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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The 1972 Shakman Decree enjoined the City of Chicago and county officials from governmental employment practices based in politics. A 1983 Decree enjoined those officials from conditioning hiring or promotions on any political considerations. After the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment’s prohibition against patronage-based firings extends to promotion, transfer, recall, or hiring decisions involving public employment for which party affiliation is not an appropriate requirement, the Clerk of Cook County entered a separate consent decree. In 1992 the Voters Organization joined the Shakman complaint. The court has dismissed some entities and officials, including Chicago and its Park District, as showing substantial compliance. In 2010 the Clerk and other defendants consented to a magistrate judge conducting further proceedings. A new magistrate and a new district judge were assigned in 2020.In 2019, plaintiffs moved for supplemental relief. The magistrate found that the Clerk violated the 1991 Decree, that the evidence strongly suggested that the Clerk’s policy of rotating employees was “instituted for the purpose" of evading the 1972 Decree, appointed a special master to oversee compliance within the Clerk’s Office, and refused the Clerk’s request to vacate the Decrees. The Seventh Circuit, noting that it lacked authority to review the appointment of the special master, affirmed the denial of the request to vacate. Sounding a “federalism concern,” the court noted the permitting a consent decree over an arm of state or local government to remain on a federal docket for decades is inconsistent with our federal structure. View "Shakman v. Clerk of Cook County" on Justia Law

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Pavlicek, age 49. applied for Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits. He suffers from anxiety, depression, severe tremors, and pseudoseizures that resemble epileptic seizures but stem from psychological causes. A truck driver, he has a high-school education. Two non-examining agency consultants determined that he could function with some limitations. Pavlicek testified that he had constant tremors and had seven pseudoseizures in the past 16 months when he lost consciousness; in seven other episodes, he remained conscious. A vocational expert testified about employers’ tolerance for absenteeism and about a hypothetical employee with various restrictions. The treating psychiatrist reported that Pavlicek could not work.The ALJ determined that Pavlicek retained the residual functional capacity to perform medium work with exceptions and could perform work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. The ALJ largely dismissed the report by the treating psychiatrist, who had not justified how his findings could apply “as far back as 2013,” having not treated Pavlicek until 2015 and who relied heavily on Pavlicek’s subjective reporting. The ALJ noted the “infrequent” nature of the treatment relationship and that the report’s assessment of severe functional limitations was unsupported by the clinical records. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The decision was supported by substantial evidence. The court rejected claims that the ALJ gave inadequate reasons for rejecting the treating psychiatrist's opinion, afforded too much weight to the opinions of non-examining agency physicians, and posed hypothetical questions to the vocational expert that failed to account for his limitations. View "Pavlicek v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Jeffers underreported his 2008 income and was audited. The IRS assessed additional taxes and penalties. Jeffers filed his 2009 tax return late, reporting that he owed more than $12,000 in taxes without including any payment. The IRS assessed the unpaid amount plus interest and penalties. An installment agreement was terminated when he failed to make payments. In 2012, the IRS mailed Jeffers proper notice of the tax lien on his property with respect to unpaid debt from the 2008 and 2009 tax periods, 26 U.S.C. 6320(a), 6321, explaining the right to a Collection Due Process (CDP) hearing. Jeffers did not request one. He filed amended returns claiming he was owed refunds. In 2017, the IRS notified Jeffers of its intent to levy on his property. This time, Jeffers timely requested a CDP hearing.The officer found the liability issue precluded because Jeffers had a prior opportunity to raise the issue in 2012. The Office of Appeals issued a notice of determination sustaining the proposed levy action. The Tax Court granted the IRS summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Jeffers could not challenge his underlying tax liability because he received notice of the federal tax lien and had the opportunity to dispute his tax liability then. The settlement officer was not obligated to consider the amended tax returns because there is no right to have one’s amended return considered. View "Jeffers v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Xanthopoulos, a Mercer consultant, detected securities fraud; his internal complaints failed. He went to the SEC website, and, in March 2014, Xanthopoulos submitted his first TCR Form. Unlike the Sarbanes-Oxley OSHA Form, which may be used to notify OSHA of a Sarbanes-Oxley complaint, the SEC’s TCR Form does not affirmatively indicate that submission of the form will initiate a formal lawsuit under the federal securities law. Xanthopoulos allegedly submitted seven TCR Forms through June 2018; in his 2018 submissions, he mentioned Mercer’s mistreatment of him as an employee, not just the securities fraud. Every TCR Form Xanthopoulos submitted specifically referenced a whistleblowing award.As Xanthopoulos predicted in those filings, Mercer fired him in October 2017. Xanthopoulos filed an OSHA administrative complaint in September 2018, alleging violations of Sarbanes-Oxley’s anti-retaliation provision, 18 U.S.C. 1514A. OSHA dismissed the complaint as untimely because Xanthopoulos filed 350 days after Mercer discharged him. He responded that “there was no[] 180-day-period[] in which [he] could have decided in clear conscience, that [he] had every information needed, to contact OSHA.” Xanthopoulos, then represented by counsel, argued that he filed his claim in the wrong forum, which tolled the statute of limitations: the TCR Forms constituted Sarbanes-Oxley claims mistakenly filed with the SEC. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The reports to the SEC did not toll the 180-day period for his Sarbanes-Oxley complaint. Xanthopoulos has not articulated a sufficient ground to equitably toll his untimely complaint. View "Xanthopoulos v. United States Department of Labor Administrative Review Board" on Justia Law

