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

Articles Posted in Class Action
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Simpson unsuccessfully applied to work as a Correctional Officer at the Cook County Department of Corrections four times in 2014-2017. Simpson believed the hiring practices underlying those rejections violated his rights—and those of other unsuccessful Black applicants—under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1). Invoking disparate treatment and disparate impact theories, Simpson’s class action complaint alleged that, through the use of a five-step hiring process for correctional officers, the Department both intended to discriminate against Black applicants and succeeded in producing that result. The district court denied Simpson’s motion for class certification, finding that none of his proposed classes—a general class of all unsuccessful applicants and five subclasses of candidates dismissed at each step of the hiring process—satisfied Rule 23(a)(2)’s requirement that they present “questions of law or fact common to the class.”The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court’s analysis apparently merged Simpson’s disparate impact claims with his disparate treatment claims for intentional discrimination. While disparate treatment claims may require a more searching commonality inquiry, disparate impact claims most often will not: the common questions are whether the challenged policy has in fact disparately impacted the plaintiff class and, if so, whether that disparate impact is justified by business necessity. The court did not clearly delineate its reasoning for declining to certify three of Simpson’s disparate impact subclasses. View "Simpson v. Dart" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Leszanczuk executed a mortgage contract, securing a loan on her Illinois residence. The mortgage was insured by the FHA. After Carrington acquired the mortgage, Leszanczuk contacted Carrington by phone in December 2016 to make her December payment. Leszanczuk asserts that Carrington told her that her account was not yet set up in their system and that her account was in a “grace period.” In early 2017 Carrington found Leszanczuk to be in default and conducted a visual drive-by inspection of Leszanczuk’s property. Carrington charged Leszanczuk $20.00 for the inspection and disclosed the fee in her March 2017 statement. Leszanczuk claims Carrington knew or should have known that she occupied her property because of the phone conversation and Carrington mailed monthly mortgage statements to the property’s address.Leszanczuk sued Carrington for breach of the mortgage contract and for violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, on behalf of putative nationwide and Illinois classes. She alleged that a HUD regulation limits the fees Carrington may charge under the contract and that the inspection fee was an unfair practice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The mortgage contract expressly permits the disputed fee. Leszanczuk has failed to adequately allege that the inspection fee offended public policy, was oppressive, or caused substantial injury. View "Leszanczuk v. Carrington Mortgage Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) asked the Southern District of Indiana to oversee a multidistrict litigation docket to coordinate discovery and other pretrial proceedings in thousands of medical product-liability suits, alleging that Cook’s inferior vena cava (IVC) filters were defective. The court and the parties agreed to a procedure by which new plaintiffs could join the MDL by filing directly in the Southern District of Indiana rather than filing in their home districts and waiting for the judiciary’s administrative machinery to transfer their cases to the MDL in Indiana. The plaintiffs filed their lawsuits directly in the Indiana MDL rather than filing in the states where they lived and had their IVC filters implanted.Cook moved to dismiss both cases based on Indiana’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions. The plaintiffs’ home states (South Carolina and Mississippi) have three-year statutes. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suits. The unique facts of this case indicate that Cook implicitly consented to using choice-of-law rules for these plaintiffs as if they had filed in their home states. It was not fair to allow Cook to change positions retroactively to dismiss these plaintiffs’ cases that had been timely filed under the “law of the case.” View "Looper v. Cook Inc." on Justia Law

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Santiago, a severely disabled Chicago resident, would leave her van parked on the street near her home for extended periods of time. In 2018, pursuant to the Chicago Municipal Code, her van was towed, impounded, and destroyed. She sued the city on her own behalf and on behalf of others similarly situated, challenging the constitutionality of various aspects of the ordinance. The district court granted, in part, her motion to certify her suit as a class action. With respect to the “Tow Class,” the court concluded that Santiago “is asserting only a facial challenge: the ordinance is unconstitutional because it fails to require adequate notice before a vehicle has been towed.” Concerning the Vehicle Disposal Class, the court rejected Chicago’s assertion that state law requires the class to show prejudice from the city’s failure to strictly follow its ordinance.The Seventh Circuit vacated. The class certification order does not fully demonstrate the “rigorous analysis” required by FRCP 23 and constituted an abuse of discretion. Considering whether questions of law or fact common to class members predominate begins with the elements of the underlying cause of action. The district court did not discuss any of the elements of the underlying causes of action or what the causes of action are. View "Santiago v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Railey clocked in and out of work at the Sunset Food Mart by placing her hand on a biometric scanner. She brought a class action in state court in 2019 alleging violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Two years into litigation, Sunset removed the case to federal court, alleging that Railey’s claims were completely preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act. Sunset explained the timing of the removal by pointing to an interrogatory response it received from Railey in October 2020 in which she confirmed her membership in a labor union.The district court found Sunset’s removal untimely. Citing the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1453(c)(1), the Seventh Circuit affirmed the remand to state court. A Class Action Fairness Act exception for “home-state controversies” directs that district courts “shall decline to exercise jurisdiction” over a class action in which “two-thirds or more of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate, and the primary defendants, are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed,” 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(4)(B). Railey brought a putative class action on behalf of Illinois citizens against a small Illinois grocery chain under Illinois law. Sunset missed its preemption-based removal window. View "Railey v. Sunset Food Mart, Inc." on Justia Law

