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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), the suit of a prisoner filing a petition to proceed in a suit in forma pauperis (IFP) must be dismissed if the prisoner deliberately misrepresented his financial status. Reyes, an Illinois prisoner, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action in 2017 and another in 2018 and petitioned to proceed IFP in both cases. The district court initially granted those IFP petitions but later dismissed both cases under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(A), after the defendants presented evidence that Reyes deliberately misled the court about his finances on his 2017 IFP application. He did not disclose information about his income for three months in 2017, during which time he had received $1,692 in gifts deposited to his trust account. He had spent $785 at the commissary for non-essential items, such as a television. He claimed to have received no income in 2018 but had received $26.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the 2017 case because the district court did not clearly err in finding that Reyes was dishonest about his financial status. The court did not give Reyes a chance to explain any potential issues with his 2018 IFP application and the defendants conceded that he should have been given that opportunity. The court vacated that dismissal. View "Reyes v. Ashcraft" on Justia Law

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Smith has been in state prison for 19 years for a 2001 murder and robbery that he insists he did not commit. Smith had been charged on the basis of the confession by another (Houghtaling) and was tried three times. The state had no physical evidence linking Smith to the crime. In 2020, the district court held that he is entitled to release unless the state decides to retry him but Smith was seeking more: an unconditional writ based on the insufficiency of the evidence. The state appealed from the issuance of the conditional writ and Smith cross-appealed.The Seventh Circuit reversed and ordered the issuance of an unconditional writ and Smith’s immediate release. Even taking the highly deferential view required by 28 U.S.C. 2254(d), the evidence failed to support Smith’s conviction beyond a reasonable doubt; the Illinois Appellate Court was unreasonable, in holding otherwise. The court noted the flaws in Houghtaling’s confession, the exclusion of evidence vital to Smith’s defense, and the trial court’s refusal to allow Smith to impeach prosecution evidence. View "Smith v. Brookhart" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the University in an action alleging retaliation claims against the University under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). In this case, plaintiff alleged that the University unlawfully retaliated against him for declining requests to implement age-discriminatory policies against older faculty members. Plaintiff alleged that the University did so by removing him as department chair and by denying his application for promotion.In regard to plaintiff's claim that the University violated the ADEA by removing him as department chair, the court concluded that plaintiff's cat's paw theory of liability failed where plaintiff cannot demonstrate that the supervisor proximately caused plaintiff's removal as chair because the decisionmaker drew a conclusion independent of any alleged influence by the supervisor. The court explained that, in his deposition, the decisionmaker explained that he removed plaintiff based on the faculty grievance committee report and the Title IX investigation report, both of which highlighted the toxic and dysfunctional culture within the department. In regard to plaintiff's denial-of-promotion claim, the court concluded that the district court correctly determined that this claim is time-barred. View "Sinha v. Bradley University" on Justia Law

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The 1972 Shakman Decree enjoined the City of Chicago and county officials from governmental employment practices based in politics. A 1983 Decree enjoined those officials from conditioning hiring or promotions on any political considerations. After the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment’s prohibition against patronage-based firings extends to promotion, transfer, recall, or hiring decisions involving public employment for which party affiliation is not an appropriate requirement, the Clerk of Cook County entered a separate consent decree. In 1992 the Voters Organization joined the Shakman complaint. The court has dismissed some entities and officials, including Chicago and its Park District, as showing substantial compliance. In 2010 the Clerk and other defendants consented to a magistrate judge conducting further proceedings. A new magistrate and a new district judge were assigned in 2020.In 2019, plaintiffs moved for supplemental relief. The magistrate found that the Clerk violated the 1991 Decree, that the evidence strongly suggested that the Clerk’s policy of rotating employees was “instituted for the purpose" of evading the 1972 Decree, appointed a special master to oversee compliance within the Clerk’s Office, and refused the Clerk’s request to vacate the Decrees. The Seventh Circuit, noting that it lacked authority to review the appointment of the special master, affirmed the denial of the request to vacate. Sounding a “federalism concern,” the court noted the permitting a consent decree over an arm of state or local government to remain on a federal docket for decades is inconsistent with our federal structure. View "Shakman v. Clerk of Cook County" on Justia Law

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In a 1999 incident, Hale told Lewis to kill Rogers. Lewis handed his revolver to Mays, who shot Rogers multiple times, fatally. Lewis, Hale, and Mays collected drugs and money and fled. Lewis, represented by Attorney Raff, refused to consider plea offers. Lewis was convicted. At sentencing. the court found no mitigating circumstances—none being asserted by the defense—and sentenced Lewis to the maximum aggregate sentence of 130 years' imprisonment. Lewis’s appeal was unsuccessful.In post‐conviction proceedings, the state conceded that Raff “basically did not do any advocacy" at sentencing but argued that he could not have made a difference. Other witnesses at the post‐conviction hearing spoke about a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, associated substance abuse, physical abuse by Lewis's mother’s boyfriends, mental disorders in other family members, and attempted suicide. The state appellate court concluded that Lewis was not prejudiced by the deficient performance of counsel.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of habeas relief. The decision of the last responsible state court was contrary to Supreme Court precedent, in holding that “Strickland,” not “Cronic,” furnished the applicable rule, While the Indiana Court of Appeals was not unreasonable in finding that Lewis had not been prejudiced by his attorney’s substandard performance, prejudice need not be shown. Raff gave up on Lewis and left him entirely without the assistance of counsel at the sentencing stage of a felony murder case. View "Lewis v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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At 3:55 a.m. people were loitering outside a lounge when Lopez sideswiped an SUV parked in front of the lounge. Bystanders swarmed Lopez’s car, punching him through an open window. A passenger exited Lopez’s car and fired a warning shot. Lopez exited the car, grabbed the gun, and walked toward the bystanders. Raines, a Cook County correctional officer, out celebrating, arrived at 3:56:11. Lopez walked back toward his car, stopping to fire two shots at an upward angle. Raines approached Lopez with his own gun drawn. Lopez reached to open his car door. Raines started shooting at 3:56:27. Lopez, injured, dropped his gun and staggered away. Raines continued to fire. Raines pursued Lopez, who was leaning against a wall. Lopez’s passenger, Orta, picked up the dropped gun and fired at Raines at 3:56:32 a.m. For about three minutes, Orta and Raines engaged in a standoff. Raines simultaneously restrained Lopez, wounded but conscious, and used him as a human shield. At 4:00:10 a.m., Orta fled. Police and paramedics arrived. Lopez faced criminal charges.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. Raines was entitled to qualified immunity because his use of deadly force did not violate clearly established law although the video footage of the events conveys the impression that Raines might have been able to avoid any use of lethal force. View "Lopez v. Sheriff of Cook County" on Justia Law