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Arnold applied for Social Security disability benefits based on ailments related to her back, heart, and joints, and chronic pain syndrome. Following the initial denial of her claim, Arnold requested a hearing before an ALJ. Arnold testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert. The ALJ concluded that Arnold was not disabled, finding Arnold had several severe impairments, but that she retained the ability, with certain movement restrictions, to perform her past relevant work as a daycare center director. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed the ALJ’s decision, rejecting an argument that the ALJ failed to analyze whether the side effects of her medications impacted Arnold’s ability to work. While there is some evidence of side effects in the record, there is no evidence that the side effects impacted Arnold’s ability to work. On this record, the ALJ was not required to make findings about Arnold’s side effects. View "Arnold v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Owned by the Indiana Finance Authority, the Indiana Toll Road has been operated since 2006 by a lessee, ITR. What ITR can charge depends on state law. In 2018, ITR paid the state $1 billion in exchange for permission to raise by 35 percent the tolls on heavy trucks. The district court dismissed a suit under the Commerce Clause, reasoning that Indiana, as a market participant, was exempt from rules ordinarily applied under the Commerce Clause.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the increase is valid even if it discriminates against interstate commerce. The tolls are neutral with respect to the origins, destinations, and ownership of the trucks. The court also reasoned that when a state participates in, rather than just regulates, the market, it may discriminate in favor of its own citizens and declined to find that tollways “are different.” The court noted the history of private ownership of roads. View "Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law

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Igasaki, a gay, Japanese-American, suffers from gout. From 1994 until his 2015 termination at age 62, Igasaki was an IDFPR staff attorney. In 2011, Forester gave Igasaki a good performance review; in 2012, Forester rated Igasaki poorly, providing specific examples of deficient performance. In 2013, IDFPR placed Igasaki on a corrective action plan. He subsequently received three reprimands. Igasaki made limited progress on seven of 12 plan requirements. The plan listed: failure to meet 50 deadlines; sleeping while at work; problems finding files; and lack of preparation for administrative proceedings. In 2014, the Igasaki was suspended for incompetence. Igasaki’s corrective action plan was again renewed. Igasaki received another suspension for insubordination. In Igasaki’s 2014 review, Forester rated him as needing improvement in all categories. In 2015, Forester noted that he had not progressed on six of the 12 requirements; for the first time, Igasaki formally requested accommodation for his gout. IDFPR granted Igasaki an ergonomic keyboard and authorization for an administrative assistant; Igasaki’s request for flexible deadlines, not supported by a doctor’s note, was denied. IDFPR terminated him weeks later.After filing charges with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the EEOC, Igasaki sued. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of IDFPR, rejecting claims of race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation (Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2), age discrimination (Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 623), and disability discrimination (Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12112). View "Igasaki v. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation" on Justia Law

