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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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After plaintiff's state criminal charge for animal cruelty was dismissed, plaintiff and his wife filed suit against the City and the Police Department under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims for wrongful arrest and excessive force, as well as various state law claims. The jury returned a verdict for defendants on all counts. The district court denied plaintiff's motion for a mistrial during the trial and later denied a post-trial motion for a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for mistrial based on its response to a potential juror's de minimis conduct. In this case, the district court properly dispatched its voir dire duties by probing whether the excused potential juror had made any additional statements which could have prejudiced plaintiff and by considering and rejecting the argument that brief departing comments in this instance required the empanelment of a new venire. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a continuance and properly exercised its discretion by limiting plaintiff's testimony to issues relevant to the substantive issues in the case being tried. The court further concluded that the district court did not err by allowing defendants to argue that the entire requested $975,000 damages award would come from Officer Horan personally. In any event, to the extent that these statements created confusion because of the temporal proximity between the accurate statements of the law and the references to the full amount requested, the district court allowed plaintiff's counsel on rebuttal to explain the issue. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's challenges to the district court's handling of the jury instructions. View "Farnik v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Cook County inmate Bowers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after other inmates attacked him in 2012, alleging the defendants failed to protect him, instituted an observation policy that caused the attack, and later discriminated against him because of a resulting disability. Bowers remains in a wheelchair. The jail is short on ADA‐ compliant cells, however, and, save for one month, Bowers has lived in cells without accessible showers or toilets. The district court dismissed most of Bowers’s claims before trial. A jury returned a verdict in the Sheriff’s favor on the remaining claims,The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Bowers, before filing suit, did not exhaust his failure‐ to‐protect claims as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). Bowers prison grievances did not assert the same claims as his complaint; his “Monell” claim was untimely. A reasonable jury could find that Bowers is not a qualified individual with a disability--someone who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his major life activities,” has “a record of such an impairment,” or is “being regarded as having such an impairment,” 42 U.S.C. 12102(1). The jury had sufficient evidence to find that Bowers lied about needing a wheelchair. View "Bowers v. Dart" on Justia Law

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Officer Cowick’s informant informed Cowick that she believed that Gholston was about to pick up large quantities of methamphetamine using his green pickup truck. At least three months later, Cowick spotted Gholston’s green pickup truck, followed Gholston, and activated his lights when Gholston turned without using a signal. Gholston parked and was walking away, which heightened Cowick’s suspicions but eventually returned. Cowick handcuffed Gholston at 12:18 am and began writing a ticket. Dispatch informed Cowick that Gholston’s ID was valid but that he had a Notice of Violation for improperly parking over a year earlier. At 12:24:23 am, Cowick called for a K9 officer, Saalborn, and requested assistance in delivering the Notice to the traffic stop. Sargent Elbus responded that he could bring the Notice. Cowick told Elbus, “take your time!!” because he was “trying to get” Saalborn While completing the ticket, Cowick continued to urge Elbus to move slowly and to urge Saalborn to “drive fast.” Cowick printed Gholston’s ticket at 12:32:27, then realized that he had not asked Gholston for insurance information. Gholston did not have proof of insurance. Cowick returned to his car to write another ticket. As Cowick was finishing that ticket, Saalborn arrived; his drug-sniffing dog alerted as the ticket was printing. The officers searched the truck and discovered nine grams of methamphetamine.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Gholston’s motion to suppress. Cowick did not unreasonably extend the stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment; his failure to request Gholston’s insurance information at the start of the stop was a good-faith blunder. View "United States v. Gholston" on Justia Law

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Inmate Robinson was offered new medication. Unaware of any prescription, he questioned the officer who gave it to him and followed up with the health services manager and others. Despite learning that there was no record of any new prescription for him, Robinson took the medication. Days later, Robinson passed out. A nurse advised him to keep taking the medication. Robinson then was sent to an outside hospital, where doctors surmised that he might be allergic to the medication. The prescription was meant for a different inmate. Robinson sued. The defendants moved for summary judgment; 20 days after his deadline for filing a brief in opposition, Robinson filed a brief to support his own request for summary judgment, supplemented by a proposed statement of facts. He did not respond to the defendants’ statement of facts. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court permissibly applied Eastern District of Wisconsin Local Rule 56(b)(4) to deem the defendants’ facts unopposed, regardless of Robinson’s later filings. Based on those facts, no reasonable jury could find deliberate indifference to a serious medical risk. Nor could a jury conclude that the health‐services manager violated his constitutional rights by failing to intervene. Robinson’s state‐law negligence claims were barred by Wisconsin’s notice‐of‐claim statute. The defendants were not entitled to summary judgment based only on Robinson's failure to timely respond. View "Robinson v. Waterman" on Justia Law

