his section 2241 petition. A federal detainee’s request for release pending trial can be considered under only the Bail Reform Act, which created a comprehensive scheme to control pretrial release or detention decisions. No authority allows a detainee to contest pretrial detention through a section 2241 petition simply because he missed the deadline to appeal. View "Fredrickson v. Terrill" on Justia Law