Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Fitschen v. Kijakazi
Fitschen was diagnosed with advanced cancer and stopped working. In 2000 the Social Security Administration (SSA) found Fitschen eligible for disability benefits. Fitschen returned to work in 2001 but continued to receive benefits for a nine-month “trial work period,” 42 U.S.C. 422(c)(4). After that period, he could continue to work and receive benefits for another 36-month period if his wages did not exceed the level at which a person is deemed to be capable of engaging in substantial work activity. The SSA's 2003 review determined that Fitschen had engaged in substantial work and should not have received benefits for much of 2002-2003. The SSA notified him of his overpayment liability but his benefits continued because he had again ceased substantial work. Fitschen again returned to work in 2004 but did not report the change. The SSA initiated another review in 2007 and suspended his benefits. The SSA may waive recovery of overpayments if the recipient was without fault.In 2019 the Commissioner of Social Security found Fitschen liable for an overpayment of $50,289.70 and declined to waive recovery. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the SSA was procedurally barred from recovering the overpayment because it failed to comply with its “reopening” regulation; the overpayment assessment did not “reopen” Fitschen’s initial eligibility determination or any later determination concerning the continuation or recomputation of his benefits. Substantial evidence supports the finding that Fitschen was at fault. View "Fitschen v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law
Ellison v. United States Postal Service
The Shelbyville Post Office is the closest one to Ellison’s home and the largest in that area of Indiana. Ellison keeps a P.O. box at Shelbyville or her non-profit organization, which educates the public about accessibility for people with disabilities. Ellison cannot enter the Shelbyville Post Office because it has only one customer entrance: at the top of its front steps. Ellison can ask for help from the loading dock or from a van-accessible parking space, use the Postal Service’s website, or visit wheelchair-accessible locations in surrounding towns. After multiple complaints about the inconvenience of those options, the City of Shelbyville offered to pay for a ramp at the front entrance. The Postal Service declined, citing a policy of refusing donations for exterior physical improvements.In a suit under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794(a), the district court entered summary judgment, concluding that Ellison could meaningfully access the program through its website and three wheelchair-accessible locations within a 15-minute drive of her home. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded for consideration of whether Ellison’s proposed accommodation (a ramp) is reasonable. The Shelbyville Post Office does not provide a significant level of access, and the alternative locations are further away and open for fewer hours than Shelbyville. View "Ellison v. United States Postal Service" on Justia Law
Vidal-Martinez v. United States Department Of Homeland Security
Vidal-Martinez, a non-citizen, was arrested three times for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. DHS detained him and initiated deportation. Vidal-Martinez filed a habeas petition, arguing that his detention was unconstitutional because it impeded his ability to defend himself against the drunk-driving charges. ICE transferred Vidal-Martinez to county custody “until the completion of [the] criminal matter, then released to his ICE detainer.” Vidal-Martinez was convicted of DUI and sentenced to 236 days in jail. He was then returned to ICE custody. Due to a lack of evidence that he posed a flight risk or a danger to the community, the district court granted Vidal-Martinez’s habeas petition and ordered his release.Vidal-Martinez filed a FOIA request, 5 U.S.C. 552, seeking disclosure from ICE of documents related to his custody transfer. ICE produced 561 pages of responsive documents, some of which contained redactions. Vidal-Martinez challenged ICE’s redactions. ICE submitted a Vaughn index and a declaration from its FOIA officer explaining the legal justification for each redaction, citing attorney-client, work product, deliberative process privileges, and identifying information of government employees. Vidal-Martinez responded that ICE committed criminal conduct by transferring him to Indiana, so the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege applied. The district court granted ICE summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding no factual foundation in the record for criminal conduct or misconduct by ICE. The district court had an adequate factual basis to evaluate ICE’s withholdings. View "Vidal-Martinez v. United States Department Of Homeland Security" on Justia Law
City of East St. Louis v. Netflix, Inc.