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During heavy snow, Lieutenant McAuly approached a car that was far off the roadway. Lao lowered the driver's window and stated that a tow truck was on its way. According to McAuly, Lao displayed nervousness and was acting as though he wanted McAuly to leave while speaking sharply to his passenger, Chang. Their driver’s licenses revealed extensive recent felony criminal histories. Both were under supervised release for methamphetamine convictions.Both consented to pat-down searches. McAuly discovered that under her shirt Chang was carrying a locked, portable gun safe. Chang denied both ownership of the safe and knowledge of its contents. Through the car windows, McAuly saw a razor blade and a piece of cardboard that he associated with dividing drugs. Wisconsin Act 79 authorizes an officer, without consent, a warrant, or probable cause, to search any property under the control of a person who is under court supervision if the officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. McAuly found the key, opened the gun safe, and found what was determined to be 75.6 grams of methamphetamine and a digital scale. A later search revealed a firearm and ammunition. After receiving Miranda warnings, Chang declared that everything in the safe belonged to her, although she was unable to describe its contents. Both were charged with possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. Lao was also charged as a felon in possession of a firearm.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denials of the defendants’ motion to suppress. Although the officer’s hunch alone was not sufficient justification for the seizure, other factors provided the reasonable suspicion necessary. Chang’s statements did not fall within any hearsay exception and could not be admitted if Chang chose to invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. View "United States v. Lao" on Justia Law

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Danville Officer Crawley sought a warrant to search Woodfork’s home. Crawley testified under oath, identifying Woodfork as the target of the request, stating that Woodfork had sold crystal methamphetamine in a controlled buy to a confidential source (CS) that day. Officers had searched the SC before and after that buy and surveilled the transaction, which was recorded. Crawley had relied on the CS “multiple times” and found him “reliable.” The officers attempted to set up a second controlled buy, using another reliable CS. Woodfork had insisted that the CS come to Woodfork’s home, which was described by naming an intersection, understood to be 1220 North Franklin Street.The judge issued a search warrant for Woodfork’s North Franklin home. Officers discovered methamphetamine and a firearm. Woodfork moved to quash the warrant and or to suppress the evidence, arguing that he was entitled to a "Franks" hearing and suppression because Crawley misled the county judge regarding the identification of his home and by omitting details about the CS's criminal histories.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Woodfork’s motion. Crawley and the judge were not simply relying on the uncorroborated word of the CS; a controlled buy, properly executed, is generally a reliable indicator of the presence of illegal drug activity. The omission of information about the sources’ backgrounds, criminal histories, or motives does not change the probable cause determination. Crawley testified; the court could assess his credibility and ask questions. View "United States v. Woodfork" on Justia Law

