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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment to Defendants and dismissing Plaintiffs' claims that three police officers unlawfully stopped, searched, and arrested them in violation of their First and Fourth Amendment rights, holding that Plaintiffs could not prevail on the merits of any of their claims.The three plaintiffs in this case were arrested after following a woman home and confronting her, but the District Attorney's office declined to pursue criminal charges. Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the arresting officers. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the officers had reasonable suspicion for the initial stop and probable cause to arrest, and therefore, Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims failed; and (2) Plaintiffs were not engaged in constitutionally-protected speech, and therefore, their First Amendment retaliation claim failed. View "Lyberger v. Snider" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this action challenging the conduct of the Lake County Election Board, holding that the Election Board did not violate Joseph Hero's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.Hero, a registered republican for forty years, opposed the decision of his town council to exercise its eminent-domain authority to seize the property of predominantly lower-income homeowners. Hero backed two independent candidates for town council running against two incumbent, pro-development candidates. Thereafter, the Indiana Republican Party banned Hero from the Republican Party for ten years. In 2019, Hero attempted to appear as a Republican candidate in the 2019 election, but the Election Board concluded that Hero could not run. Hero subsequently filed a complaint arguing that the Election Board violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Hero had standing to sue; and (2) the Election Board did not violate Hero's constitutional rights. View "Hero v. Lake County Election Bd." on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions for arson stemming from their participation in riots in Madison, Wisconsin following the shooting of a Black man by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, holding that the district court properly held that 18 U.S.C. 844(i) is constitutional.Defendants Willie Johnson and Anessa Fierro moved to dismiss the indictment against them, arguing that the federal arson statute is facially unconstitutional because its enactment exceeded Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause. The district court denied the motion, after which Defendants entered into conditional plea agreements. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that section 844(i) was validly enacted pursuant to Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause. View "United States v. Fierro" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court entering summary judgment to Defendants and dismissing this complaint brought by Plaintiff, the former general counsel for Chicago State University, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its rulings.Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against several University defendants alleging that the University fired him in retaliation for reporting a potential conflict of interest in violation of the First Amendment and Illinois's State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and that Defendants violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by not paying him severance pay. The district court entered summary judgment for Defendants. The Seventh District affirmed, holding that Plaintiff's actions fell outside the Ethics Act and that Plaintiff's speech lacked protection under the First Amendment. View "Cage v. Harper" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing for failure to state a claim this lawsuit raising claims under the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, holding that the judge properly dismissed the case in its entirety and with prejudice.In 2017, agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) executed a search warrant at an Indiana facility owned by Paraklese Technologies, LLC, which makes and sells firearm accessories, and seized approximately $21,000 worth of inventory. In 2017, Paraklese and its owner sued ATF agents seeking damages from the search and seizure. The district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in dismissing the case. View "Fosnight v. Jones" on Justia Law

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In this case arising out of a child welfare investigation, the Seventh Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court entering summary judgment in favor of Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) case workers on the grounds of qualified immunity, holding that the facts were too disputed to allow the Court to reach any legal conclusions with confidence.When DCS learned from a social worker that Plaintiffs may not have been providing their infant daughter prescribed medication to control epileptic seizures DCS case workers took the child to the hospital for a blood draw to clarify whether that was so. The results showed that the infant had started the prescription a few days earlier. Plaintiffs filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the investigation and demand for a blood test violated their constitutional rights as parents under the Fourteenth Amendment and their daughter's rights under the Fourth Amendment. The district court entered summary judgment for the DCS defendants on the grounds of qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit vacated the summary judgment and remanded the case, holding that the facts were so contested as to limit what the Court could do on appeal. View "Jerger v. Blaize" on Justia Law

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The Janesville Wisconsin Police Department created a “no‐preference tow list” to simplify its response to traffic accidents in which a vehicle owner expressed no preference as to which tow company towed their car. Smith is Black and owns Flying A.J.’s Towing Company, which operates in the area. Flying A.J.’s was added to the list. Less than two months later, the Police Department removed the company from its tow list, citing the company’s unresponsiveness and complaints related to one particular tow job.Smith and Flying A.J.’s claim that their removal was due to Smith’s race and in retaliation because, in 2010, Smith had successfully sued the town of Beloit after experiencing racial discrimination by the police department. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1981. Smith had failed to put forth sufficient evidence to allow a jury to determine that Smith’s race or former complaints caused the decision to remove Flying A.J.’s from the tow list. Smith claimed that a tow company owned by a white man had received a lesser penalty but the situations leading to the two complaints are too dissimilar for any reasonable jury to conclude that the factor leading to any perceived disparate treatment was race. View "Smith v. City of Janesville" on Justia Law