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Each holiday season, Jackson County, Indiana has a lighted Christmas display on the lawn of its historic courthouse. The display comprises a nativity scene, Santa Claus in his sleigh, a reindeer, carolers, and large candy-striped poles. The display has gone up each year since 2003 when the Ministerial Association purchased it; the secular Lion’s Club maintains and installs it. The County supplies electricity for the display. There is evidence that the courthouse had similar displays before 2003. Woodring, a Jackson County resident, sued, arguing that the nativity scene violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The district court permanently enjoined the County from displaying the nativity scene in its current arrangement.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Woodring has standing to sue, but the nativity scene complies with the Establishment Clause. The district court applied the “purpose” and “endorsement” tests that grew out of the Supreme Court’s 1971 "Lemon" decision but the Court’s 2019 "American Legion" decision requires the use of a different, more historical framework. The nativity scene fits within a long national tradition of using the nativity scene in broader holiday displays to celebrate the origins of Christmas—a public holiday. A governmental practice with historical support may be unconstitutional if it is intolerant or discriminatory toward differing views but Woodring supplied no good reason why the County’s nativity scene does not fit within the historical tradition outlined in Lynch. View "Woodring v. Jackson County" on Justia Law

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Fisk, an LLC formed in 2018, had two members; one is an attorney. Fisk collaborated with the City of DeKalb regarding the redevelopment of a dilapidated property. Under a Development Incentive Agreement, if Fisk met certain contingencies, DeKalb would provide $2,500,000 in Tax Increment Financing. In 2019, Nicklas became the City Manager and opened new inquiries into Fisk’s financial affairs and development plans. Nicklas concluded Fisk did not have the necessary financial capacity or experience, based on specified factors.Fisk's Attorney Member had represented a client in a 2017 state court lawsuit in which Nicklas was a witness. Nicklas considered funding incentives for other development projects with which, Fisk alleged, Nicklas had previous financial and personal ties.The City Council found Fisk’s financial documents “barren of any assurance that the LLC could afford ongoing preliminary planning and engineering fees,” cited “insufficient project details,” and terminated the agreement. Fisk sued Nicklas under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging Nicklas sought to retaliate against Fisk and favor other developers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Fisk did not exercise its First Amendment petition right in the 2017 lawsuit. That right ran to the client; Fisk did not yet exist. Fisk had no constitutionally protected property right in the agreement or in the city’s resolution, which did not bind or “substantively limit[]” the city “by mandating a particular result when certain clearly stated criteria are met.” Nicklas had a rational basis for blocking the project, so an Equal Protection claim failed. View "145 Fisk, LLC v. Nicklas" on Justia Law

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Zellweger applied for disability benefits in 2013, claiming a per se disabling spinal condition equivalent to Listing 1.04. His amended onset date was August 28, 2013. His last-insured status expired on September 30, 2013, so the application presented a narrow question: whether he was disabled during the one-month period from August 28 to September 30 (42 U.S.C. 416(i)(3)(B)). The primary medical basis for his application was cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease.An ALJ denied his claim, concluding that the medical evidence did not meet the criteria for Listing 1.04 and that Zellweger could perform light work. A magistrate reversed, ruling that the ALJ’s discussion was too cursory at step three of the sequential analysis prescribed in the agency regulations: assessing whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or medically equals one of the Listings. Although the ALJ explained his reasoning more thoroughly later in his decision, the magistrate refused to consider that discussion.The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The sequential process is not so rigidly compartmentalized. Nothing prohibits a reviewing court from reading an ALJ’s decision holistically. The ALJ thoroughly analyzed the medical evidence at the step in the sequential analysis that addresses the claimant’s residual functional capacity. That analysis elaborated on the more cursory discussion at step three and was easily adequate to support the ALJ’s rejection of a per se disability under Listing 1.04. View "Zellweger v. Saul" on Justia Law