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MacIver, a “think tank that promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government,” sponsors a “separately branded” MacIver News Service. Some of Wisconsin Governor Evers's press events are open to the public, and others are limited to subsets of the media of varying size. The Governor’s Office maintains a media advisory list to notify members of the media of events. The original list was based on newspaper circulation, radio listenership, and TV viewership.MacIver reporters learned of an invitation-only press and, although not invited, sent an RSVP. They were not admitted. Hundreds of other media personnel were also not invited to the small event. MacIver requested the criteria used to determine which journalists would be allowed access. The Governor’s Office distributed guidance for determining how media would be granted access to limited-access events, noting that the “most important consideration is that access is based on neutral criteria.” The factors were adapted from standards used by the Wisconsin Capital Correspondents Board and the U.S. Congress. According to the Governor, MacIver is not included on the list because MacIver Institute “is not principally a news organization” and “their practices run afoul of the neutral factors.”MacIver sued, citing the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Governor Evers. The press conferences were non-public fora and the criteria that the Governor used to accept or exclude media were reasonable. There is no evidence of viewpoint discrimination under any First Amendment test. View "John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, Inc. v. Evers" on Justia Law

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Gamble, an African-American, began working for FCA in 2015 and received a copy of FCA’s policy concerning sexual harassment, which could result in termination. Months later, two female employees complained that Gamble had sexually harassed them. After interviewing witnesses, Pollard, a human resources manager, concluded that Gamble had violated FCA’s policy and issued a warning. He acknowledged the warning and attended remedial training but disputed the harassing nature of his comments. In 2017, Gamble’s supervisor reported that he had witnessed Gamble acting inappropriately toward a female. Pollard initiated another investigation. Another woman complained that Gamble had also acted inappropriately toward her. Gamble was terminated.He filed suit, alleging discriminations based on his race, age (63), and disability (having battled cancer), and citing Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; 42 U.S.C. 1981; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C, 12112; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.A. 621–34.1 The district court granted FCO summary judgment. Gamble had abandoned his ADEA and ADA claims; his section 1981 claim for race discrimination was time-barred by a provision in his employment contract. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No reasonable jury could infer that Gamble was treated less favorably than a similarly situated employee outside of his protected class. There was no evidence FCA gave a pretextual reason for firing him. View "Gamble v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC" on Justia Law

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Todd and Shelly Cibulka drove to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where their daughter Emily was a freshman. They went to a bar and imbibed for several hours. Upon leaving, they were clearly intoxicated. Emily, wanting to get them home, called the police non-emergency number. Conducting a welfare check, Officer Johnson said he could give them a ride but the Cibulkas would not identify the location of their truck. Todd staggered toward Johnson Street. Officer Erwin thought Todd might tumble into the busy street, grabbed Todd, and told Todd to sit down. Todd would not comply. It appeared that Todd might strike the much-smaller officer. The officers took Todd to the ground to reduce the risk of harm, told him to stop resisting, and handcuffed him. Todd declined medical attention. The officers walked Todd to the squad car. Todd resisted and was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer. He was lifted into a police van and taken to jail. He was released at 2:30 the next morning, returned to his truck, and smashed through the gate instead of paying the exit fare.The Cibulkas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The officers are entitled to qualified immunity. It was reasonable for the officers to believe there was probable cause to arrest Todd for disorderly conduct and for resisting an officer; the officers stopped well short of such unnecessary roughness. View "Cibulka v. City of Madison" on Justia Law

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Chicago Officer Nelson responded to a report of an armed robbery in a high-crime area; she alleges that the radio dispatcher ignored her repeated emergency calls for information and assistance. Shift sergeant Bucki was responsible for listening to the radio transmissions and contacting the dispatcher if that person failed to respond. Nelson alleges that Bucki did not intervene when the dispatcher ignored her requests for help. Bucki later denied wrongdoing and refused to investigate why the dispatcher ignored Nelson. In her incident report, Nelson complained about the dispatcher’s failure to respond; months later, she discovered that Sergeant Boffo had edited the report to remove her complaints. Nelson developed PTSD, which she alleges was aggravated by the stress of learning that Boffo had edited her report. She has been unable to work, but remains employed by the police department and receives disability benefits. Nelson filed charges of race and sex discrimination with the EEOC and Illinois Department of Human Rights.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of her substantive due process rights by failing to protect her from danger and her procedural due process rights by causing her PTSD and depriving her of a property interest in her job. There was no conscience-shocking abuse of government power nor any affirmative action on by Bucki. View "Nelson v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law