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Peoples led a gang that robbed four Indiana banks in 1997-1998, brandishing an assault rifle. At least once, he pointed the gun at tellers and threatened to kill them. Peoples stole getaway cars; twice he burned them. A jury convicted Peoples on multiple counts of armed bank robbery (18 U.S.C. 2113(d)), using a firearm during a felony (section 924(c)) and to commit a felony (844(h)), and maliciously destroying a vehicle by fire (844(i)). The four 924(c) convictions required the imposition of consecutive minimum sentences totaling 65 mandatory years. The two 844(h) convictions required a sentence of at least 30 consecutive years. Peoples was sentenced to almost 111 years.In prison, Peoples has successfully completed many classes and received no disciplinary infractions. Peoples, at substantial risk to his own safety, took steps to save another person’s life in prison. Nine correctional officers supported his motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), which cited his rehabilitation and the reality that, under the First Step Act’s amendments to 924(c), he would face a much shorter sentence today for the same armed bank robberies.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. In a compassionate release motion, the prisoner must identify an ‘extraordinary and compelling’ reason warranting a sentence reduction, but that reason cannot include, alone or in combination with other factors, consideration of the First Step Act. Peoples otherwise failed to identify an extraordinary and compelling reason warranting early release. View "United States v. Peoples" on Justia Law

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Ten-year-old Amani, walking home, was grabbed by a man and pushed into a vehicle. The man hit her eye and lip, threatened to kill her, parked in an alley, pulled down her leggings, and touched her inside of her underwear. Amani escaped, ran away, and flagged down a passing car. The driver called 911. A week later, police arrested Protho, who was charged with kidnapping, 18 U.S.C. 1201(a)(1) and (g)(1)). During a nine-day jury trial, 29 witnesses, including Amani and Protho, testified. The trial focused on the kidnapper’s identity.The jury found Protho guilty, and the district court sentenced him to 38 years’ imprisonment plus restitution, including $87,770 for Amani’s psychotherapy needs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the admission of testimony by three expert witnesses: an FBI photographic technologist who analyzed surveillance videos that were admitted at trial, an expert on fiber evidence, and a manager of Ford's Design Analysis Engineering Department, who identified the vehicle on the videos. The district court did not clearly err in handling either of Protho’s Batson challenges or in allowing Amani to testify via closed-circuit television, 18 U.S.C. 3509. The court rejected challenges based on the “interstate commerce” element of the statute and to the district court’s handling of an evidentiary question at trial. The court noted the “overwhelming evidence” of guilt. View "United States v. Protho" on Justia Law

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Wilson rekindled a romantic relationship with Yegger, whose five children include FT, who was seven years old and had special needs. The Bureau of Child Welfare had received reports of physical abuse and unexplained injuries on Yegger’s children, who were eventually placed with foster families. Each child received a medical checkup. A pediatric nurse practitioner observed five genital lesions on FT. A pediatrician later observed genital and anal lesions; an antibody test later allowed her to diagnose them as herpes. In a recorded interview with a forensic interviewer, FT recounted eight times that she had been sexually assaulted by Wilson. Wilson was charged with Engaging in Repeated Acts of Sexual Assault of the Same Child, which requires at least three qualifying acts “within a specified period of time.” The judge instructed the jury that it could find Wilson guilty of the lesser-included offense of First-Degree Sexual Assault of a Child, which requires only a single qualifying act. The jury found Wilson guilty of the greater offense. The judge referred to “overwhelming testimony that you committed these outrageous assaults” and sentenced Wilson to 37 years’ imprisonment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Wilson’s petition for habeas relief. Wisconsin courts reasonably rejected his arguments that the evidence could not support his conviction and that his counsel’s representation was constitutionally deficient. View "Wilson v. Boughton" on Justia Law