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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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On July 4, 2021, Gavin Wallmow was arrested for violating his probation and was taken to Oneida County jail. During his booking, Wallmow denied any suicidal tendencies or mental health issues. Two days later, Wallmow's probation officer visited him and noticed a change in his behavior, including him hitting himself and expressing "demonic" thoughts. The officer reported this to a corrections officer at the jail, who then informed her superior. Despite these reports, Wallmow was observed behaving normally during routine checks. On July 8, Wallmow was found unresponsive in his cell, having committed suicide. His estate brought a series of constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the jailers failed to protect Wallmow from himself.The United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin granted summary judgment to the defendants, concluding that the record did not support an inference that any defendant knew Wallmow faced a serious risk of harm. The court also found no reason to think the County's policies were inadequate, given the absence of any pattern of suicides to put it on notice.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court found that the jail's employees had taken reasonable precautions, including checking on Wallmow at least 37 times per day. The court also noted that Wallmow had thrice disavowed any risk of suicide, and nothing indicated otherwise after his talk with his probation officer. The court concluded that the jail's actions complied with the Constitution's requirements. View "Estate of Wallmow v. Oneida County, Wisconsin" on Justia Law

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The case involves Jacob Lickers, who was convicted for transporting and possessing child pornography. The conviction was based on evidence found on Lickers' devices, which were seized during a traffic stop and subsequent arrest for drug possession. The initial search of the devices was authorized by a state court warrant, which later suppressed the evidence due to the unconstitutionality of the initial stop and arrest. However, the case was referred to federal authorities who conducted a second search of the devices under a federal warrant. The federal warrant application did not mention the state court's suppression ruling.In the lower courts, Lickers' attorney challenged the constitutionality of the initial stop and arrest, and the adequacy of the state search warrant. The state court agreed, suppressing all evidence seized during the stop and any statements made by Lickers. The state charges were subsequently dismissed. However, in the federal court, the same arguments were unsuccessful. Lickers pleaded guilty, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The district court sentenced him to concurrent terms of 132 months' imprisonment on each count.In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit, Lickers argued that his trial and appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to argue that the federal agent acted in bad faith by omitting the state court's suppression ruling from the federal warrant application. The court disagreed, finding that the link between the state court's suppression ruling and the federal warrant application was too attenuated to obligate the attorneys to explore the possibility of bad faith. The court affirmed the district court's denial of relief. View "Lickers v. United States" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Anthony Gay, a convicted felon, who was found guilty of possessing firearms and ammunition, both of which he was prohibited from possessing due to his prior felony convictions. Gay was a passenger in a car that was stopped by the police, and upon being pursued, he fled on foot. The police testified that they found a gun where Gay had fallen and later discovered bullets in a motel room he had rented. Gay was subsequently indicted and convicted on one firearms count and one ammunition count, leading to a sentence of 84 months' imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently, plus three years' supervised release.Previously, Gay had contested the admissibility of the bullets found in the motel room, arguing that their discovery violated his Fourth Amendment rights. However, the district court denied his motion to suppress the bullets, stating that Gay's right to occupy the room had expired, the motel manager had found the bullets before the police were involved, and the manager had the right to admit the police under state law. Furthermore, the court noted that Gay, being on parole, had a diminished expectation of privacy.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Gay argued that the evidence did not support his conviction on the firearms charge, suggesting that the weapon may have been planted. However, the court found that the evidence, including the bullets found in the motel room, supported the firearms charge. The court also dismissed Gay's argument that the reduction of two weeks in preparation time for his second trial was prejudicial, stating that the parties had just been through a trial and the evidence had been assembled.Gay also contended that the prosecution was unconstitutional, arguing that the Second Amendment permits persons with felony convictions to possess firearms and ammunition. However, the court affirmed the lower court's decision, citing precedents that upheld the validity of "longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons." The court concluded that Gay, having been convicted of 22 felonies and being on parole, did not fit the description of a "law-abiding, responsible citizen" who has a constitutional right to possess firearms. View "United States v. Gay" on Justia Law