The Illinois Cable and Video Competition Law requires operators to obtain statewide authorization and become a “holder” and requires anyone who wants to provide cable or video service to obtain permission from state or local authorities and pay a fee, as a condition of using public rights of way. In recent years traditional cable services have been supplemented or replaced by streaming services that deliver their content through the Internet. East St. Louis, contending that all streaming depends on cables buried under streets or strung over them, sought to compel each streaming service to pay a fee. None of the defendants were “holders.” A magistrate dismissed the complaint, concluding that only the Attorney General of Illinois is authorized to sue an entity that needs but does not possess, “holder” status.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first concluding that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Normally the citizenship of any entity other than a corporation depends on the citizenship of its partners and members but, under section 1332(d), part of the Class Action Fairness Act, an unincorporated entity is treated like a corporation. The court then held that the statutory system applies to any “cable service or video service” and the defendants do not offer either. If “phone calls over landline cables, electricity over wires, and gas routed through pipes are not trespasses on the City’s land— and they are not—neither are the electrons that carry movies and other videos.” View "City of East St. Louis v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law
Finch v. Treto
The 2019 Illinois Cannabis Regulation Act legalized the recreational use of cannabis and established a licensing system for cannabis dispensaries. Applications for the first licenses closed in 2020; by mid-2021 the Department had allocated 185 licenses using a lottery procedure. The issuance of licenses was stayed during state-court litigation. For a second group of licenses in 2022, the Department established a point system that heavily favored longtime Illinois residents. The plaintiffs want to invest in Illinois cannabis dispensaries but neither lived in Illinois.In March 2022, they filed suit raising a dormant Commerce Clause challenge to the residency provisions and sought a preliminary injunction halting the completion of the allocated 2021 licenses and enjoining the ongoing process for 2022 licenses. The district court denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The denial of a preliminary injunction allowed the Department to issue the 2021 licenses; it did so, largely mooting the appeal. To the extent that unwinding the licenses remains possible, the judge weighed the equities and held that the plaintiffs waited too long to challenge the residency provisions; an injunction would severely harm reliance interests and disrupt the orderly completion of the first-round licensing process. At the time of the ruling, the Department had not finalized the criteria for the second group but a challenge was unripe because the Department might materially modify the criteria. The Department subsequently finalized the 2022 rules and deleted provisions favoring Illinois residents. View "Finch v. Treto" on Justia Law
Federal Trade Commission v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC
Brown’s credit-monitoring business used a “negative option feature” on its websites, offering visitors a free credit report but automatically enrolling them in a $29.94 monthly subscription when they applied for that report. Information about the monthly membership was buried . Brown’s contractors created website traffic by posting Craigslist advertisements for fake rental properties and directing applicants to the websites for a “free” credit score. The FTC sued under Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA) section 13(b), which authorizes restraining orders and permanent injunctions to enjoin conduct that violates its prohibition of unfair or deceptive trade practices. On its face, section 13(b) authorizes only injunctive relief but the Commission long interpreted it to permit restitution awards—an interpretation adopted by the Seventh Circuit and others.The district court entered a permanent injunction and ordered Brown to pay more than $5 million in restitution. The Seventh Circuit overruled its precedent and held that section 13(b) does not authorize restitution awards.The Supreme Court granted certiorari and held that section 13(b) does not authorize equitable monetary relief. On remand, the Commission argued that the Court’s decision had significantly changed the law and successfully requested the reimposition of the restitution award under the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act and FTCA section 19. The Seventh Circuit modified the new judgment. Its direction that any funds remaining after providing consumer redress shall be “deposited to the U.S. Treasury as disgorgement” exceeds the remedial scope of section 19, which is limited to redressing consumer injuries. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC" on Justia Law
County of Cook v. Bank of America Corp.
