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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Lewis, a Wisconsin prisoner, filed suit, alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. The Seventh Circuit vacated summary judgment, finding that a reasonable jury could find that a nurse and a correctional officer acted with deliberate indifference by delaying medical attention for Lewis’s painful back condition. The court suggested that, on remand, the district court should consider whether to reinstate Lewis’s state-law medical malpractice claim against the nurse. On remand, Lewis went to trial, represented by recruited counsel. The jury found for the defendants. Lewis immediately moved, pro se, to set aside the verdict and for a new trial. The district court, construing Lewis’s motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), denied his motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that there is a rational basis for the jury’s decision and that the district court committed no error warranting further proceedings. The court rejected arguments that Lewis received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the trial was unfair. View "Lewis v. McLean" on Justia Law

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Daza worked for the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) as a geologist for 23 years. In 2011, Daza expressed concerns that another employee was denied promotion because of his political affiliation. In 2013, Daza complained about a commissioner’s misuse of political office. About a month later Daza received his first reprimand, for refusing to answer calls after hours. In 2014, he again complained about the treatment of another employee. A supervisor complained about Daza’s “professionalism.” Daza had multiple disagreements with supervisors and was ultimately terminated “because his behavior consistently defied INDOT culture and expectations.” Daza filed suit, alleging that his firing was unlawful. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants, rejecting claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 that alleged violation of Daza’s First Amendment rights by discriminating and retaliating against him for his political activities and affiliation. Daza presented a long string of facts occurring over four years but presented no evidence that his alleged political activities or affiliation motivated his firing. The evidence actually shows that management had taken issue with Daza’s conduct for years, and the decision to fire him was made after his offensive comments during a training session. View "Daza v. Indiana" on Justia Law

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Kimbrough dated the mother of daughters, ages five and seven, who eventually revealed Kimbrough had molested them for two years. Kimbrough was convicted and sentenced to 80 years’ imprisonment. The judge considered Kimbrough’s lack of criminal history and Kimbrough’s abuse of a position of trust. Kimbrough's counsel argued the court abused its discretion in imposing that sentence but never challenged his sentence under Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B), which allows the court to revise a sentence that "is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.” A split panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals sua sponte reduced his sentence under Rule 7(B). The Indiana Supreme Court vacated, holding Rule 7(B) should not have been invoked sua sponte. Kimbrough then sought post-conviction relief, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to challenge the sentence under Rule 7(B). The trial court and Indiana Court of Appeals denied relief, stating: “Kimbrough has not established that there is a reasonable probability that, if appellate counsel had made a Rule 7(B) challenge, the result ... would have been different.” Granting Kimbrough’s petition for federal habeas relief, the district court found that because panels of the Indiana Court of Appeals reached opposite conclusions, Kimbrough necessarily had a reasonable probability of success and had satisfied Strickland’s prejudice prong. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that a federal court considering a 28 U.S.C. 2254(d) habeas petition cannot disagree with a state court’s resolution of a state law issue. View "Kimbrough v. Neal" on Justia Law

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Haldorson, a fireworks enthusiast and a drug dealer, was arrested on his way to a second controlled buy. Along with drugs, officers found three pipe bombs in his car. He was charged with several counts related to drugs, explosives, and a firearm. Haldorson unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence and was convicted on four counts of the seven-count indictment: distribution of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); possession with intent to distribute cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); possession of MDMA, or ecstasy, and cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 844(a); and possession of an explosive during the commission of a felony, 21 U.S.C. 844(h)(2). The court vacated Count Three because it was a lesser-included offense of Count Two and sentenced Haldorson to 192 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the denial of the motions to suppress. Probable cause, based on the controlled buy three weeks earlier, supported the arrest and exigent circumstances existed for the warrantless search of his bedroom. There was a legitimate concern that other homemade explosive devices were in Haldorson’s bedroom and were dangerous to others. The jury instructions did not constructively amend the indictment for unlawfully carrying an explosive and permit the jury to convict him on a broader basis than charged. View "United States v. Haldorson" on Justia Law

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Hanson was indicted in 2009 for conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine in excess of 500 grams. The prosecution established Hanson’s three prior drug offenses and Kentucky felony third-degree residential burglary conviction. Hanson pleaded guilty with a plea agreement; the government listed only one prior felony drug conviction under 21 U.S.C. 851, instead of three potentially qualifying convictions, and relied in part on Hanson’s burglary conviction for a recommended Guidelines sentencing range. The Probation Officer calculated Hanson’s Guidelines range as 262-327 months, U.S.S.G. 4B1.1(c)(3). The court sentenced Hanson to 262 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of his collateral challenge to his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Noting that the challenge was untimely, the court rejected an argument that the district court erred when it included his third-degree burglary as a crime of violence, enhancing Hanson’s status to a career offender, and resulting in a “miscarriage of justice.” The government conceded that the Kentucky third-degree burglary statute does not inherently involve “purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct” of a “crime of violence” as part of the career offender designation but the court did not rely solely, or even principally, on the Guidelines; it referenced multiple considerations in imposing Hanson’s sentence, including the Guidelines, the lengthy presentencing report, the argument of the parties, and factors set forth in section 3553(a). View "Hanson v. United States" on Justia Law