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The case involves Harold McGhee, who was convicted and sentenced for drug trafficking. In August 2021, law enforcement received information from a confidential source about a drug dealer distributing large amounts of cocaine in Peoria, Illinois. The dealer was said to drive a Chevy Malibu and supplied cocaine to a house on West Millman Street. With this information, along with details from other informants and a tracking warrant, the police identified McGhee as the suspected dealer. They conducted three controlled buys and a trash pull at McGhee's residence, which led to the discovery of rubber gloves and baggies with a white powdery residue that tested positive for cocaine. This evidence led to a search warrant for McGhee's residence, vehicle, person, and electronic devices, resulting in the discovery of nearly a kilogram of various drugs, a handgun, and other drug trafficking paraphernalia.McGhee sought to suppress the evidence recovered at his residence and moved for a hearing to challenge the validity of the search warrant. He argued that the affidavit's use of "SUBJECT PREMISES," in reference to both his residence and the Millman Street house, was impermissibly ambiguous. The district court denied the motion. McGhee later renewed his motion to suppress, arguing that the trash pull was constitutionally unreasonable because it was executed without a warrant. The court denied this motion as well.On appeal, McGhee raised ten challenges to the criminal proceedings resulting in his convictions and sentence. The court considered some of his arguments on the merits and resolved others on procedural grounds. Ultimately, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all respects. View "United States v. McGhee" on Justia Law

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The case concerns Thomas Osadzinski, who was convicted for providing material support to a terrorist organization. In 2019, Osadzinski, a computer science student, developed a software program to facilitate the rapid duplication of terrorist propaganda videos for ISIS. He shared this program with people he believed were ISIS supporters, taught them how to use it, and used it to assemble and distribute a large collection of ISIS media. Osadzinski appealed his conviction, arguing that it violated the First Amendment because his actions constituted free expression. He also contended that he lacked fair notice that his actions violated the material-support statute.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed with Osadzinski's arguments. The court held that although Osadzinski's actions could be regarded as expressive activity, this activity was coordinated with or directed by ISIS, a known terrorist organization, and therefore was not protected by the First Amendment. The court also rejected Osadzinski's claim that he lacked fair notice that his actions violated the material-support statute. The court affirmed Osadzinski's conviction, ruling that his conduct fell outside First Amendment protection, clearly violated the material-support statute, and provided a reasonable basis for the jury to return a guilty verdict. View "USA v. Osadzinski" on Justia Law

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The case involves Janay Garrick, a former instructor at Moody Bible Institute, who alleged sex discrimination and other Title VII violations. Garrick claimed that she was subjected to hostile treatment due to her gender and the Institute's religious beliefs. Moody argued that her suit was barred by Title VII’s religious exemptions and the First Amendment doctrine of church autonomy. The district court denied Moody's motion to dismiss in part, leading to Moody's appeal.However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court reasoned that it could only review a small class of interlocutory orders under the collateral order doctrine, and Moody's appeal did not fit within this class. The court found that the district court's denial of Moody's motion to dismiss was not conclusive, did not resolve important questions separate from the merits of the case, and would not effectively be unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment.The appellate court also emphasized that Moody's defense, based on the doctrine of church autonomy, was not separate from the merits of Garrick's gender discrimination claims. Furthermore, the court noted that Moody's argument that it would experience irreparable harm without immediate review was unavailing, as the district court could limit discovery to instances of discriminatory treatment not implicated by Moody's religious beliefs. The court concluded that religious autonomy to shape and control doctrine would not be threatened by the further progression of Garrick's lawsuit. View "Garrick v. Moody Bible Institute" on Justia Law