In a suit filed in 2014 under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601–19, Cook County claimed that the banks made credit too readily available to some borrowers, who defaulted, and then foreclosed on the loans in a way that injured the County. The County alleged the banks targeted potential minority borrowers for unchecked or improper credit approval decisions, which allowed them to receive loans they could not afford; discretionary application of surcharge of additional points, fees, and other credit and servicing costs above otherwise objective risk-based financing rates; higher cost loan products; and undisclosed inflation of appraisal values to support inflated loan amounts. When many of the borrowers could not repay, the County asserts, it had to deal with vacant properties and lost tax revenue and transfer fees.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Entertaining suits to recover damages for any foreseeable result of an FHA violation would risk “massive and complex damages litigation.” Proximate cause under the FHA requires “some direct relation between the injury asserted and the injurious conduct alleged.” Cook County seeks a remedy for effects far beyond “the first step.” The directly injured parties are the borrowers, who lost both housing and money. The banks are secondary losers. The County is at best a tertiary loser; its injury derives from the injuries to the borrowers and banks. View "County of Cook v. Bank of America Corp." on Justia Law
Washington County Water Co., Inc. v. City of Sparta
The Agriculture Act of 1961 authorized the USDA to provide loans to rural water associations; 7 U.S.C. 1926(b) prohibits municipalities and others from selling water in an area that a USDA-indebted rural water association has “provided or made available” its service. To be entitled to section 1926(b) protection, the rural water association must have the physical capability to provide service to the disputed area and a legal right to do so under state law.Washington County Water Company (WCWC), a rural water association, sells water to several southern Illinois counties adjacent to Coulterville. In 2019, due to the deteriorating state of its water treatment facility, Coulterville considered buying water from either WCWC or the City of Sparta. Coulterville decided to buy water from Sparta because it was not convinced that WCWC could provide enough water to satisfy its residents’ demand.WCWC filed suit, alleging that section 1926(b) prohibited Sparta from selling water to Coulterville because WCWC had made its service available to Coulterville. The district court granted Sparta summary judgment, holding that WCWC was not entitled to section 1926(b) protection because it did not have a legal right to provide water to Coulterville under Illinois law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. WCWC’s contractual capacity is less than its maximum average daily demand plus the required 20 percent reserve as required by state law. WCWC’s failed to secure admissible evidence of its ability to expand its water supply capabilities. View "Washington County Water Co., Inc. v. City of Sparta" on Justia Law
Sherwood v. Marchiori
In March 2020, Sherwood and Doyle lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic and applied for unemployment benefits. They never received those benefits, however, and still have not received notice of the denial of their claims or an opportunity for a hearing. Sherwood and Doyle filed a putative class action lawsuit against the Director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), asserting equal protection and procedural due process claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Under the “Young doctrine,” which provides an exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity, private parties may sue individual state officials for prospective relief to enjoin ongoing violations of federal law. Even if these plaintiffs had standing to bring the equal protection claims, sovereign immunity bars them; the Young exception does not apply when federal law has been violated only at one time or over a period of time in the past. The plaintiffs alleged a sufficient injury to pursue their procedural due process claims and can invoke the Young exception to sovereign immunity but mandamus provides an adequate state-law remedy in this case. View "Sherwood v. Marchiori" on Justia Law
Heath v. Wisconsin Bell, Inc.
The 1996 E-Rate program (Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support program, Telecommunications Act 110 Stat. 56), is intended to keep telecommunications services affordable for schools and libraries in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. The program subsidizes services and requires providers to charge these customers rates less than or equal to the lowest rates they charge to similarly situated customers. Heath brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729, alleging that Wisconsin Bell charged schools and libraries more than was allowed under the program, causing the federal government to pay more than it should have. The district court granted Wisconsin Bell summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. While Heath’s briefing and evidence focused more on which party bore the burden of proving violations than on identifying specific violations in his voluminous exhibits and lengthy expert report, Heath identified enough specific evidence of discriminatory pricing to allow a reasonable jury to find that Wisconsin Bell, acting with the required scienter, charged specific schools and libraries more than it charged similarly situated customers. It is reasonable to infer that government funds were involved and that if the government knew of actual overcharges, it would not approve claims. View "Heath v. Wisconsin Bell, Inc." on Justia Law