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Huerta was shot and killed in a parking lot in 2009. Huerta had been drinking with his uncle, Rojas, when a car pulled up, an occupant fired at Huerta, and the car sped away. Officers focused on Villavicencio‐Serna; his girlfriend’s father had reported her missing the morning of Huerta’s murder. The girlfriend eventually stated that she was with Villavicencio‐Serna on that night, that when she woke up, Villavicencio‐Serna stated that he “took care of business,” and that Villavicencio‐Serna had previously stated that he was prepared to shoot Huerta. She later changed her story, claiming that she was in the car with Villavicencio‐Serna’s friends, Daddio and Rogers, when Villavicencio‐Serna leaned out the window and shot Huerta. She later said that Villavicencio‐Serna reached over her to shoot. Daddio recounted that the four drove around the parking lot before Villavicencio‐Serna shouted at Huerta then fired shots. Rogers repeatedly stated that he knew nothing about the shooting, then changed his story, stating that Villavicencio‐Serna shot Huerta. Their stories were somewhat inconsistent.All three recanted at trial, insisting that the officers scared them into implicating Villavicencio‐Serna; the officers’ version of the events was fed to them while the recording equipment was off. Allegedly unprompted, Rojas had identified Daddio’s car, a silver Cadillac, although his original story referred to a dark car.Villavicencio‐Serna was convicted of first‐degree murder. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his federal petition for habeas corpus relief while expressing concerns about the “troubling” inconsistencies and lack of physical evidence. View "Villavicencio-Serna v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Taylor was fired from his job as a Cook County Sheriff’s officer. He sued the Sheriff’s Office under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Ways, Whittler, and Ernst under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating the Equal Protection Clause. The defendants maintain that Taylor was terminated for having fired pellets with an air rifle at his neighbor, a charge that Taylor denies. Ernst was the lead investigator assigned to Taylor’s case. Taylor offered evidence that Ernst engineered his firing based on racial animosity. Taylor also asserted that Ways and Whittler, Sheriff’s Office officials, are liable because they reviewed Ernst’s final report and endorsed his recommendation of termination.On interlocutory appeal, the Seventh Circuit upheld the denial of qualified immunity as to Ernst. Taylor presented evidence of Ernst’s significant role in the investigative and disciplinary proceedings that brought about Taylor’s termination. Any reasonable official in Ernst’s position would have known that intentional racial discrimination toward another employee was unconstitutional and what Taylor alleges against Ernst is textbook racial discrimination: the word “n****r,” used by Ernst, a white man, aimed at Taylor on several occasions. The court reversed the denials of qualified immunity to Ways and Whittler; evidence that they played key roles in approving Ernst’s termination does not signal that either harbored any racial animus or that they knew or suspected that Ernst was motivated by race. Taylor’s Title VII claim remains pending. View "Taylor v. Ernst" on Justia Law

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Ademiju immigrated to the U.S. in 2001 and had a green card. In 2011, he became involved in a scheme to defraud Medicare. He pled guilty to healthcare fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1347, and stipulated to a $1.5 million loss amount, acknowledging that “pleading guilty may have consequences with respect to his immigration status” and that he “affirms that he wants to plead guilty … even if the consequence is his automatic removal.” At sentencing, Ademiju personally acknowledged that his ability to stay in this country was not assured. His counsel told the court, “I’m not an immigration specialist … But it’s my understanding that … any sentence of less than one year … he would be at least eligible for a waiver.” Apparently, no one knew that statement was incorrect. The district court sentenced Ademiju to 11 months’ imprisonment plus $1.5 million in restitution.Ademiju was released from federal prison and transferred into ICE custody; he retained an immigration attorney who informed him that his offense of conviction and the stipulated loss amount subjected him to mandatory deportation. Ademiju filed a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his conviction because his attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel, arguing that the statute of limitations should be tolled because he received incorrect advice from an attorney about his options for recourse within the limitations period and could not have discovered the problem himself due to the inadequacy of his prison’s law library. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his motion; Ademiju has not met the high standard for equitable tolling. View "Ademiju v. United States" on Justia Law

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Jones spent more than 10 years in prison before the Seventh Circuit granted his 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition, finding that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. After Jones was freed, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Madison County, Indiana deputy prosecutors Koester and Kopp, in their individual capacities, arguing that they maliciously prosecuted him in violation of his due process rights when they filed an untimely amendment to his charges and secured a conviction. He also alleged that Madison County Prosecutor Cummings, an elected official, adopted and followed an official policy of flouting state-law limitations on amendments to charges. He requested $50 million in general damages for his confinement, compensatory damages for past and future physical and emotional injuries, and attorneys’ fees.The district court dismissed the action, finding that Cummings was a state official, so the suit against him was in substance one against the state. The state is not a “person” that can be sued under section 1983. Jones’s suit against the prosecutors failed because of the absolute immunity prosecutors enjoy when they are acting as advocates. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Jones was undoubtedly injured by his wrongful imprisonment but that does not mean that he has a remedy against any particular actor. View "Jones v. Cummings" on Justia Law