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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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In 1997, Campos began working as a Cook County Sheriff’s Office correctional officer. In 2011, he was arrested for driving under the influence, striking a vehicle, and leaving the scene of an accident. Campos self-reported. The sheriff suspended him without pay and referred him for termination. The Merit Board has exclusive authority to terminate Sheriff’s Office employees. While the Board proceedings were ongoing, a state court granted Campos’s motion to suppress and quashed his arrest. The Board voted to terminate Campos. The circuit court vacated that decision as too vague to allow for judicial review and remanded. In 2017, the Board again voted to terminate Campos. The circuit court again remanded based on a defect in the Board’s composition. It had been almost seven years since the sheriff suspended Campos without pay. Rather than wait for a third Board decision, Campos filed suit in federal court, arguing that the protracted proceedings have violated his substantive due process rights. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims. Campos has not met the high standard for stating a substantive due process claim. Employment rights are not fundamental rights and Campos identified no independent constitutional violation. The eight-year process is not so arbitrary or outrageous as to violate substantive due process. View "Campos v. Cook Countyx" on Justia Law

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Three Chicago police officers stopped three black men in a grey sedan to investigate a shooting that had happened nearby a few hours earlier. When the passengers sued a year later, none of the officers remembered the Terry stop. They relied on other evidence to show that reasonable suspicion had existed. Cell phone footage taken by one of the plaintiffs during the encounter depicted Sergeant King, the officer who initiated the stop, citing the plaintiffs’ suspicious behavior in the area of the shooting as the reason that he had pulled them over. A police report showed that dispatches to officers, including King, identified the suspects as three black men in a grey car. The descriptions of the car’s model varied. The district court held that these descriptions were close enough to justify the Terry stop and that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the stop did not violate clearly established law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting a “suggestion” that the defendants’ failure of memory was a concession of liability. The Fourth Amendment does not govern how an officer proves reasonable suspicion for a Terry stop; he can rely on evidence other than memory. The police report demonstrates what King knew and the cell-phone video shows him giving the shooting as the reason for the stop. View "cTorry v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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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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After fellow moviegoers asked Bonin to stop talking on his phone, Bonin said he was a U.S. Marshal speaking with “the government,” flashed a gun on his belt, and threatened to “take it out in the hall.” Patrons called 911. Bonin is not a U.S. Marshal, but when police arrived, Bonin convinced them that he was, and they allowed him to reenter the theater. As Bonin walked to his seat, he raised his arms, again exposed his gun, and bellowed, “See, I told you I’m a U.S. Marshal.” Moments later, police removed him from the theater. One month later, police observed a car driving with flashing emergency lights activated and pulled over to allow it to pass, then realized it was not an emergency vehicle, but a Ford Bronco adorned with an “AGENT” decal on the windshield and law enforcement insignia on the sides. Bonin was driving. Bonin was convicted under 18 U.S.C. 912, which makes it a crime to impersonate an officer or employee of the United States. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting his claim that section 912 is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech and his challenges to multiple evidentiary rulings and jury instructions. Public safety and protection of the reputation of law enforcement are compelling interests and section 912 is “narrowly drawn to achieve” those interests. View "United States v. Bonin" 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