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

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Mayle, a self-proclaimed Satanist, is a follower of The Law of Thelema, a set of beliefs developed in the early 1900s by Aleister Crowley. As part of this religion, Mayle participates in what he calls “sex magick rituals” that he believes violate Illinois laws forbidding adultery and fornication. He claims that he reasonably fears prosecution for practicing his beliefs. He also says that he wants to marry more than one person at the same time and that if he were to do so, he would violate an Illinois law against bigamy. Mayle’s first challenge to the laws was dismissed. Mayle did not appeal, but the next year he filed another suit challenging the same statutes.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the second suit, first rejecting a challenge to the district court’s grant of a two-day extension to allow Mayle to file a notice of appeal. Mayle’s bigamy claim was precluded by the 2017 final judgment on the merits. Mayle lacked standing to challenge the state’s adultery and fornication laws because he still showed no reasonable fear of prosecution; those laws are no longer enforced. View "Mayle v. Illinois" on Justia Law

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Under Ind. Code 31-14-7-1(1), a husband is presumed to be a child’s biological father; both spouses are listed as parents on the birth certificate and the child is deemed to be born in wedlock. There is no similar presumption with respect to a same-sex couple. The district court issued an injunction requiring Indiana to treat children born into female-female marriages as having two female parents, who must be listed on the birth certificate. Because Indiana lists only two parents on a birth certificate, this prevents the state from treating as a parent the man who provided the sperm but requires that one spouse, who provided neither sperm nor egg, be identified as a parent. The court reasoned that Indiana lists a husband as a biological parent (when a child is born during marriage) even if he did not provide sperm, and must treat a wife as a parent even if she did not provide an egg. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, citing the Supreme Court’s 2017 holding, Pavan v. Smith, that same-sex and opposite-sex couples must have the same rights with respect to the identification of children’s parentage on birth certificates. Indiana’s statutory presumption violates the Constitution. The court rejected the state’s arguments that the statutory presumption is rebuttable. View "Henderson v. Box" on Justia Law

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Jack and Angela Howser decided that Angela’s estranged daughter, Jade, was failing to provide a suitable home for Jade’s four-year-old daughter, E.W. After unsuccessfully attempting to blackmail Jade, they enlisted the local police, the sheriff’s office, the county prosecutor, and a private investigator to help them. The group agreed that they would arrest Jade while Jade’s husband (Josh) was out of the house so that the Howsers could take the child. After midnight on Sunday night, a caravan of the sheriff, a deputy, the Howsers, and the private investigator set out for Jade’s home to arrest her for writing Angela a $200 check that had bounced. Once Jade was in handcuffs, an officer gave Jack the all-clear to come inside. The sheriff did not allow Jade to designate a custodian for E.W. or obtain her consent to giving E.W. to the Howsers. Jade sued the Howsers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for conspiring with state officials to violate her due process right to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of her child. A jury returned a verdict in her favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding sufficient evidence to support the verdict and upholding the magistrate judge’s pretrial decision to exclude unfavorable information about Jade and Josh. The court upheld an award of $970,000 in damages. View "Green v. Howser" on Justia Law

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Alden and his ex-wife shared custody of their children. Alden’s ex-wife complained that Alden was trying to turn the children against her. The court-appointed psychologist, Gardner, evaluated the children, concluded that Alden was using “severe alienation tactics,” and recommended that the court limit Alden to supervised visitation and give full custody of the children to their mother. The court terminated Alden’s custody and ordered all of Alden’s visitation to be supervised. The Appellate Court affirmed. After three unsuccessful attempts to change the decision in state court, Alden filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Gardner, challenging the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act as permitting state courts to take parents’ constitutionally-protected speech into consideration when deciding the best interests of the child and treating parents differently based on whether they are divorced. The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Alden could challenge the Act in his state custody proceedings. The court stated: “This is abusive litigation. Alden, a lawyer representing himself, seems determined to continue the child-custody litigation in another forum even if that means exposing an innocent person such as Gardner to travail and expense. He concedes—indeed, he trumpets—that he has sued someone who he knows is not responsible for enforcing the state’s child-custody laws” and referred the matter to Illinois authorities for determination of whether Alden’s misuse of the legal process calls into question his fitness to practice law. View "E.A. v. Gardner" on Justia Law

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During child-custody proceedings, Nixon accused her ex-husband G.G. of physically and sexually assaulting their daughter, S. An Illinois judge limited G.G.’s parental rights to visitation in the presence of another adult while the allegations were being investigated. Nixon concluded that the judge would terminate her parental rights and give G.G. full custody of S. so she left for Canada with S. and remained there even after learning that the judge had given G.G. sole custody. Nixon was convicted of international parental kidnapping, 18 U.S.C.1204, and sentenced to 26 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It is an affirmative defense that “the defendant was fleeing an incidence or pattern of domestic violence.” Nixon presented evidence that G.G. physically and sexually abused S but S professed love for her father and fear of being alone with her mother. She expressed regret at allowing her mother to persuade her to accuse her father falsely. Nixon did not carry her burden on this defense. The court rejected claims of emotional abuse; the statute speaks of “domestic violence” and requires the defendant to show real domestic violence, not just a belief that violence occurred. Selling a beloved house, demeaning language, failing to provide adequate financial support do not constitute “violence.” View "United States v. Nixon" on Justia Law

