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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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Most people eligible for Medicaid benefits are “categorically needy” because their income falls below a threshold of eligibility. People with higher income but steep medical expenses are “medically needy” once they spend enough of their own assets to qualify, 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(10). Plaintiffs contend that medical expenses they incurred before being classified as “medically needy” should be treated as money spent on medical care, whether or not those bills have been paid, which would increase Illinois's payments for their ongoing care.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their suit. Medicaid is a cooperative program through which the federal government reimburses certain expenses of states that abide by the program’s rules. Medicaid does not establish anyone’s entitlement to receive particular payments. The federal-state agreement is not enforceable by potential beneficiaries. Plaintiffs bypassed their administrative remedies and do not have a judicial remedy under 1396a(r)(1)(A). Section 1396a(a)(8) provides that a state’s plan must provide that all individuals wishing to apply for medical assistance under Medicaid shall have the opportunity to do so and that assistance shall be furnished with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals; some courts have held that this requirement can be enforced in private suits. If such a claim were available, it would fail. Plaintiffs are receiving benefits. The court also rejected claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12131–34, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794. Plaintiffs receive more governmental aid than nondisabled persons. View "Nasello v. Eagleson" on Justia Law

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Beeler, a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S., worked in Canada for 19 years and contributed to the Canada Pension Plan. In 1989 Beeler moved to the U.S. Until she retired in 2013, she worked and paid Social Security taxes. Beeler’s Canadian earnings were not subject to Social Security taxes; her U.S. earnings were not subject to Canada Plan taxes. Beeler has received Canada Pension Plan benefits since 2013. In 2013, Beeler was awarded reduced Social Security retirement benefits because she was entitled to Canada Pension Plan benefits based on work not covered by Social Security taxation.Rejecting claims that the reductions did not apply to Beeler and similarly-situated plaintiffs, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government. The windfall elimination provision, 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(7)(A)(ii), states that an individual who becomes eligible for a monthly payment “which is based in whole or in part upon his or her earnings for service which did not constitute ‘employment’ as defined in [42 U.S.C. 410]” shall have their benefits recomputed. The provision excludes in part “payment by a social security system of a foreign country based on an agreement between the United States and such foreign country" under 42 U.S.C. 433. The plaintiffs’ work in Canada is not considered “employment” under section 410, so section 415 reduces their Social Security benefits. The agency’s interpretations of the provision and its implementing regulation and its application of the provision to reduce their benefits were permissible. View "Lorraine Beeler v. Andrew M. Saul" on Justia Law

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Peeters sought disability benefits, citing degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and learning disabilities. Peeters has not sustained gainful employment since 2014. After a hearing, an ALJ denied Peeters disability benefits in 2016. On stipulated remand, the Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to reconsider Peeters’ maximum residual functional capacity, obtain evidence and examples of jobs Peeters could perform from a vocational expert, provide a new hearing, and issue a new decision. At the second hearing in 2018, the ALJ issued a 15-page decision denying Peeters disability benefits because he failed to meet the severity requirements of 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 and 20 C.F.R. pt. 416.The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial as supported by substantial evidence. The court upheld the greater weight given to the opinions of six state agency psychologists who evaluated Peeters; three found Peeters would have moderate limitations completing a normal workday and carrying out detailed instructions, but could handle simple two to three-step instructions, while three found Peeters capable of performing light work. View "Peeters v. Saul" on Justia Law

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During the coronavirus pandemic, Illinois Governor Pritzker issued executive orders designed to limit the virus’s opportunities to spread, similar to orders in other states. Executive Order 2020‐43 (EO43, June 26, 2020), imposing a 50-person cap on gatherings, states: This Executive Order does not limit the free exercise of religion. To protect the health and safety of faith leaders, staff, congregants, and visitors, religious organizations and houses of worship are encouraged to consult and follow the recommended practices and guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health.... the safest practices ... are to provide services online, in a drive‐in format, or outdoors (and consistent with social distancing requirements and guidance regarding wearing face coverings), and to limit indoor services to 10 people. Religious organizations are encouraged to take steps to ensure social distancing, the use of face coverings, and implementation of other public health measures. Emergency and governmental functions enjoy the same exemption.The Republican Party challenged the “favored” treatment of religion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of injunctive relief. Because the exercise of religion involves more than simple speech, the equivalency urged by the Republicans between political speech and religious exercise is a false one. If there were a problem with the religious exercise carve‐out, the state would be entitled to return to a regime in which even religious gatherings are subject to the mandatory cap. View "Illinois Republican Party v. J. B. Pritzker" on Justia Law

