Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Legal Ethics
Waldon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
While shopping at a Wal-Mart store, Waldon believes she slipped on a plastic hanger and fell causing her injuries. Under Indiana premises-liability law, a defendant must have actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the premises that involves an unreasonable risk of harm to an invitee. Wal-Mart offered the testimony of employees that they had not been aware of a dangerous condition. After discovery, the district court concluded there was no evidence Wal-Mart knew of such a condition and granted it summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and, because Waldons’ counsel had deleted date stamps on photographs submitted to the court, ordered counsel to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Rule 46 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure for misrepresenting the record to the court. View "Waldon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law
Menzies v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Insurance executive Menzies sold over $64 million in his company’s stock but did not report any capital gains on his 2006 federal income tax return. He alleges that his underpayment of capital gains taxes (and related penalties and interest imposed by the IRS) was because of a fraudulent tax shelter peddled to him and others by a lawyer, law firm, and financial services firms. Menzies brought claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Illinois law. The district court dismissed all claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part. Menzies’s RICO claim falls short on the statute’s pattern-of-racketeering element. Menzies failed to plead not only the particulars of how the defendants marketed the same or a similar tax shelter to other taxpayers, but also facts to support a finding that the alleged racketeering activity would continue. A fraudulent tax shelter scheme can violate RICO; the shortcoming here is one of pleading and it occurred after the district court authorized discovery to allow Menzies to develop his claims. Menzies’s Illinois state law claims were untimely as to the lawyer and law firm defendants. The claims against the remaining financial services defendants can proceed. View "Menzies v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP" on Justia Law
LHO Chicago River, L.L.C. v. Perillo
LHO's Chicago hotel underwent a branding change in February 2014 when the establishment became “Hotel Chicago,” a signature Marriott venue. Around May 2016, Perillo and his associated entities opened their own “Hotel Chicago” three miles from LHO’s site. LHO sued for trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), and for trademark infringement and deceptive trade practices under Illinois law. After more than a year, LHO moved to voluntarily dismiss its claims, with prejudice. Defendants made a post‐judgment request for attorney fees, 15 U.S.C. 1117(a), for the prevailing party in “exceptional cases.” The parties identified two distinct standards for exceptionality: the Seventh Circuit’s standard, that a case is exceptional under section 1117(a) if the decision to bring the claim constitutes an “abuse of process” and the more relaxed totality‐of‐the‐circumstances approach under the Patent Act that the Supreme Court announced in Octane Fitness (2014). Other circuits have extended Octane to the Lanham Act. The district judge acknowledged Octane but adhered to the “abuse‐of‐process” standard and declined to award fees. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that Octane’s “exceptional case” standard controls. The court noted the legislative history, the Patent Act’s identical language, and the Supreme Court’s use of trademark law in Oc‐ tane View "LHO Chicago River, L.L.C. v. Perillo" on Justia Law
McCurry v. Kenco Logistic Services, LLC
McCurry worked at an Illinois warehouse owned by Mars, the candy maker, and operated by Kenco, a management firm. In 2015 Kenco lost its contract with Mars and laid off its Mars employees, including McCurry. A year later, she filed two “rambling” pro se complaints accusing Kenco, Mars, and several of her supervisors of discriminating against her based on her race, sex, age, and disability and claiming that Kenco and Mars conspired to violate her civil rights. The district court dismissed some of the claims. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the rest. McCurry’s response violated Local Rule 7.1(D)(2)(b)(6), under which the failure to properly respond to a numbered fact in an opponent’s statement of facts “will be deemed an admission of the fact.” Where McCurry did respond, she frequently simply stated that she “objected” to the statement without stating a basis for her objection. The judge accepted the defendants’ factual submissions as admitted and entered judgment in their favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. McCurry did not challenge the judge’s decision to enforce the local summary-judgment rule. As a result, the uncontested record contains no evidence to support a viable discrimination or conspiracy claim. The court called the appeal “utterly frivolous and McCurry’s monstrosity of an appellate brief” incoherent, and ordered her appellate lawyer to show cause why he should not be sanctioned or otherwise disciplined. View "McCurry v. Kenco Logistic Services, LLC" on Justia Law
United States v. Atwood
Atwood pleaded guilty to federal drug crimes. The presentencing report calculated a Guidelines range of 188-235 months. Judge Bruce sentenced Atwood to 210 months’ imprisonment, citing the 3553(a) factors and stating, "if I have made a mistake in the guideline calculations … my sentence would still be the same.” It later became known that while Atwood’s case was pending, Judge Bruce engaged in extensive ex parte communication with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about other cases. Bruce had been a federal prosecutor at that Office before his appointment to the judiciary. A newspaper exposed that communication and published emails. Judge Bruce was removed from cases involving the Office. The ex parte communications never explicitly mentioned Atwood’s case. The Seventh Circuit Judicial Council found no evidence that Bruce’s improper communications actually affected his decision in any case but stated that his actions violated the Code of Conduct. Bruce remained unassigned to any case involving the Office until September 2019. The Seventh Circuit vacated Atwood’s sentence and remanded for resentencing by a different judge. The federal recusal statute, 28 U.S.C. 455(a), requires a judge to recuse himself from any proceeding in which his impartiality may reasonably be questioned. The disclosure of the ex parte correspondence invited doubt about Bruce's impartiality in proceedings involving the Office. Because of the judge’s broad discretion in sentencing, Bruce’s failure to recuse himself was not harmless error. View "United States v. Atwood" on Justia Law
4SEMO.COM, Inc. v. Southern Illinois Storm Shelters, Inc.