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Smith worked for PTI, a company that transports railroad crews to and from their workplaces. Believing that her position was misclassified under the Fair Labor Standards Act and that she was not receiving proper overtime wages, she filed a collective action 29 U.S.C. 216(b). Unlike a class action under FRCP 23(b)(3), an FLSA collective action requires group members to affirmatively opt-in to participate. Her suit was within the two-year limitation period. The district court’s docket sheet shows numerous putative group members consenting to opt-in.PTI noted that Smith had not filed anything except her complaint indicating that she herself wished to participate in the group action. The court held that Smith’s group action could not “commence” until such consent was filed, 29 U.S.C. 256, but the limitations periods had run. The court concluded that Smith’s complaint also failed to allege timely individual claims, and dismissed the case. Smith’s appeal concerned only her individual action. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court erred by refusing to allow Smith to proceed on her individual claims. Read in the light most favorable to Smith, the complaint contained sufficient factual allegations related to her individual claims to put PTI on notice that she intended to sue it both in an individual and a representative capacity. She explicitly stated as much in the caption. View "Smith v. Professional Transportation,Inc." on Justia Law

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A class of owners accused Navistar of selling trucks with defective engines. The suit was settled for $135 million. The district court gave its preliminary approval. A court-approved Rule 23(e) notice was sent by first-class mail to all class members describing the settlement terms and the option to litigate independently. The notice's opt-out instructions included a link to a website with the full details and a phone number. The court held a fairness hearing then entered a final judgment implementing the settlement. Class member Drasc had sued Navistar in Ohio concerning the truck engines. The federal court declined to enjoin parallel state court suits, so the Ohio case proceeded while the federal action was pending. After the court approved the settlement, Navistar notified Drasc that its suit is barred by the release in the settlement. Drasc argued that it never received notice of the settlement and that its effort to continue litigating in Ohio should be deemed a “reasonable indication” of a desire to opt-out. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of Drasc’s arguments, noting findings that two first-class letters were sent to Drasc at its business addresses; Drasc had not provided an email address for notice; Drasc’s Ohio lawyers had actual notice of the settlement and must have known about the need to opt-out. Drasc had actual knowledge of the need to opt-out and could not show excusable neglect that would justify an extension of the opt-out deadline. View "DRASC, Inc. v. Navistar, Inc." on Justia Law

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Women who work at the Cook County Jail or the adjoining courthouse filed a class-action suit against their employers for failing to prevent male inmates from sexually harassing them. The district court certified a class comprising all non‐supervisory female employees who work with male inmates at the jail or courthouse, of whom there are about 2,000.On interlocutory appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in certifying the class under Rule 23. The court’s primary error was using the peripheral and overbroad concept of “ambient harassment” (i.e., indirect or secondhand harassment) to certify a class of employees who have endured a wide range of direct and indirect harassment. Even without this error, the class cannot stand because it comprises class members with materially different working environments whose claims require separate, individualized analyses. Hostile work environment claims are fact-intensive. They turn on the frequency, severity, character, and effect of the harassment. Here, these are “worker‐specific” inquiries because they depend on a class member’s unique experience—which correlates to where she works. Some class members will have had comparable experiences but the plaintiffs have not proven that for the entire class. View "Howard v. Cook County Sheriff's Office" on Justia Law

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Weinert roofing employees could drive directly to job sites around Green Bay or could carpool from the shop using a company truck. For carpool employees, Weinert paid travel time at time-and-a-half the minimum wage and did not count travel time toward an employee’s 40-hour workweek. Weinert paid more than minimum wage for job-site work; job-site overtime pay was higher than travel time pay. Anderson, a Weinert seasonal employee, filed a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 216(b), and Wisconsin law. Three other employees joined the action. Anderson converted the collective action into an individual FLSA action, which settled. Anderson then sought class certification (FRCP 23) for the state claims. Anderson identified 37 former or current Weinert employees to include in the class and requested the inclusion of employees Weinert expected to hire in 2019.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification. Employees to be hired in a future period cannot be included in the class. Anderson failed to show that joinder of the 37 employees in a single lawsuit (with multiple named plaintiffs) would be impracticable, as required by Rule 23(a). Anderson did not identify any difficulty in locating or contacting potential class members; the class lacked the geographical spread that might render joinder impracticable. Prevailing under the Act allows a plaintiff to recover attorneys’ fees and costs, offsetting some of the disincentive created by the small damages available. The numerosity requirement focuses on whether joinder would be impracticable, not whether each potential class member could bring a separate lawsuit. View "Anderson v. Weinert Enterprises Inc." 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