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A private Catholic high school in Madison, Wisconsin, sued the city and other defendants, claiming that the city's decision to deny the school permission to install lights for nighttime athletic events violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The school also claimed a vested property right under Wisconsin law.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the school argued that the city's actions amounted to unequal treatment and a substantial burden on its religious exercise. However, the court found that the school, as a master plan institution under the city's Campus-Institutional District ordinance, was not comparably situated to other institutions that had been granted lighting permits. The court also ruled that the city's denial of the permit did not amount to a substantial burden on the school's religious exercise under RLUIPA.Furthermore, the court found that the school's Free Exercise claim provided no additional protections beyond those under RLUIPA and thus could be dismissed. Lastly, the court rejected the school's vested rights claim, as the lighting permit application did not conform to the municipal zoning requirements in effect at the time. Consequently, the court affirmed the lower court's summary judgment in favor of the city. View "Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart, Incorpor v. City of Madison, Wisconsin" on Justia Law

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In a case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the defendant, Deny Mitrovich, was indicted for possession of child pornography following a multinational investigation that used a software program to unmask his computer. Mitrovich requested detailed technical information about the software program, which was used by Australian and New Zealand authorities, to aid his defense. However, the United States government did not have this information and was unsuccessful in obtaining it despite repeated efforts. Mitrovich argued that the government was obligated to provide this information under Rule 16(a)(1)(E) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.The court disagreed with Mitrovich, stating that Rule 16 does not require the production of documents held exclusively by foreign authorities. Furthermore, Mitrovich was unable to demonstrate that the government's inability to provide the requested information resulted in prejudice, a necessary condition to establish a Brady violation. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's decision not to impose sanctions on the government for failure to disclose the requested information.The court also clarified that while the doctrine of constructive possession could extend to co-participants in a joint international investigation under the Due Process Clause, this would not apply if the U.S. lacks the capacity to access or obtain the information through reasonable means. The court also emphasized that mere speculation about the content of the missing information is not sufficient to establish prejudice under Brady. View "United States v. Mitrovich" on Justia Law

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The case concerns the plaintiff, Tina Gerlach, who claimed that Indiana officials violated her right to just compensation under the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause. Gerlach's unclaimed property had been taken into custody by the state under the Revised Indiana Unclaimed Property Act. She asserted that Indiana did not compensate her for interest accrued while the state held her property.Gerlach filed a lawsuit against several state officials, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensation. The defendant officials moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Gerlach's claim for prospective relief was moot and her claims for retrospective relief were barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The district court granted the defendants' motion, and Gerlach appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal. The court found Gerlach's claim for prospective relief was moot due to Indiana's new legislation requiring the payment of interest on all recovered property. The court also held that Gerlach could not obtain compensation in federal court from the Indiana officials because no exception to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity applied, and Indiana state courts were open to hear Gerlach's claims. Lastly, the court concluded that Gerlach's claim for compensatory relief was actually against the State of Indiana, and therefore barred by sovereign immunity and Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, which does not create a cause of action against a state. View "Gerlach v. Rokita" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the plaintiff, Candice Martin, represented herself and the estate of her deceased husband, Rodney Martin. The defendants were Goodrich Corporation and PolyOne Corporation, both of which Rodney had worked for. Rodney had been exposed to a hazardous chemical, vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), during his employment and was later diagnosed with angiosarcoma of the liver, a disease allegedly linked to VCM exposure.The case revolved around the interpretation and application of the Illinois Workers' Occupational Diseases Act (ODA), which provides compensation for employees who contract diseases through their employment. The Act also has an exclusivity provision, which restricts employees from seeking compensation outside of the statutory scheme.The plaintiff argued that her claim was not subject to the ODA's exclusivity provisions due to an exception introduced by the Illinois legislature in 2019, which allows claims to proceed outside the ODA if they would be barred by any period of repose or repose provision. The defendants argued that this exception did not apply in this case, as Rodney's exposure to VCM had occurred decades prior to the enactment of the exception.Due to the complexity of the statutory provisions and the implications of their interpretation, the Court of Appeals decided to certify three questions to the Illinois Supreme Court. The questions pertained to whether a specific provision of the ODA constituted a period of repose, whether the 2019 exception applied retrospectively, and whether the application of this exception to past conduct would violate the due process protections of the Illinois Constitution. View "Martin v. Goodrich Corporation" on Justia Law