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Stewart sustained serious injuries upon crashing his car while driving under the influence. Although Stewart does not remember his time at the hospital he signed a form consenting to treatment. An emergency room doctor treated Stewart and in doing so ordered a blood draw, which confirmed that he had been drinking. The police requested and received the blood test results from the hospital’s medical staff. Stewart later sued both officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating the Fourth Amendment by obtaining his test results without a warrant and the hospital’s medical staff for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act by disclosing the results. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Indiana law requires medical staff who test a person’s blood “for diagnostic purposes” to “disclose the results of the test to a law enforcement officer who requests the … results as a part of a criminal investigation” regardless of whether the person has “consented to or otherwise authorized their release.” HIPAA does not confer individual enforcement rights—express or implied. The police officers did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. View "Stewart v. Parkview Hospital" on Justia Law

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The Marion County Superior Courts and the Sheriff’s Office use different case management systems, which have difficulty communicating. A system implemented to ensure the transfer of data was imperfect. Problems arose when the courts modified a release order for a detainee who had already been processed. The Sheriff’s Office reached an agreement to have court staff contact the Sheriff’s inmate records staff if there was a subsequent order. The Sheriff’s Office took custody of Levy on February 29, 2016. Levy remained in custody until March 3, 2016. Levy claims the judge at his first court appearance ordered him released on his own recognizance and the Sheriff unlawfully detained him. The Sheriff’s Office claimed that the judge ordered that Levy remain in custody until he transferred to Marion County Community Corrections; at Levy’s second appearance on March 2, a different judge ordered Levy to self-report. The records staff had already processed Levy; the court did not contact the Sheriff’s Office about the modification, Levy sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging unreasonable seizure and detention and deprivation of liberty without due process. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Absent evidence that the Sheriff’s Office knew or should have known that the policy would fail, or failed so often that it would obviously result in over-detention, Levy cannot show that the defendants acted with deliberate indifference. The Sheriff’s actions showed awareness that a danger existed and an attempt to avert an injury. Levy’s singular experience does not support a finding to the contrary. View "Levy v. Marion County Sheriff" on Justia Law

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School Superintendent Reichhart granted an adult student permission to possess cigarettes on school grounds. Ulrey, the assistant principal, disagreed with that decision. Without approaching Reichhart first, Ulrey called the president of the school board, who emailed Reichhart to express concern about his decision. Reichhart rebuked Ulrey for going over his head, threatening to reprimand her formally. She apologized. Three months later, she resigned during a meeting with Reichhart. Ulrey filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Reichhart and the school board, claiming that Reichhart violated her First Amendment rights by retaliating for her speech about a student discipline issue and that the defendants coerced her to resign, depriving her of her property interest in her job without due process of law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Ulrey spoke about the discipline issue in her capacity as an employee, so the First Amendment did not protect her speech. Ulrey failed to present sufficient evidence sufficient that her resignation was involuntary. The test is not whether the employee was happy about resigning or even whether the employer asked for the resignation. Ulrey offered to resign because Reichhart’s “vibes” and “physical demeanor” communicated his desire to fire her. That is not enough to treat the defendants as if they had denied her the extensive procedural protections available if she had wanted to contest a possible termination. View "Ulrey v. Reichhart" on Justia Law

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For nearly 30 years, Chicago Studio operated the only film studio in Chicago. In 2010, Cinespace opened a new studio. Cinespace rapidly expanded its studio to include 26 more stages and 24 times more floor space than Chicago Studio’s facility. Chicago Studio subsequently failed to attract business and stopped making a profit. Chicago Studio sued the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Film Office, and Steinberg (state actors responsible for promoting the Illinois film industry), alleging that the Defendants unlawfully steered state incentives and business to Cinespace in violation of the Sherman Act and equal protection and due process protections. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of those claims. The Sherman Act claim was properly dismissed because Chicago Studio failed to adequately plead an antitrust injury but merely alleged injuries to Chicago Studio, not to competition. The complaint does not plausibly allege that Defendants conspired to monopolize or attempted to monopolize the Chicago market for operating film studios. The district court properly granted summary judgment on the equal protection claim. Chicago Studio and Cinespace are not similarly situated, and there was a rational basis for Steinberg’s conduct. Cinespace consistently reached out to Steinberg for marketing support; Chicago Studio rarely did and it was rational for Steinberg to promote the studios based on production needs. View "Chicago Studio Rental, Inc. v. Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity" on Justia Law

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Walker, a Stateville Correctional Center inmate, has an incurable motor neuron disease, primary lateral sclerosis (PLS). PLS causes weakness in his voluntary muscles. Walker alleges that Stateville’s healthcare providers (Wexford and Dr. Obaisi) were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs after he underwent spinal surgery in 2011. Walker claims they failed to ensure he received proper follow-up care and allowed undue delays in his treatment by outside experts, which delayed his diagnosis and caused him to suffer from the undiagnosed PLS in the interim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Dr. Obaisi made a reasonable medical judgment to delay referring Walker until he had more information and could make a more informed referral request. Obaisi responded to Walker’s changing symptoms and was receptive to the specialists’ recommendations. That Walker’s pain and other symptoms did not subside is not evidence of Obaisi’s deliberate indifference, considering that Walker voluntarily stopped taking pain medication. Obaisi did what he could within the limits of his role to move Walker’s treatment forward. Wexford refers many inmates, and the specialists have a finite number of appointments available. Absent evidence that Wexford was on notice that these wait times were likely to cause constitutional violations, but failed to act in response, Wexford cannot be liable. View "Walker v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law