The dealer had the exclusive right to sell the manufacturer's below-ground storm shelters in Missouri and Arkansas. The dealer created a wordmark—“Life Saver Storm Shelters”— and a logo using that name, which it affixed to the shelters. In 2006, the manufacturer obtained the dealer’s permission to use these marks on shelters marketed in Illinois. The manufacturer violated the limited license by using the marks on products sold throughout the country. The manufacturer's suit for trademark infringement, claiming prior use and ownership of the wordmark, was rejected on summary judgment. The dealer counterclaimed for trademark infringement and false endorsement under the Lanham Act. The district judge found for the dealer on all claims, entered a cease-and-desist order, and awarded $17 million in disgorged profits as damages but denied vexatious-litigation sanctions under 28 U.S.C. 1927 and attorney’s fees under the Lanham Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, rejecting the manufacturer's argument that the logo violated a statute that makes it a crime to use the American Red Cross emblem. The conclusion that the manufacturer engaged in trademark infringement on a vast scale was supported by the evidence. The court granted a limited remanded; although the judge reasonably concluded that section 1927 sanctions were not warranted, his summary denial of Lanham Act fees cannot be squared with his conclusions on the merits concerning infringement. View "4SEMO.COM, Inc. v. Southern Illinois Storm Shelters, Inc." on Justia Law
MAO-MSO Recovery II, LLC v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
The Plaintiffs, purportedly the assignees of certain private insurers (Medicare Advantage Organizations), brought a putative class action against State Farm to recover payments State Farm allegedly should have made to them as reimbursement for certain medical costs. The district court dismissed the action with prejudice, and imposed sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 against one of the plaintiffs, MSP. and its attorneys. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ case with prejudice, when the problem was a fundamental lack of Article III standing so that the court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case. However, the court acted within its discretion when it denied plaintiffs a third opportunity to cure the defects in their pleadings. The court’s order, in substance, was a jurisdictional dismissal without prejudice with denial of leave to amend dismissal is without prejudice. The district court exceeded the bounds of its discretion when it imposed Rule 11 sanctions on Recovery Claims and its attorneys. View "MAO-MSO Recovery II, LLC v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Fifth Third Mortgage Company v. Kaufman
Ahmed co‐owned an LLC that owned a condominium building. Ahmed recruited individuals to pose as buyers for the building's units and to submit fraudulent loan applications to lenders, including Fifth Third. The participants split the loan proceeds; no payments were made on the loans. Kaufman was the seller's attorney for every closing. The closings were conducted by Traditional Title at Kaufman’s law office. Traditional received closing instructions from Fifth Third to notify it immediately of any misrepresentations and to suspend the transaction if “the closing agent has knowledge that the borrower does not intend to occupy the property.” Kaufman concealed the buyers’ misrepresentations and instructed closing agents to complete closings even when buyers were purchasing multiple properties. Ahmed and Kaufman extended the scheme to other buildings. Although Kaufman testified that he was not aware of the fraud, Ahmed testified that Kaufman knew the buyers were part of the scheme. Two closing agents testified that they informed Kaufman about misrepresentations in loan applications. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a fraud judgment for Fifth Third. Kaufman participated individually in each closing as counsel and personally directed Traditional’s employees to conceal the fraud from Fifth Third, for his personal gain. The judgment against Kaufman was not derived solely from Traditional’s liability, based on his membership in the LLC, so the Illinois LLC Act does not bar his liability. Kaufman is not shielded by being the attorney for the seller in the fraudulent transactions. View "Fifth Third Mortgage Company v. Kaufman" on Justia Law
Mapes v. Indiana
Mapes was arrested for trespassing after being refused service at a CVS store. He sued the state, CVS, and several individual defendants asserting a long list of grievances under federal and state law. Mapes asserted the need for pro bono representation based on his poor hearing, social anxiety, a speech disorder, and an unidentified mental disability. The district judge denied Mapes’s request to recruit counsel, dismissed Mapes’s complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim, and suggested several amendments to the complaint. The judge informed Mapes that his amended complaint “should set forth what happened during the incident and the facts that support his belief that CVS refused to serve him because of his disability.” She explained that Mapes should identify the people who harmed him and describe how they did so. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judge’s refusal to recruit counsel. The inquiry into the plaintiff’s capacity to handle his own case is a practical one, made in light of whatever relevant evidence is available on the question. Mapes demonstrated that he was physically able to file a complaint and mentally able to recall the relevant events. The judge was not required to offer legal guidance. View "Mapes v. Indiana" on Justia Law
Goulding v. Weiss
Nutmeg LLC, formerly managed by Goulding, served as an investment advisor and sole general partner of more than a dozen investment funds, each a limited partnership under Illinois or Minnesota law. Goulding’s management of the Funds ended in 2009, when the SEC brought an enforcement action against him, Nutmeg, and others under the Investment Advisors Act of 1940, alleging that Nutmeg misappropriated client assets and failed to maintain proper records. The district court found that the SEC made the showing necessary to warrant the issuance of a restraining order prohibiting Goulding from managing the Funds and granted the SEC’s unopposed motion to appoint attorney Weiss as receiver for Nutmeg. Unsatisfied with Weiss’s performance, Goulding and limited partners from certain funds managed by Nutmeg filed an individual and derivative action on behalf of the Funds, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and legal malpractice. The court dismissed the federal securities law claim, claims against Nutmeg, all legal malpractice claims against Weiss and her firm, and two breach of fiduciary duty claims. The Seventh Circuit Affirmed, holding that even when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, no reasonable jury could find that either Weiss or her firm willfully and deliberately violated any fiduciary duties. View "Goulding v. Weiss" on Justia Law