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The Barack Obama Foundation selected Jackson Park in Chicago to house the Obama Presidential Center. Chicago acquired 19.3 acres from the Chicago Park District, enacted the necessary ordinances, and entered into a use agreement with the Obama Foundation. Construction will require the removal of multiple mature trees, the diversion of roadways, and will require the city to shoulder some expenses. Opponents sued, alleging that the defendants violated Illinois’s public trust doctrine, which limits the government’s ability to transfer control or ownership of public lands to private parties and that under Illinois law, the defendants acted beyond their legal authority in entering the use agreement because it delegates decision-making authority to the Foundation and grants the Foundation an illegal lease in all but name, Under federal law, they argued that, by altering the use of Jackson Park and granting control to the Foundation, the defendants took the plaintiffs’ property for a private purpose and deprived them of property in a process lacking in procedural safeguards.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to the federal claims and held that the state claims should have been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Federal courts are only permitted to adjudicate claims that have allegedly caused the plaintiff a concrete injury. The federal claims allege a concrete injury, but the lack of a property interest is a fundamental defect. The state claims allege only policy disagreements. View "Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District" on Justia Law

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Semmerling worked as a contractor for the U.S. Military Commissions Defense Organization as part of the legal team for a person charged as an al-Qaeda enemy combatant. Semmerling, who is gay, disclosed his sexuality to the lead attorney of that team. Semmerling alleges that, despite promising secrecy, that attorney disclosed his sexuality to the client and told the client that Semmerling was infatuated with the client and was pursuing that interest. Semmerling sued the lead attorney for state-law torts of defamation, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and he sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2674, for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court dismissed the suit.The Seventh Circuit denied the government’s motion for summary affirmance while acknowledging that Semmerling’s brief is substantively deficient in multiple ways. The court noted that the other defendant filed a brief. Sparse briefing alone is not a reason to enter a merits judgment, and this case does not rise to the level of “incomprehensible or completely insubstantial.” Semmerling may, within seven days, seek leave to strike his opening brief and to file a brief that complies with Rule 28. View "Semmerling v. Bormann" on Justia Law

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The False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729–3733, authorizes relators to file qui tam suits on behalf of the U.S. government. If such an action is successful, the relator receives part of the recovery. The Act prohibits presenting to a federal healthcare program a claim for payment that violates the Anti-Kickback Statute, 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b(b), Venari formed 11 daughter companies, each for the purpose of prosecuting a separate qui tam action, alleging essentially identical violations of the False Claims Act by pharmaceutical companies. CIMZNHCA, a Venari company, filed suit alleging illegal kickbacks to physicians for prescribing Cimzia to treat Crohn’s disease in patients who received federal healthcare benefits. The government did not exercise its right “to intervene and proceed” as the plaintiff but moved to dismiss the action, representing that it had investigated the Venari claims and found them to lack merit. The court denied that motion, finding the government’s general evaluation of the Venari claims insufficient as to CIMZNHCA and that the decision to dismiss was “arbitrary and capricious.”The Seventh Circuit reversed with instructions to dismiss, construing the government’s motion as a motion to both intervene and dismiss. By treating the government as seeking to intervene, a court can apply Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41, which provides: “The Government may dismiss the action” without the relator’s consent if the relator receives notice and opportunity to be heard. View "United States v. UCB, Inc." on Justia Law

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Brace, now age 40, was injured on the job in 2013 and can no longer perform his past work in health service, food service, and construction. He applied for Social Security disability benefits, claiming persistent back and neck pain and several other conditions. An ALJ found that Brace’s severe impairments from degenerative disc disease, neuropathy in the elbow and forearm, and a history of surgery in his shoulder. did not presumptively establish a disability. The ALJ ruled that Brace could not perform any of his past work. A vocational expert testified that Brace could perform jobs as a callout operator, semiconductor bonder, or registration clerk, or a counter clerk, subject to restrictions and that a significant number of jobs exist across those job categories—an estimated 140,000. Brace’s lawyer asked the vocational expert to explain how he arrived at his job estimates; the answer was inscrutable. The ALJ nonetheless accepted his testimony and rejected Brace’s claim for benefits.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The ALJ’s approach does not satisfy the substantial evidence standard. The court rejected the ALJ’s justifications that Brace’s counsel should have objected to the expert’s qualifications before he testified and that the cited jobs number was so large that “[e]ven if the methodology used create[d] a significant margin of error[,] … a significant number of jobs exist.” View "Brace v. Saul" on Justia Law

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The Oneida Nation’s Big Apple Fest is held, annually, on land partially located in the Village of Hobart. In 2016 Hobart demanded that the Nation obtain a permit and submit to some of its s laws. The Nation filed suit and held the festival without a permit.The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the Nation. The Oneida Reservation, established by treaty in 1838, remains intact, so federal law treats the land at issue as Indian country not subject to most state and local regulation. The Reservation was not diminished piece-by-piece when Congress allotted the Reservation among individual tribe members and allowed the land to be sold eventually to non‐Indians but can be diminished or disestablished only by Congress. The court noted the Supreme Court’s 2020 "McGirt" decision as “making it even more difficult to establish the requisite congressional intent to dis‐establish or diminish a reservation.” The statutory texts provide no clear indication that Congress intended to eliminate all tribal interests in allotted Oneida land; diminishment cannot be the result of Congress’s general expectation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that its actions would eventually end the reservation system. Hobart has not shown “exceptional circumstances” that could justify imposing its ordinance on the Nation within the boundaries of the Reservation. View "Oneida Nation v. Village of Hobart" on Justia Law