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Henricks owned a towing business, an auto body shop, and a vehicle dealership, which he used to defraud insurance companies by filing fraudulent claims. Henricks’s wife, Catherine, worked at the companies sporadically and was an officer of two of them and a member of the other. She opened bank accounts and signed loan documents on behalf of the companies. Henricks pleaded guilty to mail fraud and immediately began to hide assets. He was sentenced to imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution of $1,306,608.72. Catherine filed for divorce and for bankruptcy. Catherine entered an appearance as an interested person in Henricks’s criminal case. The district court found that Henricks had defaulted on his restitution payments and that the divorce was a sham, then determined the parties’ interests in properties so that Henricks’s property could be directed toward restitution. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court had jurisdiction under the Fair Debt Collection Procedures Act to decide the parties’ property interests in Henricks’s criminal case and did not violate Catherine’s due process rights. The court, however, improperly relied upon post‐judgment conduct instead of determining the parties’ property interests as of the date of the judgment lien. Whether the divorce was a sham was relevant to whether Henricks’s defaulted on restitution, but is irrelevant to the parties’ ownership interests on the judgment date. View "Henricks v. United States" on Justia Law

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Henricks owned a towing business, an auto body shop, and a vehicle dealership, which he used to defraud insurance companies by filing fraudulent claims. Henricks’s wife, Catherine, worked at the companies sporadically and was an officer of two of them and a member of the other. She opened bank accounts and signed loan documents on behalf of the companies. Henricks pleaded guilty to mail fraud and immediately began to hide assets. He was sentenced to imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution of $1,306,608.72. Catherine filed for divorce and for bankruptcy. Catherine entered an appearance as an interested person in Henricks’s criminal case. The district court found that Henricks had defaulted on his restitution payments and that the divorce was a sham, then determined the parties’ interests in properties so that Henricks’s property could be directed toward restitution. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court had jurisdiction under the Fair Debt Collection Procedures Act to decide the parties’ property interests in Henricks’s criminal case and did not violate Catherine’s due process rights. The court, however, improperly relied upon post‐judgment conduct instead of determining the parties’ property interests as of the date of the judgment lien. Whether the divorce was a sham was relevant to whether Henricks’s defaulted on restitution, but is irrelevant to the parties’ ownership interests on the judgment date. View "Henricks v. United States" on Justia Law

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Timothy and Belva Thorpe bought an Illinois house as joint tenants in 1987. They lived in that home until after Belva filed for divorce in October 2012. Timothy filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2013. A month later, an Illinois divorce court awarded Belva the marital home. At the moment Belva filed for divorce, section 503(e) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act granted Timothy and Belva contingent rights in the entire house. The bankruptcy estate acquired Timothy’s half-interest in the marital home at the moment he declared bankruptcy. The district court held that Timothy’s estate took his half-interest subject to Belva’s contingency so that the divorce court’s award divested the estate of any right to the house. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the trustee’s argument based on the second sentence of section 503(e), which provides that contingent interests in marital property “shall not encumber that property so as to restrict its transfer, assignment or conveyance.” The plain statutory text demonstrates that the bankruptcy estate took Timothy’s half-interest in the marital home subject to Belva’s contingent interest. View "Reinbold v. Thorpe" on Justia Law

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The Milchteins have 15 children. The two eldest refused to return home in 2011-2012 and were placed in foster care by Wisconsin state court orders. In federal court, the Milchteins argued that state officials violated the federal Constitution by either discriminating against or failing to accommodate their views of family management in the Chabad understanding of Orthodox Judaism. Those children now are adults. State proceedings with respect to them are closed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Milchteins’ suit as moot, rejecting arguments the district court could have entered a declaratory judgment because the Milchteins still have 12 minor children, who might precipitate the same sort of controversy. The Milchteins did not seek alteration of the state court judgment, so the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not block this suit but it is blocked by the requirement of justiciability. The Milchteins want a federal judge to say where a state judge erred but not act on that error: “a naked request for an advisory opinion.” If Wisconsin again starts judicial proceedings concerning the Milchteins’ children, the "Younger" doctrine would require the federal tribunal to abstain. Younger abstention may be inappropriate if the very existence of state proceedings violated the First Amendment but the Milchteins do not contend that it is never permissible for a state to inquire into the welfare of a religious leader’s children. View "Milchtein v. Chisholm" on Justia Law

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The Milchteins have 15 children. The two eldest refused to return home in 2011-2012 and were placed in foster care by Wisconsin state court orders. In federal court, the Milchteins argued that state officials violated the federal Constitution by either discriminating against or failing to accommodate their views of family management in the Chabad understanding of Orthodox Judaism. Those children now are adults. State proceedings with respect to them are closed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Milchteins’ suit as moot, rejecting arguments the district court could have entered a declaratory judgment because the Milchteins still have 12 minor children, who might precipitate the same sort of controversy. The Milchteins did not seek alteration of the state court judgment, so the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not block this suit but it is blocked by the requirement of justiciability. The Milchteins want a federal judge to say where a state judge erred but not act on that error: “a naked request for an advisory opinion.” If Wisconsin again starts judicial proceedings concerning the Milchteins’ children, the "Younger" doctrine would require the federal tribunal to abstain. Younger abstention may be inappropriate if the very existence of state proceedings violated the First Amendment but the Milchteins do not contend that it is never permissible for a state to inquire into the welfare of a religious leader’s children. View "Milchtein v. Chisholm" on Justia Law