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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Disabled children are entitled to benefits from the Social Security Administration, 42 U.S.C. 1382c(a)(3)(C). While benefits for an adult depend on a work history plus current inability to perform a job, administrative officials ask whether the child’s limitations meet one of the many listed categories of disability or are functionally equivalent to one of them. When determining whether a child’s impairment is functionally equivalent to a listing, the issue is whether it produces a marked limitation in at least two—or an extreme limitation in one—of six “domains of functioning,”McCavic argued that his son, N., is disabled by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual limitations (an IQ near 70), oppositional defiant disorder, and nocturnal enuresis. He claimed that these conditions meet, or are functionally equivalent to certain listings. An ALJ found that N. did not meet any of the listings and has a marked limitation in only one functional category, “acquiring and using information.” A district judge affirmed. The ALJ was entitled to credit the views of a special-education teacher, who knew N well and had a good grasp of gradations among children with intellectual shortcomings. While N. may have met the standards of the old version of the regulations, but not the new one, the change applies “to claims that are pending on or after the effective date.” View "McCavitt v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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Under the Indiana Video Service Franchises Act of 2006, anyone offering “video service” must enter into a franchise agreement with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in exchange for use of a public right-of-way. For years, traditional cable and communications companies like Comcast and AT&T have signed the franchise agreements and paid the required fees to government “units,” including counties, municipalities, or townships within the provider’s service area. Recently, traditional cable television has been supplanted in many ways by on-demand streaming platforms like Netflix; some cities concluded that streaming platforms offer “video service” within the meaning of the Act. The streaming platforms have not done so and have avoided the Act’s fee obligations.In 2020, several cities filed a putative class action against Netflix, Disney, Hulu, DIRECTV, and DISH Network, seeking a declaration that the defendants are subject to the Act and must pay past and future franchise fees. The defendants removed the case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. 1441 and 1453. . Invoking the comity abstention doctrine articulated by the Supreme Court in Levin v. Commerce Energy (2010), the district court remanded. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Indiana courts are well-positioned to interpret (for the first time) the state’s Video Service Franchises Act and to resolve any federal defenses raised by the streaming platforms. View "City of Fishers, Indiana v. DIRECTTV" on Justia Law

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Indiana’s Act 442 allowed election officials to remove a voter from the state’s voter rolls automatically (without directly contacting the person) based on information acquired through a third-party database, “Crosscheck,” which provided the voter lists of multiple states. The Seventh Circuit concluded that Act 442 was preempted by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), 52 U.S.C. 20507(d), which requires hearing directly from that voter or providing notice to the voter that he would be removed from the rolls if he did not respond and failed to vote in the next two federal general elections.Indiana replaced Act 442 with Act 334, ending Indiana’s participation in Crosscheck in favor of the Indiana Data Enhancement Association, which is functionally identical to Crosscheck. The Act makes county officials responsible for deciding whether to remove a name, deleting Act 442’s requirement that county officials automatically remove the voter from the rolls. Act 334 instructs county officials to determine: whether a presumptive match in another state “is the same individual who is a registered voter of the county”; whether the registration in another state occurred after the presumptively matching Indiana registration; and whether the voter “authorized the cancellation of any previous registration” when the voter registered in the second state.The Seventh Circuit held that Act 334 is also preempted; it renders inapplicable the rule that a voter must personally authorize the cancellation of her registration before the county official may take that step. View "Common Cause Indiana v. Sullivan" on Justia Law

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Kaplarevic filed for disability insurance benefits in 2012, alleging that he became disabled on August 1, 2012. His “date last insured” was December 31, 2014, meaning that if his disability arose any later than that, he would not be eligible for benefits.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of benefits, rejecting Kaplarevic’s arguments that an ALJ improperly considered his own observations of Kaplarevic’s physical condition and ability to perform certain physical tasks at a 2018 hearing. Kaplarevic sought an open-ended period of disability so he needed to show that he became disabled before his date last insured and that he was still disabled. The court noted the ALJ’s 15-page opinion, which evaluated extensive medical and behavioral evidence. It was Kaplarevic’s burden to show disability, and if he wanted to do so, he should have accepted the ALJ’s invitation “to identify the portions of the medical records that he believed supported various of [his] allegations.” Vague references to the “totality of the evidence” are not helpful. The ALJ’s opinion did not rely on the failure to seek treatment as a factor demonstrating lack of disability; the record showed that Kaplarevic did not comply with prescribed therapy and that his pain complaints were not consistent with objective medical findings. View "Kaplarevic v. Saul" on Justia Law

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In 1989, the Hamel Fire Protection District and Alhambra Fire Protection District formed a joint venture, “the Service” to provide ambulance service to residents of both districts. In 2012, a Service-operated ambulance collided with a semi-truck. The semi-truck drivers and ambulance passengers were seriously injured. The accident produced three lawsuits that eventually settled. Continental paid all attorney’s fees assessed for Hamel Fire’s defenses. Country Mutual had issued a multiperil commercial lines insurance policy to the Service.. Hamel Fire was the named insured on the Continental policy. Continental defended Hamel Fire in each lawsuit after first tendering them to Country Mutual, which ignored each tender. The ambulance was a covered auto under policies issued by both, which provided primary coverage for owned autos and excess coverage for non-owned autos.Continental sued Country Mutual. The district court granted Continental’s motion for summary judgment finding that the Service, and not Hamel Fire, owned the ambulance. Based on that finding, and both policies’ “Other Insurance” clauses, the court determined that Country Mutual owed primary coverage for the costs to defend Hamel Fire in the underlying lawsuits, while Continental only owed excess coverage. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the evidence strongly reflects the parties’ intent that Country Mutual’s insured owned the ambulance. The resulting award of attorney’s fees under Illinois law was reasonable. View "Continental Western Insurance Co. v. Country Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Companies that tow or recycle used cars alleged that Milwaukee and its subcontractor, engaged in anticompetitive behavior to self-allocate towing services and abandoned vehicles, a primary input in the scrap metal recycling business. They alleged that an exclusive contract the city entered into with one of the area’s largest recycling providers, Miller Compressing, violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and that the contract provided direct evidence of an agreement to restrain trade. They cited laws that require a city-issued license to tow vehicles from certain areas, that obligate towing companies to provide various notices, and that cap maximum charges imposed on vehicle owners who have illegally parked or abandoned their vehicles, as having been enacted to squeeze them out of the market.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The arrangement between the city and Miller is not per se unreasonable on the basis of horizontal price-fixing. The court also rejected a claim of “bid-rigging.” View "Always Towing & Recovery Inc. v. City of Milwaukee" on Justia 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