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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiff filed suit against a correctional officer, her supervisor, and the warden, claiming that the officer's behavior violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In this case, plaintiff alleged that he suffered from PTSD, that he asked the officer not to stand directly behind him so as to not trigger his symptoms, but the officer repeatedly refused to do so. The district court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because, at the relevant times, it did not violate clearly established constitutional law for non-medical correctional staff to refuse to provide a prisoner with what amounts to a medical accommodation that had not been ordered by medical staff and the need for which was not obvious to a layperson. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to grant summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Leiser v. Kloth" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a prison inmate, filed suit alleging that he was punished based on his race, that he was deprived of liberty without due process of law, and that the prison staff's conduct in the wake of his mental health crisis amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's summary judgment decision and sought a new trial based on his Batson claim. The Seventh Circuit held that plaintiff's Batson claim was timely and that the district court's decision otherwise was not harmless. The court remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the Batson claim and, if necessary, a new trial on all claims that were tried. The court also reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the nurse on plaintiff's taunting claim, holding that the Eighth Amendment can apply to an extreme case where medical staff use an inmate's known psychological vulnerability to cause psychological anguish. In this case, the nurse taunted plaintiff for his failed suicide attempts and encouraged him to try again. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Lisle v. Welborn" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a class action suit challenging the red light camera program of the Village of Lakemoor. Plaintiffs alleged that the violation notices they received were invalid because the notices lack a proper municipal code citation, and that Lakemoor denied them due process by limiting the defenses that can be asserted before a hearing officer to contest a violation. The court held that the process that plaintiffs received was constitutionally sufficient and therefore they have failed to state a federal due process claim. The court also held that plaintiffs' argument that the violation notices were void ab initio failed as a matter of law, because the "specific reference" provision was directory rather than mandatory. Accordingly, plaintiffs' unjust enrichment claim also failed. View "Knutson v. Village of Lakemoor" on Justia Law

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Two Stateville inmates, struck by buckshot fired by prison guards, sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting that the guards violated their Eighth Amendment rights when they discharged their shotguns over a crowded prison dining hall. The guards claimed that they fired the shots as a necessary warning to two other inmates who were fighting and resisting the efforts of guards on the floor, armed only with pepper spray, who were trying to break up the conflict. The inmates claimed that the shots were fired after the fight had been broken up and that the officers did not aim their shots at a "shot box" intended to prevent ricochets. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated, noting that the force was more than de minimus and that the allegations would support findings of intent to make contact and of malice. Many of the facts are disputed. Construing the facts in favor of the plaintiffs, the force applied was grossly disproportionate to the force that could plausibly have been thought necessary. View "McCottrell v. White" on Justia Law

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Stepp sued his former employer, Covance, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 2000e–3, by refusing to hire him permanently in retaliation for his earlier complaints about discrimination. Stepp received positive performance reviews in his first nine months. Two of Stepp’s temporary coworkers were made permanent around their nine-month anniversary. While a temporary worker, Stepp, an African-American male, complained that Casteel, his team leader, treated female and white employees better than male and African-American employees and confronted Casteel directly. A manager investigated Stepp’s complaints but found them baseless. Stepp filed formal charges with the EEOC Casteel complained to Ball, a supervisor, that Stepp often stared at him, shook his head, smirked, and said “uh oh.” Shortly thereafter, with Stepp still in temporary status, Covance froze new hires in his department. Stepp asked Ball if Covance did not give him permanent status before the freeze because Casteel had complained about him; she responded “yes.” Stepp’s one-year term as a temporary worker ended soon after. Grubb, a human resources partner, planned to give a 90-day extension to temporary workers whose terms ended near the December holidays but Covance advised him that a 90-day extension was too long, so he shortened the extensions. The Seventh Circuit vacated a judgment in favor of Covance. A reasonable jury could conclude that Covance refused to promote Stepp to permanent status because of his complaints. View "Stepp v. Covance Central Laboratory Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Wilson, an inmate at Illinois’s Stateville Correctional Center, had an inguinal hernia that was first spotted in the 1990s, but then apparently subsided. In 2011, it reappeared in the identical spot. Wilson says that the recurrence was extremely painful. He claims that the prison’s medical officers refused to listen to him and delayed giving him hernia-repair surgery, instead forcing him repeatedly and fruitlessly to push the herniated tissue back into his abdominal cavity. In September 2014 Wilson received surgery, which was successful. Wilson alleged violation of his Eighth Amendment rights through deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and sought damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court dismissed a defendant, Dr. Carter, on statute of limitations grounds, and excluded several reports and ultimately dismissed the case. The Seventh Circuit reversed with respect to one defendant, Dr. Obaisi too quickly, but otherwise affirmed. Construing the facts in Wilson’s favor, a reasonable jury could believe Wilson’s testimony over Obaisi’s insistence on the completeness of his notes and could conclude that Dr. Obaisi not only learned of the painful hernia in January 2013, but also explicitly refused to hear potentially relevant medical details and was dismissive about Wilson’s pain. View "Wilson v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Lewellen, a Chicago Police Department “dirty cop,” arrested Ruiz-Cortez for possessing cocaine and served as the key witness at his trial Ruiz-Cortez was convicted. Ruiz-Cortez spent a decade in prison before the federal government discovered Lewellen’s crimes, which included drug conspiracy, racketeering, and, according to the government, perjury at Ruiz-Cortez’s trial. The government prosecuted Lewellen and moved to vacate Ruiz-Cortez’s conviction. Ruiz-Cortez sued the city and Lewellen under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for withholding material impeachment evidence of Lewellen’s crimes. The district court dismissed the claim against the city, finding no evidence of municipal liability. A jury later found for Lewellen, despite his refusal to testify based on the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the city but vacated as to Lewellen. Ruiz-Cortez failed to marshal the evidence needed to meet Monell’s high standard. The district court allowed Lewellen to offer innocent explanations for his Fifth Amendment invocation, that “fly in the face of Fifth Amendment law,” and failed to instruct the jury about when a Fifth Amendment invocation is proper. If the jury believed that Lewellen could invoke the Fifth Amendment simply because there was other ongoing litigation, and not because truthful answers may have incriminated him, the jury was almost certainly less likely to penalize Lewellen for his invocation. View "Ruiz-Cortez v. Lewellen" on Justia Law

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Hanson, age eight. was killed by shots fired into his grandmother’s Rockford home in 2002. Anderson, Johnson, and Ross were convicted of the murder and each received a 50-year sentence. The men spent more than a decade in prison before an Illinois court ordered a new trial based on the delayed disclosure of Brady material—specifically, the recorded jail calls of the prosecution’s key witness in which he contradicted his trial testimony. Anderson, Johnson, and Ross were retried and acquitted. They sued the city and officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the officers not only withheld the recorded jail calls and other exculpatory information but also fabricated evidence. The Seventh Circuit reversed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Anderson, Johnson, and Ross have brought forth sufficient evidence to move forward against particular defendants on particular aspects of their alleged due process violations. No physical or forensic evidence linked the plaintiffs to the Hanson murder, so the withheld evidence was material. The court rejected some of the claims of fabricated evidence. View "Anderson v. City of Rockford" on Justia Law

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Jackson was charged with throwing boiling oil at his wife, knifing her in front of their children, and later, threatening her from prison. Jackson asked the judge to remove his appointed counsel. The court granted the motion and barred Jackson from communicating with anyone but his attorney of record because of his threatening phone calls. A second appointed lawyer reported that Jackson asked him to withdraw. The court ruled that Jackson’s reasons were inadequate and refused to appoint another lawyer but allowed Jackson to seek a private attorney in compliance with the restrictions on his outside communications. The court denied Jackson’s request to represent himself. Months later, the court returned to Jackson’s request. It stressed the complexity of the case and stated that Jackson “can’t do this.” The court denied Jackson’s request. Jackson pleaded guilty to felony intimidation of a witness, first-degree reckless injury, and aggravated battery and was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. Jackson filed an unsuccessful post-conviction petition in Wisconsin, seeking to withdraw his guilty plea. In his federal habeas action, Jackson argued that, because he was competent to plead guilty, he was competent to represent himself at trial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of that petition. Although the Wisconsin appeals court unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent on the Sixth Amendment right to self-representation at trial, Jackson waived the error by validly pleading guilty. View "Jackson v. Bartow" on Justia Law

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Illinois inmate Donelson was moved to Stateville, where a prison nurse screened him for medical issues. Donelson is asthmatic and stated that he needed a new inhaler. The nurse responded that he could get one from a doctor. Donelson had to wait 16 days to see a doctor but apparently could have gone to the commissary at any time for an inhaler. Donelson received an inhaler 20 days after arriving at Stateville. He sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment (deliberate indifference to his asthma) and the First Amendment (delaying his care to retaliate for prior lawsuits). During discovery, the court encountered several problems: Donelson’s conflict with his recruited lawyer and that lawyer’s withdrawal; Donelson’s false assertion that Wexford refused to respond to his document requests; and Donelson’s obstructive behavior during his deposition. Donelson professed not to understand simple questions, no matter how often rephrased, then refused to answer. Donelson accused opposing counsel of bringing contraband (an inhaler) into Stateville. The judge described Donelson’s responses as “evasive and argumentative,” then ruled that dismissal with prejudice and an award of costs was a proper sanction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding the sanction reasonable. Donelson acted willfully and in bad faith; the dismissal was proportional and appropriate given Donelson’s grossly unacceptable conduct, the need to convey the seriousness of his violations, the obvious insufficiency of any warning, and his inability to pay any meaningful monetary sanction. View "Donelson v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law